You may envy them for their wealth and fame and being able to ride a
bike for a living. If it makes you feel any better, there's likely
scores of pro's who hate what they do.
Former tennis great Andre
Agassi's revelations last week that he took recreational drug crystal
methamphetamine, or "ice", in 1997, then lied to the Association of
Tennis Professionals (ATP) in an attempt to explain a positive drug
test didn't really surprise me.
Now, in another extract of Open,
Agassi's memoir, it's suggested that his father supplied amphetamines
to his son before a tournament in Chicago - that raised my eyebrow.
what I find intriguing - though less surprising, as I've long held a
theory about it - is Andre Agassi's love-hate relationship with his
chosen sport. Or more accurately, hate-hate, since he hated tennis with
Wrote Agassi in 2006: "I play tennis for a living
even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and
According to an article I read in UK newspaper the Guardian on the weekend, Garmin-Slipstream's David Millar and Chris Boardman - the man who won three Tour de
France prologues and still holds the world record for the four
kilometre individual pursuit Ã¢â¬â have admitted to not liking cycling. "Boardman liked winning, not cycling," it said.
deny the euphoria associated with victory, but the need to win and the
physical and emotional stress that is part and parcel of the highest
level of competition can lead to a wretched addiction.
Said Victoria Pendleton
after the first of three gold medals at the Beijing Games last year: "I
was an emotional wreck beforehand. I worried that I would be the one
person who let down the team. So winning was just a relief. And even
that felt like an anti-climax. It was very surreal on the podium, and
as soon as I stepped off it, I was like, 'What on earth am I going to
What did the woman who the UK press hailed as "Queen Victoria" decide to do after Beijing?
soon worked out that the only thing I could do was to get another gold
medal. I need one. If [the] 2012 [Olympics in London] goes to plan,
winning the Olympics on my home turf, I might finally feel I've
achieved the ultimate for me."
In professional road cycling at
least, there is a difference worth noting when compared to tennis, in
that an individuals win is often viewed as a team victory - otherwise
we'd have 179 losers each day at the Tour! - and apart from the overall
prize, there's plenty of minor competitions to strive for.
like boxing or the match sprint in track cycling, is a martial game:
eliminate or be eliminated. There can be only one winner. This in part
explains the high rate of burnout among teenage and twenty-something
tennis stars Ã¢â¬â there's no one else to take the slack.
of sporting vocation, however, it does make you question that old
adage, "It not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."
in pro cycling, with so much money and pressure riding (pardon the pun)
on individuals and the teams they ride for and the companies they
represent, the phrase appears to be used less often.
For the weekend warrior or the Francophile
whose eyes are glued to the box for three weeks each July, it may be
hard to fathom that there are riders out there who look at their
profession as "just a job".
But when you think about it a bit
more, it's not that mind-boggling. These people simply have the
capacity that enables them to make a living from riding a bike; it just
so happens their trade is one that many - including myself - find
fascinating, enjoyable to follow and entertaining to watch.
The Guardian article says Pendleton's
"pleasure-free, angst-ridden drive to win is almost a defining
characteristic of the great sports stars [Ã¢â¬¦] A terrible fear of failure
is one of the problems but there are others: horrendous training
schedules, endless travel, foul fans, boredom and lack of privacy."
When I read these words, I can't help but think of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish and even Cadel Evans, whose minds seem to constantly teeter on the brink of that love-hate relationship with cycling.
The surprise for me is not that many top sportsmen hate their job - it's that so many people are surprised to hear it.