Friday, May 6, 2016

Please respect athletes



To even ask squash queen Nicol David whether she is considering retirement in view of her current form is unconscionable.
Yet many have been quick to dismiss her after she failed to defend her world title last week, losing to Egyptian Nour El Sherbini, the eventual champion, in the quarterfinals.
It is very sad that Nicol is getting this kind of treatment after having brought this nation so much glory all these years – 80 wins and 20 runner-up WISPA titles, eight world titles, five wins and two runner-up titles at the British Open, ten Hong Kong Open titles, five Qatar Classic titles, eight wins and three runner-up Malaysian Open titles and a host of Asian and World Games titles.
Yes, it is all about being a champion and the best in one's sport but sometimes we have to look at the background of these athletes, their sacrifices, their achievements and, above all, their unquenchable desire to bring home the title.

Winning and losing is part of the game but the manner in which an athlete bounces back to stay in the game and continue to win has to be taken into account.

Badminton star Lee Chong Wei too faced similar criticism when he was banned for failing a dope test and his world ranking dropped drastically when he returned to the game. Look at where Chong Wei is today.

Bodybuilder Sazali Samad, currently banned for testing positive for drugs, was also dismissed overnight.

Malaysian athletes like Nicol, Chong Wei, cyclist Mohd Azizulhasni Awang, diver Pandelela Rinong, Sazali, racer Afiq Ikhwan, archer Muhd Okran Joni, gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, golfer Gavin Kyle Green, synchronised swimmer Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi, bowlers Sin Li Jane and Esther Cheah and high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa, to name but a few, are a rare breed.

Fortunately for Nicol, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin came to her defence immediately, pointing out that she was going through a transition period in her game and that it was normal for her form to drop before she rose again.

Nicol herself said: “It’s now really about fine-tuning a few things, adjusting and adding it to my game. For me, these are very exciting times. I just have to gain the consistency and discipline at the right time in these situations. I’m definitely going to be fighting for the next world title.”

Not many Malaysian athletes can speak with such confidence and take a positive attitude to every difficult turn. That's Nicol for you.

I remember speaking to her South African fitness coach Allstair McCaw – a fitness guru – in Holland ten years ago after she attained the World No 1 status. He had this to say about her: “Nicol is a very determined, disciplined and motivated athlete. I have not come across many as motivated as her. There was a time when we were supposed to do fitness training outdoors and it was snowing heavily. I had told her we will switch to indoor training, but she insisted that we train in the snow.”

Indeed, Malaysia probably has not seen an athlete like Nicol who pushes herself to the limit.
Picture by Razak Ghazali (Malay Mail)
DOWN,  BUT NOT OUT!..... Nicol reflects on her defeat to Nour El Sherbini in the quarterfinals of the World Championship. She has vowed to carry on players for a few more years.

These are her thoughts on mental toughness, taken from her blog: “The more experience we have from playing tournaments, the better we can control our mental capabilities. Personal achievements come through perseverance and that can only happen if mentally we channel our focus at the right time and handle it appropriately.”

On skills, she says: “We develop specific skills to take us to the next level, into being a better squash player. Everything is refinement and detail. Planning my schedule has to be precise and according to the very last detail. It depends on where our skills take us before we can plan what is in store for us. My day to day schedule, training and yearly calendar make ‘my plan’.”

On drive: “Wanting something so badly makes something work. My drive is to be a complete squash player. This includes also what I want to achieve in the future for myself and for the sport itself. My visions include, inclusion into the Olympics and Olympic gold if possible.”

On creativity and passion: “The more creative options we have the better we work the game. My creative side works also with what I do apart from squash, like loving design. There’s no real squash player without passion. When you love the game so much, nothing gets in the way of your path. It is in everything I do. My love for my family, friends and life says it all.”

She concludes by saying: “Squash world is a big part of my life. It expresses my essence and gives a complete sense of who and where I am today. Keep up to date and find more in depth details of my professional profile, schedule and achievements. There is more squash in store once you discover it first-hand.”

With so much intensity coursing through her veins, was it right to talk about retirement to Nicol?
She said this in an interview with Daily Express three years ago when squash missed the Olympic boat: “I would do anything to play in 2020. Even if I have to use a walking stick, I will want to play in the Games. That will be my real drive and motivation to stay in the sport.”
It must be underlined that Nicol, like many of our top athletes, has either trained overseas or with foreign coaches. These athletes have a different mindset and character from those trained by local coaches. They are tough and passionate.
Nicol is a complete athlete who should serve as a shining example to Malaysians who want to reach the pinnacle of their respective sport - ruthless on the court yet courteous and incredibly pleasant off it. Her humble and down-to-earth personality puts many world champions to shame.
So let Nicol and her ilk continue their quest to bring glory to the nation. And when they finally decide to quit the sport, please salute them, not ridicule or embarrass them.

TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​

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