Recent and contrasting news about two of my favourite bike riders. On the one hand, Dan Martin is retiring. This makes me a little sad, because I loved watching him race, and always felt that he must be owed a big slice of luck at some point – I hope his luck still arrives even after he’s stopped riding, and he gets the chance to use it for something else.
On the other hand, Dame Sarah Storey came back from the Paralympics having become Britain’s most successful Paralympian, with 17 gold medals (and other associated neck-ware) stretching back to… 1992.
That same pre-internet summer that Chris Boardman and the Lotus 108 shot to fame, Dame Sarah was in the Barcelona pool winning medals, and 29 years later she looks almost exactly the same and is on a bike doing exactly the same thing.
We talk a lot about athletes’ retirement – as soon as they hit about 34 we do everything short of starting petitions demanding it – but we talk a lot less about terrifying longevity.
Being an athlete is a glorious thing to do. The heights can be extraordinary, the sense of achievement unparalleled. In some ways it’s magnificently selfish. But it’s not always easy. It takes a lot of commitment, a lot of hard work on cold wet winter mornings when you couldn’t find any sporting glory if you had a microscope. Just how does someone stay motivated to do that?
One traditional way is anger. You just have to keep finding someone new to be angry at. Once you’ve found them, you find a way of looking at them that means your winning stuff will upset them. This keeps the challenge fresh – every year you win the Tour de France is pleasingly differentiated.
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