When superheroes retire

Image by Alpha Lim
Image by Alpha Lim

In recent days, we’ve been shown a variety of ways to negotiate the twilight of a stellar sports career.

I’m going to focus on three: the Fred Astaire for enduring grace and dignity, the Brian Meeker for reasons that shall become obvious and the Honey Boo Boo, for sheer search-and-destroy precociousness.

The Fred Astaire: This was always going to be an Aussie, right?

Not that Cadel Evans is your typical Aussie sports star. Laconic? Nup. Laidback? Hardly. Larrikin? Not on your nelly.

He is, however, following his 2011 Tour de France victory, one of the few people on the planet who’s been disturbed by Julia Gillard while taking a bath. Over the phone, mercifully.

With his Gollum-like features and his tendency to make each media interview sound like a therapy session, it took us a while to warm to such an intense little fish.

Our fella in yella.  Image by Michiel Jelijs
Our fella in yella.
Image by Michiel Jelijs

But he won us over with his single-minded pursuit of cycling’s Holy Grail. He didn’t have the best team in the game, he lacked a certain charisma in his riding style and he never, ever, made winning look easy.

What he did have were the most powerful set of lungs ever tested by the Australian Institute of Sport, a ticker just as strong and a scary determination.

And now our fella in yella is calling it a day. Over the weekend, he finished his last European race, the Giro di Lombardia, not as the leader of his BMC team but in support of two teammates.

Contrast that with Lance Armstrong who, in his comeback Tour de France, did everything to sully teammate Alberto Contador’s chances short of pushing him off his bike.

Fittingly, Evans will have his last professional outing Down Under in the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at the end of January. Expect traffic jams that weekend.

The Brian Meeker: Way back in 1981, Brian Meeker was one of the gymnasts at the top of the leaderboard at the USA National Sports Festival. Then this happened.

Oh, you say, he’s THAT guy.

Which brings me to Michael Phelps. Six months ago, Phelps channelled his inner politician and reversed his decision to retire. I listed all the reasons why he shouldn’t.

I was forced to eat those words in August after Phelps’ impressive return at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships. Rio looked a tantalising possibility.

Image by Alexandria Loves Baseball
Image by Alexandria Loves Baseball

A week ago, I had to eat those words when he became the latest in a long line of swimming greats headed off to rehab.

In the wee small hours, Phelps was caught doing almost twice the legal speed limit chock full of grog. Seems he doesn’t just swim like a fish.

Phelps announced he was taking some time away from swimming to ‘attend a program that will provide the help I need to better understand myself’. Which turned out to be something of a pre-emptive strike, as USA Swimming has just suspended him for six months.

The fall of a champion is never fun to watch. Let’s hope Phelps sorts out his demons. Because, selfishly, I love watching him swim. And I’d like to stop eating my words.

The Honey Boo Boo: OK, so the clip above is not the over-celebrated child beauty pageant brat. Partly because I just can’t go there. And this kiddy tantrum, over getting the wrong pair of shoes, is really entertaining.

The Honey Boo Boo is not your run-of-the-mill tantrum. It’s chucking your toys out of the pram, then torching the pram.

Image by BubbleOnFire
Image by BubbleOnFire

Enter Kevin Pietersen, with a book. While Pietersen took more than a few bowling attacks apart during his international career, his autobiography smacks his own teammates all over the park.

Former coach Andy Flower is a “contagiously sour infectiously dour mood hoover” who is “f@#$ing horrendous” 95 per cent of the time. Current coach Peter Moores is a “human triple espresso obsessed with micro-managing every minute of everyone’s day”.

Captain Alastair Cook, aka “Ned Flanders”, is so naive he probably “still writes to Santa Claus and puts his tooth under his pillow for the tooth fairy.”

Stuart Broad is not “the sharpest tool in the box” (we knew that), Graeme Swann is a “sad, sad bastard” and wicketkeeper Matt Prior is a “schoolyard bully”.

Prior’s response to KP’s book was Twitter gold: “Might bully my kids into getting it for me for Xmas!!”

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