Doing the Sportsman Double

RECENTLY Ukranian footballer Andrei Shevchenko decided to take up golf professionally and made his debut in the Kharkov Superior Cup in his native land. It ended up quite badly as he finished 40 strokes off the leader and 26 over par.

I can’t play golf to save my life, but I certainly know that he has a long way to go if he wants his golf to match his exploits with Dynamo Kiev and A.C Milan.

Over the years, quite a few athletes have quit their main sports to try luck in another. Michael Jordan who is arguably the best ever basketball player had a go in minor league baseball but did not really get that far.

Usain Bolt is definitely the fastest man on earth (over short distances), but I doubt he would make it big with any football team. He has expressed his desire to play for Manchester United, but whether he could get into their youth team is another question.

As sports becomes more and more professional and competitive, it is quite difficult to find sportsmen who play at the highest level in two sports.

Long ago when most sports were still in the amateur phase, it was quite common for athletes to dabble in a few sports. There are 12 English athletes who have represented their country in both cricket and football.

They would play football from August to April and concentrate on cricket from May to July.

Dennis Compton is probably the biggest name to have played both sports at a high-level. He is considered to be one of England’s most remarkable cricketers and one of only seventeen players to have scored over one hundred centuries in first-class cricket.

He was the Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar of his day and his name was inducted in the ICC Hall of Fame. There is even a stand and cricket oval named after him at the famous Lords cricket ground.

Amazingly, he also played football for Arsenal and helped them to a league win in 1948 and FA Cup triumph in 1950. It has to be noted that he managed to hold his place for a Arsenal, a team that were no mugs at all.

Then there is American James Francis Jim Thorpe who won the 1912 Olympics gold medals in pentathlon and decathlon besides also playing professional baseball, American football and basketball.

He was stripped of his Olympic medals when it was found out that he was a professional baseball player, although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated them 30 years later.

In those days, the Olympics was only for amateur athletes.

Thorpe was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century out of 15 other athletes including Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan in a poll by ABC Sports.

In fairly recent times, Jeff Wilson played both cricket and rugby for New Zealand. This is no mean feat considering the country is the best rugby nation in the world and a test nation in cricket.

He played in the 1995 Rugby World cup for the All-Blacks alongside the likes of Jonah Lomu. They were definitely the best team in the world although they eventually lost out to the hosts South Africa.

In cricket, Wilson was less prolific, managing only six games for his country. Because both the rugby and cricket seasons overlapped, he eventually chose to play rugby. After retirement from rugby he continued playing cricket at a provincial level.

Surely a special mention must go to Britain's Fred Perry. He was world singles champion at table tennis in 1929 before going to full size lawn tennis in the 1930s. He bagged a career Grand Slam including three consecutive Wimbledon titles!

And how about Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, Americans who played both baseball and American football at the top level.

Sanders won the Superbowl with the San Fransisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. He also played baseball for New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants.

He played both sports at the same time and in 1989 scored a home run and touchdown in the same week, the only player to do so. He is also the only player to have played in the World Series (baseball) and Superbowl.

Jackson meanwhile is the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports. He played for Los Angeles Raiders in the NFL while his baseball career took him to Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and Anaheim Angels.

Canadian Clara Hughes is one athlete who has won medals in both Summer and Winter Olumpics. She won two bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for cycling and four medals – one gold, one silver and two bronze in speed skating events in three Winter Olympics.

Malaysia too has its share of sportsmen who played in two sports at a high level.

M. Joseph played both hockey and football for the country while Wong Hung Nung was the captain of the national football team in the 1980s before taking up golf.

Wong won SEA Games gold medals in 1977 for football and 1989 for the golf team event. He also won a bronze in the individual event in 1989.

Imagine having the skills and dedication to reach the top in not one but two completely different disciplines.

The views expressed are entirely the writer's own
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