The Jakarta Post
Who says age is a barrier to achievements in sports? Rafael Nadal and his arch-rivals in the modern tennis era, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, prove otherwise. At 34 years plus four months old, Nadal lifted his 13th French Open title, beating 33-year-old world number one Djokovic in the Oct. 11 final. The Roland Garros prize enabled Nadal to match Federer, 39, as a men’s player with 20 majors. Djokovic has 17 Grand Slam titles under his belt, the latest being the Australian Open just before the pandemic struck.
More talents have amazed the tennis world in the past two decades, but the big three don’t seem to be running out of steam and are not calling it quits any time soon. One of the sport’s up-and-coming stars, Stefanos Tsitsipas, predicts that perhaps the chasing pack will have to wait for five years or more to mark their own era.
In soccer, the two players who have always dominated the race for the coveted Ballon d’Or award, FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, are 33 and 35, respectively and are still alive and kicking in the grueling competition in Europe. And let’s not forget AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich, who turned 39 on Oct. 3 and is now the oldest active professional soccer p layer in the game.
This phenomenon is becoming normal in sports, where age is now just a number and no longer an excuse for an athlete’s poor showing. Indeed, technologies have advanced to help athletes maintain their physical fitness and recover quickly from injuries. Modifications and innovations have been made to the rules of the game to protect the athletes and allow them to stay competitive.
Looking at the great athletes’ trajectory, however, their thirst for achievement is what has catapulted them to the top. Their enthusiasm to train harder and longer, their focus on the set target and their will to keep learning all set them apart. Rarely have we heard them — despite their stardom — pay no respect to their coaches, who will show them what they miss or lack.
We in Indonesia may envy those top sportsmen and women as they live in an environment that supports them to run faster, leap higher and fight stronger.
Indonesia actually never falls short of sports talents, given its huge population, which now ranks fourth in the world. To transform this abundance of talent into achievements in world or regional competitions, however, will require a Herculean effort that will take years, if not decades, to bear fruit. Sports budgets will need a significant rise, more research will be on-demand to enhance our athletes’ performance and more incentives are imperative to convince talents to live on sports.
But we sometimes tend to skip the process, which can be painful. While we may prefer a short-cut, as in the case of our national soccer team, which is banking on naturalized players, Nadal and other sports greats have taught us that athletes need fortitude to step on every ladder right from the bottom before reaching their glory.