Sports

The big shot and the last shot

He came from a family of athletes. His parents both were well-performed, with many wins. From the start, he had the name, the build and the attitude. Everyone remarked on it.

When young, he was a bit of a handful, always straining at the traces. But wilfulness is not so unusual in youth. Time and a thorough education sorted him out, and soon enough he joined a famous team, wearing famous colours, recognisable all over the world.

Some called the process a meat market, but what would they know? They didnt see the attention, the care, the investment in him. His team flew him away and put him in spacious digs, lavishly appointed, set in acres of parkland. David Beckham, eat your heart out.

For him, there was only the best food and drink, if a bit bland and spare. Sometimes, he might have envied the good paddock his old mates obviously were in. But if they could see him now.

His was a rich international sport, flush with money from the Middle East. The world became his oyster, conquering it his vocation. He travelled it by private jet, with a cast of dozens to train and condition him, still more to pamper. He competed against the best, becoming the best. This was what he was born to do.

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His accomplishments and fame grew apace. He invariably cut a fine figure, all gleam and sheen. Usain Bolt? Lebron James? Pah!

Strangers stopped and stared. Without truly knowing him, people loved him, in that way of sport. Women mobbed him wherever he went, men too. Such a specimen, fans would say. Such an athlete. He acquired a full-time chaperone.

Out there, his people said, he was an arch-competitor, a real animal, a beast. But in himself, he was brave, intelligent, soulful, knowing, with a lovely nature, royal but benign. The world knew him by one name, his people by another, a rough endearment. They also said he had a wonderful quirky sense of humour, though few outside his inner circle ever heard it. In fact, no one ever heard him say anything much.

Jim Pavlidis illustration.

Jim Pavlidis illustration.

The years rolled on, quickly. Sometimes, it seemed that he was squeezing five or six years worth into every one. His sport was physically and mentally exacting, no doubt. You might even say there were days when it took lumps out of him. New rules were introduced, but loosely applied. If asked, he doubtlessly would have said that he had no choice, and left it at that. But few ever asked. And the rewards kept coming.

While his trophy cabinet filled, contemporaries dropped off and disappeared by the dozen. He might have wondered what became of them, or he might not. Perhaps it didnt bear thinking about. Sometimes, stories would arise of nefarious happening in

his sport. Money, drugs, sunglasses at midnight. They washed right over him.

His team was foreign-owned, but so what? If he ever looked around, he would see that this was how it was in every sport. Every endeavour, in fact. It escaped him altogether that others were gaining more from his exploits than he was. Let others quibble. He wasnt that sort of sportsman, his wasnt that sort of sport. Besides, he was living the life of a king. Everyone said so.

He didnt change much. Renown sat easily with him; it was as if he wasnt even aware of it. All those pats on the back, all those rubs of his nose, even the odd kiss; he lapped it all up.

For all his fame and glory, he was in many ways quite simple. He had his idiosyncrasies, of course. With the choice of any playmate in the world, he preferred for company a little old friend from his early days, with a funny face, short legs and no athletic ability whatsoever. People loved him all the more for it. So humble, so good – and so good-looking.

So he proceeded, training, competing, training off, his star ever ascending, until at last the big day came: a world championship, the best against the best, 100,000 people watching, millions more around the world, the excitement so thick in the air you could snuff it. This, said his people, was what he was born for.

Half-way through, his shoulder popped, and his people looked at him, and one another, and shook their heads, and took him out the back and shot him dead.

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