Our heroes will be missed

Leslie Claudius... one of India's hockey greats.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Inevitably, buried beneath success will be the losses. Not always on the sporting pitch, but of the very beings who enthralled one and all with their performances. N. Sudarshan pays tribute.

It’s that time of the year when one looks back at 12 months of sporting excellence and cherishes the great moments, the accompanying drama, the excitement and the thrills. But inevitably, buried beneath these will be the losses. Not of the kind on the sporting pitch, but of the very beings who enthralled one and all with their performances. Here is a look at a few of them.

Leslie Walter Claudius, died December 20, aged 85.

The Times London, after India’s gold medal winning performance in the 1948 London Games, wrote “Hockey is not worthwhile seeing if he is not playing.” The man being referred to was Leslie Claudius, a triple Olympic gold medallist and one of India’s finest hockey players.

Born in Bilaspur on 27th March 1927, Claudius took to sport early. As a 21-year-old he was selected to play in the 1948 Games. He went on to collect two more gold medals in the next two editions at Helsinki and Melbourne. He captained the side at the Rome Games in 1960 and would have ideally liked to cap his illustrious career with a fourth gold. But India lost to archrival Pakistan in the final by a solitary goal.

Before the 2012 London Games, a special Olympic Legends Map for all the London tube stations was brought out and the Bushey railway station was named by the organisers as Leslie Claudius.

Teofilo Stevenson, died June 11, aged 60.

He was one of the greatest amateur boxers ever, winner of three consecutive Olympic heavyweight titles in 1972, 1976 and 1980 and one who turned a blind eye to the prospect of turning pro and making millions.

Born on March 29, 1952 in the Cuban town of Puerto Padre, Teofilo Stevenson first entered the ring at the age of nine. In mid 1960s, when as a teenager he won the Cuban junior title, his career took off. In 1974, at the height of his prowess, American boxing promoters tried to pit him against Muhammad Ali in return for thousands of dollars. But, the Sports Illustrated quoted him as saying, “No, I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that.”

If not for the Cuban boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, he could have won a fourth consecutive gold. He retired in 1987 with 301 victories in 321 bouts.

Hector “Macho” Camacho, died November 24, aged 50.

While Stevenson’s was, as the Guardian obituary put it, ‘glory unpaid but universal’, another boxer, Hector “Macho” Camacho’s was entirely so. A world champion in three different weights, his professional career, spanning three decades came on the back of a stunning amateur career with just four defeats in 100 fights and three New York Golden Gloves titles before he turned 18.

Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico on May 24, 1962, he moved to New York’s Spanish Harlem when he was three. He grew up in poverty and took to street fighting. His raw aggression finally found the right outlet when he entered the boxing ring when he was 11.

After being thrown out of many schools, at 15, he was enrolled in a Manhattan high school for troubled youth. His language teacher Pat Flannery who acted as his mentor nicknamed him ‘Macho’, a title that stayed with him until the end.

At 21, he won the first of his three world titles, the WBC super-featherweight title. In 1985 he took the WBC lightweight crown and the light-welterweight title came in 1989.

Camacho’s was a troubled life. He admitted to serial shoplifting, drug use and car thefts at various points and was arrested many times. Known for his brashness, dazzling outfits and a spit curl over his forehead, he was a stylist inside the ring too with his terrific agility, fiery punches and deft counter-punches.

Bhausaheb Babasaheb Nimbalkar, died December 11, aged 92.

He was regarded as the “man who nearly beat Bradman”. His mammoth 443 not out for Maharashtra against Kathiawar in the Ranji Trophy in 1948-49 was at that time next only to the Australian great’s unbeaten 452 in first class cricket. It is believed that Bradman later sent a note saying that the effort was better than his own.

B. B. Nimbalkar was born on December 12, 1919 and represented Baroda, Holkar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Railways. Though considered to be one of the best batsmen in the Ranji Trophy with an aggregate of 3687 runs at an average of 56.72 and first class aggregate of 4577 runs at 52.01, he never played for India in an official Test match.

Kevin Curran, died October 10, aged 53.

Kevin Curran made his debut for Zimbabwe in its first ever ODI against Australia, which it won by 13 runs, at Trent Bridge in the 1983 World Cup. However, his best years were with Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire and went on to become one of county cricket’s most effective overseas players. He chose to remain in England when Zimbabwe attained Test status and thus missed out on five day cricket. He also served as the Zimbabwe national team’s coach from 2005 to 2007.

It was not just the lives of sportspersons in retirement, after fulfilling careers, that were cut short, but a few fledgling ones were also nipped in the bud.

Tom Maynard, died June 18, aged 23.

Tom Maynard, the 23-year-old son of former England cricketer and coach Matthew Maynard, was considered as one of the most promising cricketers to emerge. After initially turning out for the county side Glamorgan, he signed for Surrey at the end of the 2010 season. He flourished at Surrey scoring more than 1000 runs and was called up for the England Lions’ team and was even tipped to represent the national team. He was found dead on the tracks of the London tube in the southern part of the city.

Runako Morton, died March 4, aged 33.

West Indies batsman, Runako Morton had represented his country in 15 Test matches and 56 ODIs. His career was one of underachievement — 573 runs at an average of 22.03 in Tests and 1519 runs at 33.75 in ODIs — and plagued by disciplinary problems until that fatal day when, on his way back home from a cricket match, his vehicle hit a utility pole in central Trinidad.

Suresh Saraiya, died July 18, aged 76.

Amidst all the highs and lows and the surrounding din, an iconic voice associated with Indian cricket for over four decades fell silent. Suresh Saraiya, the All India Radio cricket commentator who covered more than 100 Tests from 1969 to 2011 succumbed to death.