Knowing When to Stop

In the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”, Jonas Oldacre stages his murder and implicates in it a young man by planting false evidence against the latter. The innocent fellow is drawn deeper and deeper into the trap, until Oldacre makes the mistake of planting a fingerprint on a wall Holmes had checked earlier and declared devoid of any evidence. Oldacre lacked “the supreme gift of the artist, the knowledge of when to stop”, according to Holmes, who subsequently exonerated the young man and brought the malicious builder to book.

There is no dearth of famous sportspersons today, well past their prime, hanging on to the limelight, probably fearing the end of the adulation received in the high points of their careers. What eventually happens is that they end up (more often than not) with egg on their face.

People like Sachin Tendulkar manage spectacular, age-defying form for very basic sporting reasons. They work to keep their focus and fitness intact, while possessing a knack for  adaptability, tweaking basic elements of their game for continued form. There are so many reasons why Sachin became the greatest batsman of his generation, and by working relentlessly he has given many more reasons to establish himself as one of competitive sport’s greatest icons ever.

No such luck for Michael Schumacher, though. There is no doubting that he is the greatest man ever to have driven a Formula One Car. His achievements are staggering by any reckoning. Outclassed in his penultimate season by the fiery Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, Schumacher came back in 2006 with a vengeance, driving one of the most amazing seasons of his career, missing out on the championship by a whisker. The mantle of greatness was handed over to Alonso, greatness that was Michael’s own after the passing of Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Schumacher stayed off the racetrack post 2006, working as an advisor for Ferrari. The next three seasons saw Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button take turns at being World Champions.

2009 marked a twist in the tale. A race accident in Hungary ruled Ferrari’s Felipe Massa out for the rest of the season. Ferrari looked to the legendary German to fill in. Attempting a comeback into the sport, the 40-year old Michael was ruled out because of a neck injury.

Now that, obviously, hurt.

And it probably should’ve remained that way. Schumacher, however, was determined to drive a full season again. He returned in 2010, driving for Mercedes GP with Niko Rosberg, and Ross Brawn, the man behind many of Michael’s Championship winning Ferraris.

But the return was not the fairytale one that so many of his fans wished for. Michael struggled with a car quite obviously below his usual standards, finishing ninth on the points table. He hasn’t fared much better this year, and currently ninth again, seven races into the season.

It is tragic to see a master of the racing art, THE master, as it were, struggling in the midfield on tracks he once dominated.

It is the mark of great sportspersons, that they acknowledge the decline of their prime, and walk into the sunset, assured of their impact and legacy. Michael Schumacher did just that in 2006. His struggles of today betray the lack of that one all-important gift, “the knowledge of when to stop.”

Mohd Salman