Sep 11, 2008

Sport - Pedalling out of retirement

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. That is the refrain of a ballad sung at the US military academy of West Point. Ageing pop stars don’t just fade away but announce their retirement through a farewell singing tour which sometimes turns out to be a marketing gimmick as the singer returns for yet another tour. Frank Sinatra staged any number of last performances, each ending with him singing “Scuse me while I disappear”. Tennis great Bjorn Borg announced his retirement after failing to win the men’s singles Wimbledon title for a sixth consecutive time in 1981 and returned 10 years later to play with a wooden racket. Borg was soundly thrashed by younger players using rackets made of hi-tech materials. And now cycling legend Lance Armstrong has announced his return to the sport from which he had retired in 2005. When Borg staged his brief reappearance, he was labelled as a unidimensional person who could not evolve beyond the tennis court. Armstrong’s announcement that he was coming out of retirement to try for an eighth Tour de France win in 2009 was appropriately carried in the American magazine Vanity Fair. However, Armstrong has tried to preempt criticism that vanity or ego is behind his return to professional cycling. He has stated on his website that “it is in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden”. Armstrong had defied not just the odds in cycling but in life itself by winning the Tour de France seven times in a row after overcoming testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain. All of which still doesn’t square up with the statement he had made 11 months ago in an interview carried in Men’s Journal: “I’m glad I’m not cycling any more. It was fun while it lasted and I liked it but I’m so focused on other things now that I never think about it.’’ All that remains to be seen is whether he goes on to win the ’09 Tour de France and then announces a last and final retirement!

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