Why are we so obsessed with the idea of ​​the goat?

Australian tennis icon Margaret Court (nominative determinism if I’ve ever seen it) caused a bit of a mess recently when she gave an interview on the occasion of Serena Williams’ announcement that she would soon be retiring. “Serena, I looked up to her as a player,” Court told The Daily Telegraph. “But I don’t think she ever looked up to me.

Court – whose heyday was in the 60s and early 70s – raised further eyebrows when she said she would have loved to play in Serena’s time, offering that tennis is now “so easier… How I would have liked to take my family or my friends with me. with me. But I couldn’t. I had to go alone or with the national team. People don’t see all that. We had no psychologists or coaches with us. It’s a whole other world. That’s what disappoints me – that today’s players don’t honor the past of the game.’

It was certainly a choice to make Serena’s retirement all about her and her feeling of being underappreciated, but the dreaded Court was not over, highlighting that she had won more titles after being became a parent than Serena had: “I came back after two babies. After I had the first baby, I won three out of four slams… Serena hasn’t won a slam since [becoming a mother].’

I’m always desperate when the culture pits two successful women against each other, often with the suggestion that you have to take sides in the inevitable catfight (witness the Team Kate vs Team Meghan drama currently unfolding United Kingdom). But when it is at the instigation of one of the women in question? A clear case of handbags.

Not that Serena is too upset, I’m sure, by Court’s comments. She is a woman who has dominated women’s tennis since her first Grand Slam victory in 1999, who has won nearly $95 million in prize money throughout her career, who has won the US Open in three separate decades, who has four Olympic gold medals to her name – and who was able to announce her impending retirement with a cover story in Vogue, no less, writing that she was “getting away” from tennis, to put it mildly. most inspired since Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious split from Chris Martin.

Crucially though, Serena has just 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, while Court has 24. Williams acknowledged this in her Vogue article, saying: “If I’m in a Grand Slam final , so yeah, I’m thinking about it record… But I didn’t make it. Should, would, could. Didn’t show up like I should or could. But I showed up 23 times, and It’s okay.

It takes a bit of skill. Thirteen of Court’s Grand Slam titles were won in the amateur era, when the field was smaller; eleven of her titles have been won at the Australian Open in her native country, at a time when it was not very practical for international tennis players to make the trip.

This is not to diminish Court’s achievements – she is rightly considered one of the greatest players of all time – but to put them into context. But then, by what metric do we measure success? In titles, countdowns or levels of difficulty? Comparing two players from different eras is, in many ways, like comparing apples to oranges; knowing that, why are we so obsessed with the idea of ​​the GOAT (the greatest of all time)?

Take the tallies for all of Ireland, for example. The traditional hurling triumvirate of Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary has 36, 30 and 28 titles respectively (a hierarchy my friends in Cork are fond of reminding me of). As a Tipp fan, our last win of 2019 was a near-perfect campaign, beating seven counties along the way, with the only defeat being Munster’s final against Limerick.

Contrast that with the 1899 title, in which Tipp secured a win in the Munster semi-finals, beat Clare in the Munster final, and then went straight to the All-Ireland final against Wexford, a match that ended in to be dropped (although Tipp, being 14 points ahead, still took the win).

Of course, it makes sense that victories in living memory are more precious than those of the distant past, and the fact that 2019 was so hard-won makes it even more special. But 1899 and 2019 count as the same in the All Ireland tally, and if you tried to disqualify the 1899 win because the final wasn’t over, that Tipp fan would be pissed.

The sport is constantly evolving and improving; the bar is always set higher. But also, the heroes and heroines of today are inspired by those who preceded them: they stand on their shoulders. One of the most inspiring recent examples of this is the night Ciara Mageean broke Sonia O’Sullivan’s Irish 1500m record in 3:58.85 by nearly two seconds, winning her Diamond League race in Brussels with a time of 3:56.63.

O’Sullivan was in the stands cheering him on, enjoying the thrill of watching an athlete at the peak of his career like everyone else. A striking photo was taken of the two of them: the legacy of Irish athletics and its future.

Mageean was three years old when O’Sullivan set the previous record and idolized O’Sullivan – the Irish middle-distance running goat – his entire career. After the race, she said: “I’m on cloud nine. Being in the same realm as Sonia O’Sullivan is a name everyone knows, not just in Ireland but around the world, and going over her time is something I’ve always dreamed of.

It’s a complicated dynamic, to outdo your hero, often the very person who put you on the path in the first place. But, as the guy says, records are made to be broken; and like the other guy said, you can only beat what’s in front of you.

About Bernard Kraft

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