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The Second Chance of Sports

In a basement pub not far from Trafalgar Square in London, an establishment that wouldn’t have looked out of place in downtown Rio de Janeiro, one packed with Brazilian tourists and supporters of the world’s most popular football team, watching Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima walk up to receive the World Cup winner’s medal with a trademark toothy grin, you could not but ponder, yet again, the caprices of life and sport.

It was a day when Ronaldo simply did not want to leave his field of surpassing glory at Yokohama in Japan, a day when the world was truly at his magic feet, a day when he looked much younger than his 25 years and feeling as proud and overwhelmed by emotion as any sportsman might have been on the greatest day of his career.

At the basement pub, watching revelers sing and dance and make merry, chanting the name of their hero―Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo―now and again on that unforgettable June Sunday, when Brazil outplayed Germany 2-0 in the World Cup final, I suddenly thought of July 1998 and the italicized words at the beginning of this piece which I wrote for The Sportstar four years ago.

And, even as the greatest footballer of all time, Pele, hugged Ronaldo and thousands of digital cameras clicked all at once to record the moment for posterity, a marvelous aspect of the ever-turning wheel of sport struck me like never before.

While I agonized four years ago over sport’s cruel twists and its fickle finger of fortune, on that marvelous June Sunday in London, it was time to celebrate one of sport’s greatest virtues: its generosity in offering its practitioners a Second Chance.

Who would have thought that Brazil would be beaten 3-0 by France four years ago and Ronaldo would look as inept and zombie-like as he did then? And who would have thought, on the eve of Asia’s first World Cup this year, that a seemingly half-fit Ronaldo would turn the event into his own classic Redemption Song?

Indeed, in the great theatre of sport, there is always the Second Chance, there is always the opportunity―after a disastrous performance when the lead actor forgets his lines and the greasepaint melts, so to say―to slip in back-stage and return to produce a breathtaking tour de force.

Then again, it is never quite as easy as all this sounds. ”Such are the capricious ways of sport that from Hero to Zero is not a long journey―the crash landing is complete in 90 minutes, sometimes even less. But it takes long months, even years, to clear the debris,” this writer noted in these columns on Ronaldo’s fall in the summer of 1998.

Indeed, it took the gifted Brazilian footballer a good part of four full years―years marred by a series of potentially career-threatening injuries―to haul himself back on to the big stage and make it his own on a memorable night in Yokohama―a remarkable turnaround that saw him become the first player ever to be named FIFA World Player of the Year for a third time.

And when the second chance came, the great marksman was there, in the right place and at the right time, to conjure up a one-two that decided the Cup final against a German team limited in skills but unlimited in spirit. The picture of irony, of course, was complete when the born again Ronaldo scored the first goal thanks to a rare error from the owner of the safest pair of hands in world football, the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn!

Will Kahn himself get a Second Chance? Who knows? But during a year which witnessed its greatest sporting moment halfway through at the climax of the quadrennial football World Cup, one other legend did get a Second Chance and he grabbed it with the hunger of a gifted rookie snatching at his first slice of championship glory.

Pete Sampras, in my mind inarguably the greatest tennis player of all time, proved everyone―including this writer―wrong by reinventing himself as a Grand Slam champion at the U.S. Open after twice losing to young hotshots―Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt―in successive finals there.

“One has to pay dearly for immortality. One has to die several times while one is still alive,” wrote the incomparable philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Both Ronaldo, in the years between the disaster in Paris and his moment of surpassing glory in Yokohama, as well as Sampras, who had not won a single title after July 2000 when he won a record-breaking 13th Grand Slam at Wimbledon (until this year’s U.S.Open), both died a hundred deaths. These are men that paid the price and who can now say that they did not deserve what they got?

  凤凰涅磐之我见

  伦敦特拉法加广场附近有一家巴西风情的地下酒吧,其摆设和里约热内卢市的任何酒吧别无二致,里面挤满了来自巴西的游客,还有巴西足球队,这支世界上最受拥戴球队的忠实拥趸。当大家注视着罗纳尔多咧着招牌式的兔牙笑容领取世界杯奖杯的时候,你不由得心生感慨,原来体育和生命一样都那么变幻无常。

  这对罗纳尔多来说是人生中最美妙的一天,他一定不舍得离开驰骋叱咤的日本横滨球场;在这一天,举世都被他精湛的脚法所征服;在这一天,25岁的他显得更加年轻;作为一名抵达事业巅峰的运动员,他完全沉浸在胜利的喜悦当中。

  在这个地下酒吧,看着所有的球迷在载歌载舞,纵情欢乐,并高呼着他们的英雄的名字――罗纳尔多,罗纳尔多,罗纳尔多――在那个难忘的六月星期天,当巴西队在世界杯决赛中以2比0击败德国队的时候,我突然想起一九九八年的七月,和四年前我为《运动之星》撰文写在篇首的斜体字。

  当球王贝利拥抱罗纳尔多表示祝贺的时候,无数的数码相机按起了快门,争先恐后地为后人留下珍贵的历史瞬间。我不禁感叹体坛的风云变幻。

  因为就在四年前,我还在咒骂竞技体育的残酷与变幻;而在伦敦那个美丽六月的星期天,我也为竞技体育最伟大的一个美德欢呼――它慷慨地赐予它的耕耘者以跌倒重新爬起来的第二次机会。

  谁能想到四年前巴西队竟然以0比3的比分输给法国队,那时的罗纳尔多是多么的不堪一击,看上去就像中了邪一般。可谁又能想到,在今年亚洲第一次举办世界杯的当口,身体还没完全康复的罗纳尔多居然大发神威,一雪上届世界杯的耻辱。

  的确如此,在世界体坛这个大舞台上,总不乏第二次机会,即便在最拙劣的表演之后,如:主演忘记了台词,脸上化的妆化掉了等等,可经过后台的休整后却能上演最为扣人心弦的表演。

  当然,付诸起行动来就不像说起来那么容易。“竞技体育是如此的变幻无常,从英雄到狗熊只是一步之遥。飞机坠地的过程只需要九十分钟的时间,或不到九十分钟,可清理残骸却需要好几个月,甚至是好几年的时间。”1998年夏天,当罗纳尔多陷入低谷的时候,我在这个专栏上这样写道。

  确实如此,为了这个好戏份,这位天才的巴西球星足足坚持了四年,这期间他饱受伤痛的困扰,几乎退出职业生涯。他最终回到了舞台中央,并在日本横滨创造了自己的神话。他也凭借世界杯的上佳表现赢取了国际足联颁发的“足球先生”

称号,他也成为三度蝉联这一称号的第一人。

  当第二次机会降临的时候,这位伟大的射手在恰当的时间,恰当的位置创造了奇迹。在世界杯决赛中面对技术稍逊却斗志昂扬的德国队,罗纳尔多打进了两粒制胜的入球。其中颇具讽刺意味的是,一向守门万无一失的德国队守门员奥利弗?卡恩居然在比赛中意外失手,造成罗纳尔多的补射进球。

  卡恩会有他的第二次机会吗?谁知道呢?今年体坛不乏激动人心的场面,四年一度的世界杯更是高潮迭起。可另有一位体坛奇人不甘人后,就如同天才新秀渴望一尝夺冠封顶的滋味一样,他紧紧地把握住了他的第二次机会。

  在我的印象中,皮特?桑普拉斯无疑是有史以来最伟大的网球运动员。他连续两届杀进美国网球公开赛的决赛,可两次都铩羽而归,分别败给了代表新生代的萨芬和莱顿?休伊特。可尽管这样,他今年卷土重来,并将美网的冠军奖杯收入囊中,向世人,包括作者本人证明他的实力不容小觑。

  “要想获得永生就必须付出沉重的代价,当一个人还活着的时候,他其实已经死过好几次了!”伟大的哲学家弗里德里希?尼采如是说。

  罗纳尔多从巴黎的陨落到横滨的重生,以及桑普拉斯自2000年七月在温布尔登获得史无前例的第十三项大满贯冠军以后的沉寂,直到今年的美网才重获冠军,他们都已经死过几百回了。他们都做出了巨大的付出,面对他们今日的辉煌,现在谁又会说他们没有名至实归呢?

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