Thursday, 25 February 2010

While it’s too early to write the obituary for the Highlanders, I can’t help but feel the narrow loss to the Blues at Carisbrook could prove fatal.

An away game against the Crusaders is a tough way to start any Super 14 campaign and three matches on the road in the heat and height of South Africa is one hell of a hurdle to leap.

The window of opportunity was the Blues game. In a brave effort to woo a diminishing fan base, the Highlanders played well enough to win, but didn’t. A case of déjà vu all over again!

And while the on-field performance still offers some hope, the head office once again leaves a sour taste. I was not alone last week in not having calls returned from the Highlanders media liaison officer, who is doing a wonderful job in media prevention for a struggling franchise I’d have thought needs all the profile it can get.

The players themselves are fine, providing you can get to them. But it does say something about rugby in this country when it’s easier to talk to the Prime Minister than a player.

* On a winning note, former Southland Times sports editor Lynn McConnell really has struck gold with his Jack Lovelock book Conquerors Of Time.

As chronicled last week, the story revolves around the 1932-36 period and looks at the lives of Lovelock and his rivals for gold in the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His two main rivals were the Italian Luigi Beccali (who won gold at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932) and the superstar American Glenn Cunningham, whom many considered the favourite for Berlin.

The chapter on Cunningham makes compelling reading. Growing up on a remote farm in Kansas, Cunningham triumphed over terrible childhood burns in 1917 that left one leg shorter than the other and took several years of constant self-massage before he was able to maintain balance, let alone run properly.

He escaped another childhood brush with death by hanging on to a cow’s tail in a snow blizzard (a practice he’d developed during his recovery process to help regain his balance), the family cow getting him home safely to the barn when he would’ve otherwise perished.

Then in 1928, as his athletics career was starting to flourish, a high school baseball accident saw him ignore the ongoing pain of several loosened teeth. It was only when he undertook a medical for entry into the US Navy at the advent of the Second World War that the full extent of the injury was realized.

His teeth were badly abscessed, the dentist saying with all that poison flowing into his system, it was a wonder he could walk during his athletic career, let alone run through the constant pain he’d wrongly associated to his legs!

For the record, Cunningham finished second to Lovelock in Berlin with Beccali third. Sports historians will thoroughly enjoy Conquerors Of Time.


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