Log In

Reset Password

Underdogs and the impossible dream

First Prev 1 2 Next Last
We are the champions: Leicester fans celebrate during the English Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at the King Power Stadium on April 3 (Photograph by Rui Vieira/AP)

When Leicester City clinched the Barclays Premier League title as 5,000-1 shots, the sporting world reached instantly for the annals to unfurl the greatest upsets in our time.

Out came Goran Ivanisevic winning the 2001 Wimbledon men’s singles title as a wild card. The Croat, who had been three times a beaten finalist and had suffered a serious shoulder injury, was ranked 125th in the world but had the advantage of being a left-hander with a powerful serve.

Still, having to beat former Bermuda resident and defending champion Patrick Rafter in five sets after seeing off home favourite Tim Henman, also in a match that went the distance and spanned three days because of the English rain, took some considerable doing.

With the final having to be played on what became known as “People’s Monday”, as Centre Court was denuded of its traditionally pretentious status while being overrun by boisterous Australian and Croatian supporters, it became one of the greatest days at SW19 in the history of grand-slam tournament tennis.

Then on to Danny Willett at the Masters in 2016. Danny who? You know, the fella who just won the greatest tournament in golf when for three days Augusta National seemed awash with Jordan Spieth.

The young American’s meltdown was not as prolonged as that which cost Rory McIlroy his first major at the same venue five years earlier, but surrendering a five-stroke lead over a freak 30-minute period catapulted into the spotlight a 28-year-old from Sheffield who a fortnight previous had no expectation of being in the tournament at all.

Willett was expecting his first child on Masters Sunday, so only after his wife gave birth early did he seriously consider his chances against a field that contained many of the world’s finest, whose CVs looked more impressive than a solitary top-ten finish in the majors and five titles overall.

But persevere he did to become the first Briton to don the green jacket since fellow Englishman Sir Nick Faldo in 1996.

Next up, James “Buster” Douglas and that night in Tokyo in 1990. Mike Tyson was the “baddest man on the planet”, self-proclaimed or not and while Douglas’s 42-1 odds do not appear as prohibitive as what Leicester have just pulled off, 42-1 in a two-horse race suggests your chances are slim to none. There was nothing in Douglas’s back catalogue to prepare even the casual boxing fan for such a one-sided annihilation of the tyro who had evoked fear in the faces of hardened professionals. But he beat down the man who beat the man who beat the man, ending the most exciting period for heavyweight boxing since the glory days of Muhammad Ali.

Much of the blame was placed on the fallout from his divorce from Robin Givens and not the Douglas uppercut or arriving in the Far East out of shape. Really?

The 1980 United States ice hockey team at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, was made up of amateurs and largely untested college students. The first big surprise was that they put themselves in a position to win a medal of any colour. What set them apart was the “Miracle On Ice” on Friday, February 22, when they beat the much vaunted Soviet Union team 4-3 in the medal round.

The magnitude of the achievement was captured by Jim McKay, the respected ABC sports anchor, who compared the American victory over the Soviets to a group of Canadian college football players defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the Super Bowl champions, at the peak of their dynasty.

And, finally, back to real football, who could forget Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side of the late Seventies?

Promoted from the old second division in 1977, champions of the first division in 1978, Forest went one better by winning the European Cup in 1979, the only goal of the final against the Swedish club Malmö scored by Trevor Francis, who at the midpoint of the 1978-79 season became England’s first million-pound player when he signed from Birmingham City.

Clough repeated the trick with Forest the season after, and the glory days in the East Midlands have not been as glorious until now with the fantastic achievement of Leicester. But not only Leicester, there is Claudio Ranieri, too.

A well-liked man who has had a highly successful career, Ranieri was the butt of jokes during his previous spell in England, when all he did was lead Chelsea to their highest finish in the top flight for nearly a half-century — as runners-up to Arsenal’s “Invincibles” no less — and take them to a Champions League semi-final.

The ridicule returned when he was appointed manager of Leicester last summer, as if a man who has finished second in three different top leagues in Europe is incapable of overseeing a club that spent the previous season in a relegation battle. But he has made a right fool of his critics while the players, who range from castoffs at bigger clubs to career Football League stagers, have cashed in by showing a steely determination to not get beaten while making the most of their chances.

Their odds again, 5,000-1, were unbelievable. Not even in the Grand National would the least-favoured nag be pushed out that far before the off — and in-running, only just before pulling up.

It is one of the great stories and something for us to keep in mind in Bermuda as we approach the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Our athletes will always be massive underdogs against the world’s best, and while we cannot expect them to have nightmares as did the supposed elite in a largely underperforming Premier League season, to not dream is to not live.

Of those who we know are going to Rio — the full team will be announced on June 23 in a ritzy get-together at Gosling’s Wine Cellar — we have two live shots for a medal and another with an outside chance.

For all the many issues this place has, that we can still produce athletes who merit their place shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s best is a gift from on high.

The live medal shots, you ask?

Flora Duffy, of course, the triathlete who leads the World Triathlon Series in the early stages and appears to get better and better with each passing year.

The other is Paralympian Jessica Lewis, the wheelchair sprinter, who could do with some love from this country.

A Parapan Am Games champion in the T53 100 metres in Toronto last summer and world bronze medal-winner in Doha in the autumn, Lewis is a live chance in Brazil but too often flits under the radar in the public consciousness.

Then there is Shelley Pearson, who sprang to international prominence in 2015 when she was part of the Oxford University team that won the Newton Women’s Boat Race on its inaugural passage over the full course on the Thames.

Her qualification subsequently for the Games as a single sculler came as no surprise, becoming Bermuda’s first rower at this level since Jim Butterfield of 1972 vintage in Munich.

While the efforts of each and every one of our Olympians and Paralympians are to be applauded, these three are entitled to go to Rio more in expectation than in hope.

Take that: Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has made a fool of his critics (Photograph by Rui Vieira/AP)