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Athletes struggle to reclaim former heights

Global Times (2013-08-12 P30)
By Mark Dreyer
We tend to think of sports as being a purely physical pursuit, but at the very top levels, it's far more about mental strength than anything the body can do. Just as a novelist can get ­writer's block and be paralyzed for months, once an athlete ­loses their sporting mojo, it can be very hard to retrieve.

Tiger Woods is fast earning the dreaded title of "best player never to have won a major." ­Except, of course, that he has ­already won 14 of the things, but you'd never know if you were just looking at the past five years. He's the best player in the world and regularly enters a major tournament on sparkling form, and as the heavy favorite. But every time, it seems, it's the same old story, and he leaves without a win.

China's swimming sensation from last year's Olympic Games, Ye Shiwen, is another who has most definitely misplaced her mojo. Ye raced to two Olympic titles in London in both the individual ­medley events, and there was little to suggest that she couldn't repeat the feat at this year's world championships. But after qualifying with decent times in both races, she was far slower in the finals than she had been in years, and now faces some tough decisions back in the training pool.

In Tiger's case, you can make a strong case for the karma gods taking away his mojo and stamping it into little pieces. Ever since that fateful night in November 2009 when Woods drove into a tree and all his many marital transgressions came flooding into the open, he has been a shadow of his former self.

But for Ye, it's been more a case of dealing with new pressures that come with instant stardom. The spotlight for Chinese stars is particularly bright: Snooker player Ding Junhui said earlier this year - and you suspect he was only half ­joking - that he wished he was an alien, because he felt so much pressure to win a maiden world championship title. Li Na and Liu Xiang also know what it's like to carry the hopes of 1.3 ­billion people.

Perhaps Ye and Woods should have a little chat with the God of Everything, ­David ­Beckham. From being ­universally hated after his 1998 World Cup red card to treated like a rock star around the world, he must know a thing or two about ­refinding that elusive mojo.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.
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