Sports writers often discuss over how to measure greatness of players. One way, some suggest, is the number of records they set. Some say, it is the longevity, while some stress on the sheer dominance they exert while on the field.
Fulfilling one of these may make you extraordinary. But, what remains elusive is that one method, one yardstick to measure greatness, or genius in sport. However, there are some players scattered in the history of sports that ranked up equally well, in all these criteria.
While 6th National Games went full swing along with complaints and controversies of mismanagement that National Sports Council has gained notoriety for, there were players pushing themselves against their own limit, to cross the barriers they had set for themselves.
However, there was one player, for whom it was mere routine, playing at the highest level. For him, there was hardly an extra mile to run, or hardly an extra drop of sweat to waste. For Hira Bahadur Thapa, it was just another day in office, playing for the national title in squash. But for statisticians, it was another page of glory. It was the 18th year, Hira Bahadur Thapa was to take the national title. 18 years is a long time, especially in sports where champions win and lose title in matter of weeks. Not many in the world would have managed to win the tile with élan that Thapa did. It should be noted here that he lost a set in pursuit of his dominance that’s never-seen-before. The only time he lost a set in Squash was in 1994, when he became the national champion for the first time.
Ask Ryan Giggs, the Welsh footballer who plays for Manchester United, how to ensure longevity in a sport, he probably will tell you hard work and maybe luck. And you have to remember here that his team hasn’t been league champions every season since 1991, when Giggs joined the gang. Moreover, it’s a team game and even Giggs is allowed to make mistakes which others can cover. Not such luxury in an individual sport.
Hira could perhaps be compared to Edwin Moses, who spent 13 years at the top of a track event like 400m hurdles. But even if you look at Moses’ best years – 1977 to 1987 – where he took three world titles and broke his own world record twice in the space of 9 years, 9 months and 9 days, this man from Bakrang VDC in Gorkha appears towering, despite being a good foot shorter.
Ask him, how does he feel about being unbeaten for so long. He would tell you, “I feel sad. There should be competition which makes us work hard. Sometimes, I feel as if the sport is not developing as much as it should.”
You don’t see such humility in many players these days, when we are used to seeing footballers taking to ramps and spending fortune to improve their looks, just after few playing seasons. Talk to him and you’d find out, he’s more worried about how to develop the sport rather than extending his run at the top. After all, how many of the sport stars would idolize a security guard? He does, just because in his initial years of play his cousin, who worked as a security guard, helped him get places to play. Although he respects Pakistani players Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan – undisputed superheroes of squash – he doesn’t idol worship them. Modest to the core? Perhaps…
Ask him how much would a player in some other part of the world have made, had they remained national champion for 18 years, he has a wry smile. He tells you, he’s earned a job of Assistant coach at NSC and his children also are squash players.
Ask him how soon he would be beaten at the court, he says his son, also his protégé, might beat him in a year if he continues improving at present pace. 44-year-old Hira tells you, “I am not growing anymore.”
We might talk of what other players could learn from him, modesty, confidence, skills or technique. All of it becomes irrelevant, knowing that he himself has had to ‘produce’ the person who could beat him. Tells you, his value in Nepali squash. Diamonds, indeed, are forever.
(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly sports column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 3rd March, 2012)