“You should see the Colosseum Spaniard. Fifty-thousand Romans… watching every movement of your sword… willing you to make that killer blow. The silence before you strike and the noise afterwards. It rises. It rises up… like a storm. As if you were the thunder God himself.”
I am not cut from the usual sports fan cloth, to the extent that I don’t religiously follow a football team, give scant attention to the Tennis Masters, and am honestly not sure I could name more than an handful of NBA luminaries; but that is far from true when it comes to Formula 1 where you will see my relative indifference morph into something bordering on fanaticism. From as young as 5 years old, I can remember sitting with my father, and on something roughly amounting to a fortnightly basis, watching my heroes battle it out, lap after seemingly endless heady lap, to their ultimate victory, or at times their less than dignified demise.
I remember only too vividly Jim Clark’s untimely death at Hockenheim in 1968, the magic of Ayrton Senna, the seemingly unstoppable Michael Schumacher. To my eyes they were the closest things to modern day gladiators I had ever witnessed; to paraphrase Tennessee Williams they had the “guts to live”.
So it should perhaps not come as much of a surprise, to tell you that 3:10 am Monday morning (Beijing time) saw me sitting as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof (talking of Tennessee Williams) at my local all-night sports bar, virtually joining the 40,000-strong crowd huddled in the former baseball stadium section of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, willing with every cell in my body that one of my all-time heroes, England’s Lewis Hamilton, could achieve the seemingly unachievable by joining the hallowed Juan Manuel Fangio and the indomitable Michael Schumacher, by becoming only the third racing driver ever to win five F1 titles.
The rest is history, by 5:00 am he was performing celebratory doughnuts in his Mercedes W09 before his adoring fans; his fourth place sufficient to ensure the world championship. He had made it look so easy. And there’s the rub, and our opportunity to learn from such trailblazers.
When I first decided to embark on what will be my third degree with the University of London, it really didn’t seem very realistic. I was over 50 years old, effectively a single-parent father to two children, and running both a busy psychoanalytical practice, and a commercial recording studio (more on that another time). The road ahead looked pretty rocky, the rivers wide and the mountains steep; but certainly no more daunting than it could have looked to a young Fangio when he abandoned his school studies to immerse himself in the heady world of motorsport, nor to the 8 year old Hamilton when he first scampered around the go-kart tracks where he honed his early driving skills.
The point being, that with dedication and passion anything becomes possible; the insurpassable ridge can be traversed, the rivers bridged, and the walls breached. And in case you’re wondering, to take a brief musical aside, that is already a song:
“When the river was deep, I didn’t falter
When the mountain was high, I still believed
When the valley was low, it didn’t stop me, no no
I knew you were waiting, I knew you were waiting for me”
(“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” by George Michael, featuring Aretha Franklin)
But it has taken, as with anything worthwhile, a great deal of single-mindedness and dedication. Countless 4:00 am starts, fingers aching from endless rewrites of dreamed of eloquence, headaches from reading judgments that make the Gordian knot look like a Boy Scout’s reef knot. Step by step, case note by case note, that yearned for oasis (which for me was always an Upper Second or First if I was lucky in my Qualifying Law Degree) has gotten closer. The knot has started to loosen, and as I turn the final corner (with just a dissertation and a Property Law module between me and the checkered flag) I have come to realise that as LLB students we have far more in common with the Fangios and the Lewis Hamiltons of this world than we might dare to imagine.
In time, just like Alexander we can come to cut the Gordian knot that once bound us so tightly, and just like the Spaniard we can hear the mighty Colosseum roar.
“Fellow Gladiators… I salute you.”
Mark is studying the LLB in China.
i. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator released May 5 2000
ii. Tennessee Williams – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof first performed March 24 1955
iv. I Knew You Were Waiting For Me – Aretha Franklin & George Michael