Ken Irons returns with the second part of his feature on that rarest breed of athlete who enjoyed success at the highest level of more than one sport – part two focuses on the Compton brothers, Herschel Walker and Rebecca Romero.
A man who arguably set the bench mark for multi-sport participation more than any other was Denis Compton (1918 – 1997).
He played cricket for Middlesex and England as a right hand batsman and left arm spinner. He was an attacking batsman with a swashbuckling approach and his post war exploits, which included scoring over 3,000 runs in the 1947 season, and playing outside left for Arsenal, ensured that he was as big a sporting hero as England has ever seen.
A pleasant, genuine personality added to his appeal and he was the first English sportsman to attract substantial advertising revenue. His face could be seen all over the country smiling down from billboards, earning him the affectionate nickname ‘Brylcream Boy’.
Denis’ brother, Leslie (1912-1984), also played football for Arsenal, as a centre half, and cricket for Middlesex as wicket keeper. He won two international caps at football, late in his career, and remains the oldest player to debut for England.
Although, perhaps, a slightly superior footballer, he could not hope to match his brother cricket-wise and always stood in Denis’ sporting shadow.
Herschel Walker has never been a man to bow to convention. An ex-American football star (1982 Heisman trophy winner), Olympic bobsledder, track and field runner and taekwondo black belt, he started a new career, aged 48, in martial arts.
Walker won his first Strikeforce MMA fight, defeating a man barely half his age. His martial arts trainer can scarcely believe his dietary regime – he eats only one meal a day and as a vegetarian eschews meats as well as, amazingly, other proteins, reasoning that his forbears, from South Georgia, worked excessively hard, long hours without the need for such nourishment, so why shouldn’t he?
He will also, if in the mood, abstain from food altogether for 3 or 4 days at a time, this habit not appearing to detract from his heavy training program. For example he is always up at 5.30am for his 750/1500 push ups and 2000 sit ups, preparatory to a long, hard day.
Interestingly, like Bo Jackson (the subject of the first part of this article), Walker suffered with a stutter in childhood, which led to his being bullied, similarly finding confidence and self belief via his sporting prowess, although his obsessive outlook has led to occasional problems with personality disorder in later years.
Rebecca Romero (born 24/1/1980 in Surrey), has been an outstanding athlete who has accomplished fame both as a rower and cyclist. She was the first British woman to compete in two different sports at the Olympic Games and when she won gold in the individual pursuit at Bejing in 2008, she became just the second woman from any country to win medals in more than one sport.
Rebecca took up rowing at 17 and, startlingly, progressed from novice to under 23 international in a mere 8 months. Her career (favoured position – stroke) lasted from 1998 to 2005. She forsook oars for handlebars thereafter when her cycling career took off (2006 to 2011). She won the world championship individual pursuit in 2008.
There are others who have competed among the upper echelons of more than one sport of course, with the likes of the legendary Michael Jordan (basketball and baseball) and gargantuan Brock Lesnar (wrestling and American football), whose failures provide evidence of just how difficult a feat it is.
For that reason alone fans should celebrate the smattering who have achieved glory in more than one sporting field. Against all the odds their desire and talent have raised them far beyond the norm and placed them within the sanctuary of an elite club with a heavily compressed guest list.