As Harrison crashes, Matt Handley looks at prodigies who failed to realise their potential.
“I’m going to shock the world. 100%, the story’s going to end on my terms”. When I interviewed Audley Harrison at the Oxford Union in Trinity of last year, the heavyweight was bullish about his chances against Liverpudlian David Price. Earlier this month, as Harrison lay unconscious on the canvass, with a knockout that brought his sixth career defeat, it was clear that Audley’s story had reached an anticlimactic conclusion.
Many would have expected the story of Britain’s first Olympic boxing Gold medallist in 32 years to have played out this way after he triumphed at Sydney 2000. Despite being heralded as the nation’s boxing saviour, his career was one characterised by continuous disappointment; an acrimonious split with the BBC in 2004 left him in the boxing wilderness, whilst his embarrassing defeat against David Haye in 2009, in which he failed to land a punch, meant that few were surprised by Price’s crushing victory.
However, Harrison should take solace from the fact that he’s not the only sportsperson to be earmarked as ‘the next big thing’, only to turn out to be a devastatingly shite failure. Football is littered with comparable examples, almost all of whom were “sick on Champ Man ’04” only to forget how to kick the round thing once they hit puberty. Chief among these is Freddy Adu, the American striker who became the youngest MLS player in history when he made his debut for DC United aged 14 in 2004. However, after moving to Portuguese giants Benfica in 2007, he quickly showed himself to be more Adon’t than Adu (you’re fired – Puns Ed), scoring twice in 11 appearances before being shipped off back to the states via the Turkish 2nd Division. Closer to home we see ‘fox in the box’ Francis Jeffers, who signed for Arsenal from Everton in as a fresh-faced teenager in 2001 for a cool £8million. After becoming more famous for his diving than his finishing, he’s been sent on a whistlestop tour of the lower leagues of British football, scoring twenty goals in a decade. He now plays in Malta. Seriously. Finally, save a thought for David Bentley; mooted as the new Beckham after a series of spectacular goals, he signed for Spurs in a £16million deal in 2008. He’s now on loan at FC Rostov, situated in Russia’s cosmopolitan sounding ‘Rostov Oblast’ region. Fun times.
Rugby also has its fair share of flops. Gavin Henson, of ‘The Bachelor’, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and ‘Charlotte Church’s annoying boyfriend’ fame, was, before the spray tan and highlights, a superb fly-half, breaking into the Osprey’s side aged 21 in 2003, and receiving a Lions call up just a year later. After a series of off-the-field bust-ups and a greater concern with headline-chasing than egg-chasing, his career has ground to an unceremonious halt. And whilst he’s got time to turn it round, many worry that England’s 24-year-old Danny Cipriani seems set to tread the same path.
I could name too many sporting flops to fit into this article. There are probably a tonne more who I couldn’t name, consigned to the waste-bin of sporting history, rusticated from the dreaming spires of athletic glory. If there’s one lesson to learn from all this, it’s not to believe your own, or anyone else’s hype. And for God’s sake, don’t go on Strictly…
PHOTO// YO GHURT