As someone entering her late twenties, I sometimes get rather despondent about the fact that sportspersons keep getting younger, and it will gradually become difficult to find someone to idolise and place on a pedestal. It might sound silly, but I have always liked my heroes to be older than me, perhaps because it gives me hope that it still isn’t too late and I have plenty of time to do something remarkable. And then, because most of my idols have been male, I wonder if our predilection for younger woman-older man pairs isn’t spilling bafflingly into my hero-worship. But just to shoot this half-baked theory down, I’ll have you know that my current idol is Monisha Kaltenborn, head of the Sauber F1 team.
I spent a good part of my teens loving and hating sportspersons with a passion. I graduated from pasting newspaper photos of Steffi Graf on my bedroom wall to including “Michael Schumacher for World Champion” in my wishlist at temples. Anyone who drove for Ferrari was a man worthy of worship; Williams, McLaren and Renault drivers were mere pretenders with an evil agenda. When Schumacher retired and ex-enemies Kimi Raikkonen, and later Fernando Alonso stepped into his gigantic shoes, I didn’t really mind because they were drivers from the old days. They were men who had started out as young upstarts even as Schumacher entered his twilight years, and brought with them a sense of familiarity, writing themselves into a chapter of my girlhood. It was reassuring to know that they were older than me, and that I would also perhaps be doing something very exciting when I was their age.
Then came Sebastian Vettel, a warrior from a new age. That he was very young and fond of milk when he arrived wasn’t a problem. That he was only slightly younger than me was. I felt the same way about Maria Sharapova, and it was ridiculous because I never wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to write, and an aspiring writer has quite a range of ages to find inspiration from. Sportspersons, on the other hand, have to start peaking while they’re young, and if you have drawn strength from their feats as a youngster, these stories of success sometimes sound almost like a warning bell. They remind you of the dreams you regaled yourself with more than ten years ago, the promises you’ve forgotten to keep, and the places you haven’t seen. You think of the wild hopes that you allowed yourself, not allowing pragmatism to interfere. I kept myself going in the pre-engineering years by dreaming that once I had my engineering degree, I’d be miraculously picked up by an F1 team for some skill that I wasn’t yet aware of. Now, I feel just a little ridiculous indulging in far-fetched dreams. You don’t have to be unhappy or dissatisfied with your life to feel that way; you are just reminded sometimes that things worked out differently, but not worse, than you imagined, and it might have been nice to work with a Formula One team after all.
For some inexplicable reason, I don’t really mind when people about ten years younger than me do spectacularly well at a sport they’ve chosen- I suppose I treat them as the next generation, and therefore as recipients of very different opportunities, growing up in an environment more conducive to their dreams, even if this isn’t entirely true. You might want to tell me it’s plain jealousy, and I’ll agree with that, but I’m sure that’s not all. I’m also certain that I’m not the only one who dislikes the twenties for being all grown-uppish.
Who says things are relentlessly bleak though? For every Sebastian Vettel, there is a Monisha Kaltenborn, and it’s more rewarding to be silly than to be practical. Like Anne of Green Gables said in an entirely different context, “…I’d rather look ridiculous when everybody else does than plain and sensible all by myself.”