Tuesday 15 September 2015


The year 1988 was a turning point in the Olympic movement - at the 91st  IOC session which was held in Lausanne in what one might call a strategic marketing ploy, the suggestions for hosting Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics on different years was put to vote. A landmark decision was taken, the two Olympics were split and spaced two years in even numbered years. The same Lausanne session also saw Barcelona, Spain and Albertville, France being elected as the hosts for the 1992 Summer Olympics and the 1992 Winter Olympics respectively.

Lillehammer, the Norwegian town was one of the bid cities (although theoretically it is a town) that showed interest to host the 1992 Winter Olympics along with Anchorage (United States), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Ostersund (Sweden), there was an opportunity to host the Winter Olympics two years later.

On 15th September 1988, during the 94th  IOC session at Seoul, South Korea, after the first round of voting, barring Sofia (which was eliminated), each of the remaining three venues had a chance. At the end of third round of voting, Lillehammer was chosen as the host and the selection marked the dawn of a new era in the Olympic movement.

While working on a sports event in 2010, my senior project manager narrated the experience of his first ever assignment and that happened to be at the 1994 Winter Olympics. His stories inspired me to visit this tiny town and in 2011, I did spend some time in Lillehammer. Looking at the Lysgårdsbakken ski-area and its surroundings, one could not miss the legacy the 1994 Olympics had left behind. Along with those pleasant memories, I also picked up a stuffed toy - a pair of Norwegian children Håkon and Kristin, dressed in Viking clothes.  

A few months later in December 2011, the town won the hosting rights for the second Youth Winter Olympic Games. In 150 days, this northernmost Olympic town will come alive and those unforgettable tales of Norwegian culture will again be in display to all the youth Olympians. 

Thursday 10 September 2015


Separated by a year, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras knew about each other's game when they faced they reached the 1990 US Open finals. They were picked by many to lead the American tennis in the 1990's along with Jim Courier and Michael Chang. 

Agassi, the senior of the two had already impressed many with some consistent performances and was playing in his second title clash coming into the finals. Sampras, on the contrary had a career marked with ups and downs - he had played his best tennis to reach his maiden grand slam finals by overcoming the legends like Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe in the quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively.

Two Americans facing each other in New York had been a rarity in men's tennis - in fact since 1953, there had been only one occasion when two American men played in the title clash (1979 finals between John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis) before this finals. In 1990, this was a match between the hopefuls of the American men's tennis and both these players had never won a grand slam before. The winner would win the hearts of many and irrespective of what the stats were.

Agassi was stylish - long hair, a headband and backed up with performances on the court, there was no denying Agassi created quite a stir and had a lot of fan following by the time he faced Sampras in the finals. He was an American youth icon; fashion, glamour, fame and attitude, all these fitted well and it was an instant connect with the masses and the media. Agassi was seen as the 'exciting' guy.

On the other hand, Sampras had his ups and downs since the junior days; he resembled a shy guy who went about his business discreetly. No drama, no overtly display of emotions and surprised many with his presence at the finals.

Growing up, it was pretty hard to imagine, the weak link in Sampras game was his serve. That he was taught to practice his serves day in and out helped him a lot to make the transition to the senior level. The use of the same toss and his ability to disguise the serve all came to play on the day of the finals as Agassi found it hard to return. In straight sets, Sampras finished off the match to win his first title.

It is uncertain how he would have performed against an unknown opponent or another legend of the game. Probably, it was Agassi's presence, the known factor which might have helped to calm his nerves as Sampras knew the opponent and that played a huge role in the mental makeup of his preparations.

"The better guy won the match. When you can hit a serve 120 (miles/hour) on the line, there is not a lot you can do about it" - with these words Agassi summed up the match, after having collected the consolation prize of  $175,000.

For Sampras, all those hours of watching the 16mm tapes of Rod Laver had paid off as he took his first step towards stardom. No matter what he did, he knew, he would always remain a US Open champion as he collected the trophy as the youngest US Open champion from David Markin, the then President of the United States Tennis Association. He couldn't believe his eyes as he stared at the trophy, closely at his name inscribed alongside many champions... it had not sunk in.. he went ahead and held his trophy aloft, probably posing for the first time in front of so many cameramen.

By the time these two athletes met at the 2002 US Open finals, they were at the far end of their careers and since that final twelve years ago, both had went on to achieve great things in tennis. Pete Sampras stood tall among all having won thirteen titles - a feat no one had managed to achieve in the open era, while Agassi was a career grand slam winner and had rejuvenated his tennis career yet again.

While records stayed that way, the personal form of Sampras was dipping rapidly while Agassi was more in control of the game. After years of dominating men's tennis, it all came down to Sampras and how motivated he was to go on playing. Sampras knew, he had it in him to win one more title if not many, but his record stated otherwise. Slowly, the media went after him, and since the triumph at 2000 Wimbledon, Sampras didn't have much to show in spite of reaching the finals at the US Open in 2000 and 2001.

The champions suffer a lot when they fail to live up to their standards; with each loss the glorious past appears to fade away and all that remain are 'memories'. The future looks uncertain - those memories remind us how great those years were, while media and a lot of experts speak about the present and remind constantly, those days are gone, and in some cases long gone.

Sampras at age 31, was branded old, slow and since his marriage to the actress Bridgette Wilson, soft. He was fed up after many people told him to retire, pointing to his game that had lost its edge. The two years leading up to the 2002 US Open final was an emotional ride for Sampras, whatever he did, it didn't work and unless he had his hands on a grand slam trophy, critics wouldn't shut up.

Like in the previous two years in 2000 and 2001, once again Sampras overcame much younger opponents to reach his eighth US Open finals and like in the years 1990 and in 1995, he faced Andre Agassi at the Flushing Meadows. Seventeenth seeded Sampras against the sixth seed Agassi - two American tennis legends competing for the trophy in front of the home crowd. The form didn't matter, the seeds didn't matter as Sampras knew Agassi's game and vice versa.

The crowd in anticipation of this titanic clash came in large numbers, they knew it might be the last time they would get to witness the two American tennis giants fighting it out on the courts of New York; like the first time they met in the 1990 finals to win the second oldest grand slam trophy in tennis. 

Irrespective of what Sampras had achieved (six more titles than Agassi at that point), the winner would take away all the glory. This match was a decider as to who was better and all the stats accumulated by those two players were put aside. It was the 'match'.

Many who had followed the game knew their preferences that night - but what about those newbies who were planting their first steps into watching tennis? How would they remember such a contest?

The great battles on the field remain etched in the memory of the fans for a long time - as those moments alone makes that significant impression when it comes down to determining favourites. As to words and numbers, they  convey the message unlike the images.

Four sets was all it took for the game to go in favour of Sampras; it didn't matter who the crowd was rooting for, as even the proudest of Agassi fans stood up acknowledging the 'true' champion of the day!

The Italian author and journalist Oriana Fallici once quoted - "Glory is a heavy burden, a murdering poison, and to bear it is an art. And to have that art is rare."

Sampras didn't rush into things and it took him over a year to come out in open and tell his fans and to everybody that he was 100% retired. "I'm at peace with it. It's time to call it a career."

When asked in an interview about how he felt winning his 14th and final title, Sampras replied - "I had the last word, and that feels great!

Tuesday 1 September 2015


Wolfgang von Trips, minutes before his demise 
"I wanted to win, but not at this price." - so remarked the 1961 Formula One champion Phil Hill. It was a dream victory to have secured his maiden world title in Formula One driving for Ferrari and to top it, in front of the several thousands of Tifosi at Monza, Italy. Hill won the title by leapfrogging his teammate by one point. Wolfgang von Trips, his colleague and the points leader coming into the race needed a third placed finish to secure the driver's title, a first for a German driver. His race ended on lap two, and a little later, his life ended too!


Growing up as a racer, Von Trips was not new to accidents. In fact, he survived so many accidents before maturity and consistency became an integral part of his driving. And these new attributes were on display when he was part of Ferrari's dream team of 1961. Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, Ricardo Rodriguez, Giancarlo Baghetti and Wolfgang von Trips won five of the seven races Ferrari took part in and the team and its drivers were clearly miles ahead from rest of the pack.

Coming into the penultimate race at Monza, Von Trips was leading the championship by four points over his American teammate Phil Hill. They were friends off the track, but on the race day they were fierce competitors as both wanted to be the first from their country to win a driver's title.

Von Trips was in the best position to claim the win as he qualified in the front row with the fastest time and all Hill could manage was fourth. Thousands of fans had gathered with a prospect of watching one of the Ferrari drivers winning the title.

The race started - Von Trips had the worst start and by the end of lap one he was placed sixth and ahead of him were - Phil Hill who led the race, followed by his other team mates Ginther and Rodriguez; then came Jim Clark, followed closely by Jack Brabham and Von Trips.

Von Trips relying on Ferrari's superior speed got past Clark and was chasing down Brabham. Clark with a lighter fuel load was not in a mood to give up that easy and his pace and car handling kept him within few metres of the German. As they duo approached the Parabolica curve, Von Trips slowed down a bit to position himself better to take the tricky right hander. Sensing an opportunity, Clark tried to overtake Von Trips from the left and at this instant, Von Trips moved slightly to the left to cover his position and next moment - bang!

The left rear of Von Trips made a severe high speed contact with Jim Clark's right front wheel and in the next few seconds, it was a catastrophe. The Ferrari took the aerial route, found itself inverted and with no seat belts, Von Trips was thrown off the car and he fell down with a great impact. The car with a high momentum went on to strike the fence where spectators were placed, hit some of them before flipping back on the track.

Von Trips died on the spot and so too eleven spectators. Three more died the next day and one after five days.


"Trips was head of me, driving on the centre of the track. Suddenly he slowed down. Since my Lotus was faster than the Ferrari, I tried to overtake him. In the same instant the Ferrari surprisingly pulled to the left, and a collision became unavoidable..." - this was Jim Clark's take on that dreadful incident.
Recollecting the incident after 50 years, the second placed driver that day Dan Gurney gave an account on what happened and what was the attitude back then in an interview with Daily Mail: "'I had a very good seat for watching what happened. I was probably running in about 10th place in my Porsche. There was a great group of drivers, some of whom were braver and less experienced than they should have been so the chance of something like that happening was pretty great." 

Phil Hill knew there was a huge accident, but the race continued. He completed the race in a little over two hours before he enquired his manager about what had happened.

"And Trips? Is he dead?"

"Come on,” said the manager. "They want you for the awards ceremony."

In today's world, it is unimaginable to think of such a response. But the times were different and as Dan Gurney points out - "We were born at a different time and basically were raised during the time of World War Two with many of us involved, or very close to being involved in it. It seemed to be the general outlook, people didn't complain about things and they had a World War Two attitude."

Robert Daley, who was a journalist that day recalled - "The emotions are still right on the surface. I was the same age as these guys and they were dying all around me."

In his book 'The Limit', the author Michael Cannell covers Phil Hill's triumph and the 1961 Formula One season - " I always felt like this was a proxy war. The British, Italians, Germans - they were still in some way fighting World War II. They were putting their handsome young men in the most sophisticated machinery and sending them out to their deaths."


Wolfgang von Trips belonged to one of the respected families in Germany. The Von Trips family lived in Castle Hemmerbach since 1751, and Von trips grew up in this grand building, with his ears attuned to the sounds of the Silver Arrows at the Nürburgring, which was very close to the castle grounds.

In 1961, a month prior to his unexpected demise, a fan club was formed in his honour and continuing the name of this great German post WW II, the members constructed a go kart facility in Horrem. With time, the virus of karting spread across Germany and with constant support from the Von Trips family, came a new facility in Kerpen-Mannheim.

Michael Schumacher's dad Rolf got involved and leased the facility for some time and that is where the Schumacher brothers first got the taste of racing. Other German drivers like Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld and the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel are all the products of this facility. Michael Schumacher re-started the passion and went on to complete the unfinished job of Von Trips in becoming the first German driver champion of F1 and the trend continues......


Wolfgang Von Trips on the brink of becoming the first German to win the championship was eager to get the 1961 Italian Grand Prix off his back. He was visibly nervous and he disclosed his feeling to Robert Daley and his wife over tea on the eve of the Grand Prix - "Every driver has a place deep inside him where he's afraid of death." He went on to add - "This could all end tomorrow, you never know."