Momentum Drives Great Sporting Successes – 26 July 2012

In physics, ‘momentum’ is defined as a ‘measure of the motion of a body equal to the product of its mass and velocity’ . Furthermore, it is seen as the ‘impetus of a physical object in motion’. This can be extended to life as momentum being the ‘impetus of a non physical process, such as an idea or a course of events’.

In sport momentum is just that, the impetus gained from a course of events. It is an extraordinary thing and can lead to extraordinary outcomes.

Often we witness or read of teams or individuals coming back from near certain defeat to claim quite incredible victories. Seismic shifts in fortune or belief do happen, sometimes over such short spaces of time and once momentum builds, nerve ends jangle and the seemingly impossible can happen.

Over the past weekend, there were three magnificent victors, Bradley Wiggins, Hashim Amla and Ernie Els, each of whom in their own way benefitted from momentum to enable them to perform incredible feats, beyond their wildest dreams and expectations. Impetus and momentum can lead to stunning victories, yet conversely can also produce devastating defeats in equal measure, as both the English cricket team and Adam Scott can subscribe to.

Bradley Wiggins produced a moment of sporting history. Well, to be specific, 87 hours, 34 minutes and 47 seconds of sporting history in becoming the first Britain to win the Tour de France. It really was a magnificent performance. However, it seemed as though we knew that he was going to be the champion at least a week before he completed the final victory leg up the Champs Elysees in Paris, such was the momentum and aura that he and his excellent Team Sky colleagues had developed once he had reached the front. Their wonderful team ethic, allied to Chris Froome’s unselfish support as his main back up rider, helped build up such a head of steam that there really was only going to be one winner. They made the yellow jersey theirs and they were not going to relinquish it, there was no way that this impetus was going to be shifted.

The South African cricketer Hashim Amla completed a similar herculian performance. He batted for almost 15 hours against a very strong English bowling attack to score 311 runs off 529 balls, and in doing so became the first South African cricketer to score a triple century in test cricket. Amla is a masterful cricketer yet not destructive. His powers of concentration were immense and once he was settled, the momentum just grew and grew. England could do nothing about it and, with Smith and Kallis also scoring centuries, the impetus was well and truly with the Boks. So, why should it then be, that on the same pitch, with equally good weather conditions, England should then succumb to defeat with an insipid second innings batting performance. Again, it was all about momentum, and it suddenly became a different game as Steyn and Morkel charged in and demons suddenly appeared that had not existed earlier when the South Africans batted. Indeed on the final day, once Steyn had made inroads into the English middle order, England crumbled to a crushing defeat. The momentum was all with South Africa and there was no way back for England.

However, at The Open, matters were far more dramatic over a very short space of time. Adam Scott was well clear, by 4 shots to be precise with only 4 holes left to play. He had played a calm measured round of golf, showing few nerves and the expected challenge from McDowell and Woods never materialised. It seemed like a procession, Scott was surely going to stroll to a comfortable victory with little fuss. And then something happened and it all changed. A shot into the bunker on the 15th, a very short missed putt on the 16th and all of a sudden it was a different game. Meanwhile, Ernie Els, who was 6 shots behind at one stage, had nothing to lose. Playing without pressure, he sank a few putts giving him birdies on holes 10, 12 and 14 , the crowd got behind him and he seemed re-energised. He could do no wrong and when he stood over a putt to suddenly take a share of the lead on the 18th, there was a certain inevitability about the outcome, such was the momentum that he had built up. Furthermore, he had been there before, he has several major victories under his belt and he possessed that crucial ingredient of experience, he knows what it takes to win. As the ball rolled in to the hole to  deafening roars, you sensed that the impetus was all with Ernie. Alas, poor Adam Scott, in contrast, lacking that major winning experience, made a further error and dropped another shot on the 17th so that he needed to par the last to force a play off. By now, with luck and momentum so against him, it was no surprise to see his final drive disappear into a fairway bunker and, despite a magnificent 3rd shot to the green, he could not hole the putt. You sensed that it was not going to drop, even though it was eminently puttable and Ernie was champion.

Golf can be cruel at times, life can be cruel and sometimes, whatever you try to do, there is no way to prevent the inevitable. The impetus of a force of events can be unstoppable and for Wiggins, Amla and Els, that momentum fired their successes. However,  both the England cricket team and Adam Scott were powerless to prevent the momentum shift that was taking place before them, they were gripped and there was no escape. They will both be hurting and will both be reflecting on their misfortune. Yet in their own ways, they both contributed in no small part to the richness of the sporting drama and entertainment. They were victims on this occasion but their time will come. Time is a great healer, they will learn from the experience and will come back stronger. On another day, the force will be with them, the momentum will be theirs and they will enjoy the sweet taste of success.

26 July 2012

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