Martin Hannan: Andy Murray is greatest sporting Scot in a golden age
WITHIN hours of his extraordinary victory in the US Open, the debate was under way as to whether Andy Murray had just pulled off the greatest single sporting achievement by a Scot.
There is little doubt that he has done so. By any objective analysis, for Murray to win Britain’s first Grand Slam championship in 76 years surpasses any other individual Scottish sporting success, for in no other sport has there ever been such a Golden Age as tennis is now enjoying, with three other players – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – already acknowledged as all-time greats.
Tennis at the level where Murray now plays is the sport which demands the most potent blend of strength, stamina, skill and dexterity, required by no other game played by individuals.
At times on Monday night in New York, Murray and Djokovic went beyond mere sport and into the realms of artistry and heroism, quite beautiful play interspersed with physical feats of endurance. A 54-shot rally? How do people do that?
Does winning such a match and such a tournament make Murray the greatest sportsman in Scottish history? That’s an entirely different question, but in view of what he has just done, even at the age of 25, it is worth asking if Murray now stands atop the pantheon of Scottish sporting excellence.
For a nation that prides itself on football, the names of Kenny Dalglish, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone, Denis Law and others will always feature in a list of greats and favourites, but none of those four would claim to have won matches by themselves. That’s also why we must also disqualify Sir Alex Ferguson and Jock Stein from consideration, albeit great men and managers both.
Similarly, our rugby greats such as Andy Irvine, Gavin Hastings and further back, Ken Scotland, Wilson Shaw and the Smiths, Ian and Arthur, might lay claim to supreme achievement, though Douglas Elliot and Ian “Mighty Mouse” McLachlan would no doubt cackle at any mere back asserting greatness when they knew fine it was always the forwards who were the top dogs.
So if we are to judge Murray, it must be against the greatest of our individual sportsmen and sportswomen from sports where it is a solo effort that counts, and a dozen names spring readily to mind.
Sir Chris Hoy surely has the best claim to be the greatest sporting Scot. Yes, he won gold medals in team events but his individual record is unsurpassed and he is Britain’s most successful ever Olympian. He has dominated Scottish cycling for so long that we will not know what to do when he eventually retires, hopefully after winning Commonwealth gold in 2014 in the velodrome named after him in Glasgow.
Allan Wells was a fabulous athlete, and his 1980 Olympic gold in the 100 metres was a stellar achievement. Much was made of the fact that the USA boycotted the Moscow Games, but Wells proved his supremacy in that era by beating all the top Americans and the rest of the world in meet after meet.
Yet he never won a World Athletics Championship. Only one Scot has done that and yet, to the chagrin of feminists everywhere, Liz McColgan rarely gets a mention in a list of the greatest sporting Scots – and she won her gold in the 10,000m on a sweltering night in Tokyo in 1991 with a performance of incredible tenacity, and that after winning two back-to-back golds for Scotland in the 1986 and 1990 Commonwealth Games.
Do Wells and McColgan rate higher that Eric Liddell? No other Scot has had their life immortalised in an Oscar-winning movie, and his gold medal and world record in the 400m in Paris in 1924 must surely be the greatest track and field success by a Scot, especially considering the circumstances in which he competed and won.
Two Scottish motor racing drivers have topped the world rankings and been crowned Formula One champions. Jim Clark of Duns was rated the most naturally brilliant driver of his era, good enough to win the Indianopolis 500 in the US.
He had won a record 25 Grands Prix and gained a record 33 pole positions before his death in an accident at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968 stopped him from going on to set what would surely have been many more records.
He won two F1 titles, but Sir Jackie Stewart of Dumbarton won three, and broke Clark’s record to notch 27 wins, before he became a major figure in the sport, renowned for his tireless campaigns to make motor racing safer.
Our boxers have made an outstanding contribution to the sport globally, and Scotland’s first professional world champion Benny Lynch of the Gorbals would surely be a contender for the title of greatest sporting Scot except for the sad decline which he suffered so rapidly before his untimely death at the age of 33.
Ken Buchanan won his world title the hard way, going to the champion Ismael Laguna’s backyard in Puerto Rico in 1970 and coming away with the lightweight belt. Most pundits reckon Buchanan to have been the finest boxer in Scottish and perhaps even British history.
In golf, we had original masters of the game such as Old and Young Tom Morris, but Sandy Lyle’s achievement of winning the Open and the US Masters in the modern era surely puts him ahead of Colin Montgomerie in the rankings to be considered greatest Scot in his sport. Yes, Montgomerie has been a Ryder Cup legend and a winning Cup captain as has Sam Torrance, but it’s Lyle’s majors that make the difference.
If you consider all the “gentler” sports then you can look no further than East Lothian’s Willie Wood for sustained dominance over decades as a bowler. And memories of David Wilkie’s epic achievements in the swimming pool in the 1970s still seem fresh today.
The greatest sporting Scot of the 19th century must also come under starters’ orders for this “greatest” title. Donald Dinnie won over 10,000 professional contests in sports ranging from running to caber-tossing, and was so well-known that First World War artillery shells were named Donald Dinnies after him.
This debate will run and run, and it’s probably invidious to compare representatives from different sports and eras, but hey, we have a Grand Slam tennis champion in our midst, so talk of greatness is very much allowed these days.
Our best hope, however, is that the greatest is yet to come, and that many more young Scots in a plethora of sports will rival Andy Murray for the title.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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