Usain Bolt and sporting crossovers, can they work?

Bolt, Jordon, Cox just a few of the names who have tried to make the switch to a different sporting code.

There’s something not quite right about watching Usain Bolt running at full speed toeing a soccer ball. Those giant strides seem inhibited by the necessity of moving the ball in one direction or another. On a straight sprint track Bolt was the king of his domain: out there on the soccer field he’s just a likeable (but still very talented) curiosity.

When the lanky Jamaican scored two second-half goals for the Central Coast Mariners against Macarthur South West United last Friday night, the wider world sat up and took notice. Reports are that Bolt might now be off to Europe to pursue bigger soccer contracts there. Or maybe the whole thing is a harmless publicity stunt timed as it is in a void between the major football codes and the feature events of the Australian sporting summer…

Crossovers in sport are an interesting subset of sporting stories and they sometimes work out well. At the very least they make for a good diversion and remind us all just how adaptable the highly talented sports person can be.

I recall when Lleyton Hewitt, still at the peak of his tennis career, talked about putting away his racket and lacing up his boots for the Adelaide Crows. It didn’t even seem like a remotely good idea, which it probably wasn’t. Perhaps his mid-career thought bubble was purely a matter of curiosity or a desire to get of the treadmill off endless repetitive and relatively solitary practice and playing schedules. In any case, the red Sherrin wasn’t to be Hewitt’s destiny and his tennis-playing career ended happily and with dignity.

When basketballer Michael Jordan was at his playing and commercial peak his sporting career took

Michale Jordan playing for the white sox, photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

an improbable detour. Touted as a reaction to his father’s untimely death, ‘his Airness’ took leave from basketball and tried his hand with the Birmingham Barons and the Scottsdale Scorpions in minor league baseball. When the experiment had run its course he announced his return to the Chicago Bulls in March 1995 with a two-word press release ‘I’m back’. Jordan got away with it. The interlude added to the mystique of the man.

A couple of other basketball players have, in recent times, given up the hoop and taken on the hoof. Tasmania’s Hugh Greenwood turned away from a promising international career and has been successful enough so far with the Adelaide Crows, kicking 25 goals in 37 games with a grand final appearance to his name as well. Greenwood’s status as footy’s best-known basketball convert was usurped this year by the towering Texan, Mason Cox, who has joined the pantheon of tortured Collingwood Grand Final heroes, no matter what happens from here on.

Anthony Mundine 2000 - photo courtesy of Fox Sports

Anthony Mundine has good credits to his name in both rugby league and boxing, and Ash Barty took a year out from tennis to play cricket, which seems to have done her tennis more good than harm. And some people are just too darned talented:  Scott Draper has played the two devilishly challenging games of tennis and golf at a professional level!

But back to Usain Bolt and the unfolding story of his soccer career. I’ve never encountered Bolt in person but I do recall invoking his name directly in my time as a commentator with ABC Grandstand. It’s an occasion I remember well. The great (and I use the term advisedly) Pakistan fast bowler Waqar Younis joined me for an on air chat in the commentary box at Bellerive. During the interview it came to light that Waqar was the sporting hero of none other than Usain Bolt.

Now there’s a thought. Despite its standing as the home of a disproportionate number of the world’s sprint stars, Jamaica is a nation also gilded in cricket history and folklore. It’s said that fast bowler Michael Holding could have made it to the Olympic games as a 400-metre runner. Perhaps at this point in his life Usain Bolt could try his hand at the game of his childhood? The West Indies could use some more firepower these days and I’m sure Bolt would look a lot better running to the wicket with a cricket ball in his hand than he ever will with a soccer ball at his feet…

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