Everyone adores a winner with the Tupper traits

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The Independent Online
WHAT DID we find most appealing about Alf Tupper, Tough of the Track? Certainly we appreciated his ability to respond to adversity - nail poking up through sole of running shoe, unfair elbowing from disdainful aristocratic opponents usually resulting in our man picking himself up off the cinder track and setting off in redoubled pursuit - "I'll run 'em!" - with teeth clenched.

But the acme of Alf, surely, was his makeshift lifestyle - long days working as a welder, hasty fish-and-chip suppers shared with his faithful hound in the workshop before setting off to do battle with the toffs and the indigestion.

Had Alf ever been in a position to claim National Lottery funding, who knows how his lot might have changed? Perhaps he would have set himself up with a nice little microwave oven and a freezer full of pasta dishes.

It would be nice to think, however, that such assistance would not have radically altered his life. After all, it hasn't much changed that of Michael Jones.

Britain's leading hammer thrower, who won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games earlier this month, works a 50-hour week as a warehouseman in the village of Capel, near Crawley. He does his weight-training during his lunch-breaks - "all my mates think I'm an animal," he says.

The Australian to whom Jones narrowly lost in Kuala Lumpur had trained for a year in Germany with the current world champion, Heinz Weis, thanks to funding from the Australian Institute of Sport.

For his own throwing practice, Jones had to make a deal with a local farmer which involved laying a seven foot by 10 foot concrete slab in a field for what the local council would probably describe as "dual use". The farmer uses it for manoeuvring his tractor into the field, and Jones uses what he fondly describes as his "little lump of concrete" to launch a bombardment on the strawberries and leeks growing 75 metres away at the top of the hill.

Britain's bobsleighers had a similar story to tell after taking the bronze medal at this year's Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. While their German, French, Austrian and Swiss rivals had enjoyed out-of-season training on their home courses, the British quartet got themselves down to Thorpe Park, in Surrey.

In a nettle-bound space behind the main children's theme park, they worked long hours pushing a rusting practice bob along two rails. Once they had hopped in, of course, they had to hop out again and drag the bob back to the start - it wasn't going anywhere, after all. The Tupper Factor. There's nothing like it.

In an era replete with sensible health advice - for zinc, eat plenty of shellfish; get your magnesium from soya beans - it is a positive tonic to find someone who manages to combine sporting success with a humanly fallible lifestyle. Everybody loves a winner - but everybody adores a winner who appreciates a beer or two. Or even admits to having a spot of what they fancy every now and again.

Jones's hammer-throwing team-mate in England's Commonwealth team, Lorraine Shaw, brightened the day for many observers when she admitted after taking the silver medal that she needed to lose a bit of weight - but just couldn't. "I love my sweets," she said. "And I love my Chinese food." Good on you, girl.

The old image of professional darts players as pot-bellied, lager-swilling, chain-smokers has been airbrushed away to the point where only the bellies attest to the lifestyle as they perform for the television cameras.

But a glance at the pot-bellied, lager-swilling, chain-smoking spectators attests to the fact that while you can take the game out of the pub, you can't take the pub out of the game. Not, that is, without denuding it of its essential quality.

One of the finest things about darts and, indeed, other sports such as lawn bowls, is that you don't need to be at the pinnacle of physical perfection to be very good at them.

The introduction of tenpin bowling to this year's Commonwealth Games appeared to be an extension of this principle. And the ungainly, rounded, or ageing appearance of some of the protagonists bore it out.

Encouraged, I spoke to the Romford-born coach of the Malaysian team, Sid Allen, about his players' background. "There is a huge pressure of expectation on them here," he said.

It was a promising start, and I awaited further details. Something along the lines of "So why shouldn't they have the odd cigarette?" or "What harm is there in a couple of drinks?" would have done nicely at this point.

Allen, however, went on: "All these bowlers train in the gym for three hours a day and then practise for four hours - seven days a week." Cherish the Tuppers. They're getting fewer and farther between.

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