Struggling trio prove that the higher they go, the harder they fall

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 January, 1999, 12:00am

There cannot be anything more satisfying for an athlete than the spectacular view from atop the sports world.

After the hard climb, and the occasional falter, they can look down at the wannabes and have-beens who populate the slopes below.

But, as Newton found out when he was smacked on the nut by an apple, what goes up invariably comes down - except, of course, Michael Jordan who will float on air forever. Sadly, Petr Korda, Brian Lara and Jack Nicklaus have started to roll back down from the summits they scaled so impressively and they are picking up some hard knocks on the way.

A year ago, the spiky-haired Korda was cock-a-hoop with happiness after he was feted for winning the Australian Open.

He celebrated his first Grand Slam victory with his trademark split-leg leap and with it vaulted into the hearts of tennis fans the world over. Back in Melbourne last week at the scene of his 1998 triumph, Korda was jeered by spectators, cold-shouldered by some of his peers and bad-mouthed by others. The Czech was no longer a mate to the Aussies or his fellow professionals.

Korda's drug case is as puzzling as it is disturbing. He tested positive for a performance-enhancing steroid at Wimbledon but escaped a year's ban because a tribunal believed that he had no idea how the substance got into his blood stream.

The International Tennis Federation, which administers the Grand Slams but takes a back seat to the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) and Women's Tennis Association (WTA) who govern the year-long tours, is a wishy-washy organisation with little clout.

The fact that an independent tribunal heard Korda's case in the first instance was strange enough but it was much odder when the ITF announced they were going to appeal what was effectively their own decision.

Apart from declaring he has done nothing wrong, Korda has kept mum about the issue and that has bugged the hell out of Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. It took John McEnroe, who thumbed a nose at officialdom last week when he was initiated into the Hall of Fame, to put a new spin on the controversy.

'Look at the guy, he's so thin - surely, he cannot be on steroids,' he declared. Good point, Mac.

Lara, a gifted cricketer with a world record and countless trophies to his name, is also in free-fall from the peak. A misguided rebellion ahead of the planned South Africa Test series and a dismal display when the team eventually arrived has taken its toll on Lara.

Given the greats that have gone before him - Gary Sobers and Viv Richards to name just two - leading the West Indies was always going to be a thankless task but Lara could not have anticipated how fast he could fall.

'For all his enormous gifts as a batsman, Lara has been spoiled rotten by an adoring public and by compatriots who precipitately conferred on him honorary royal status [prince] with bounty to suit,' ran a scathing editorial in the Barbados Advocate after the West Indies lost the Test series 5-0. Ouch, indeed.

The sorriest sight of the week was Nicklaus, golf's Golden Bear, limping along the fairway on his 59th birthday and failing to hit a shot anywhere near the target.

Nicklaus has a worn left hip and cannot execute the follow-through on his once-fluid golf swing. It has become so frustrating for one of the game's greatest exponents that he will check into a hospital soon for a hip replacement operation.

Hopefully, it will give him the mobility to climb back on to the tee, if not to the summit of senior golf.