Perils of international competition provide food for thought

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2001, 12:00am

Who let the chefs out? Who? Who? Vijay Singh, that's who, and don't be surprised if you read stories in the next few days about a few ex-Masters champions having iffy stomachs.

As the 2000 winner, the big Fijian was asked to choose the menu for the annual get-together of the Green Jackets. Recalling Sandy Lyle's choice of the traditional Scottish dish, haggis, and Tiger Woods' doffing his culinary cap to McDonald's by offering up cheeseburgers and milk shakes, the dinner guests were naturally wary about Singh's choice.

And, as it turned out, rightly so. For old Asian hand Singh went for Thai food and brought in a chef from a Thai restaurant in Atlanta to, well, stir things up. As lovers of Thai food will know, tom yam soup can rate from half a chilli on the menu to an explosive five. The spicier the better for guys like Singh but what about Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer?

Singh, whose perceived arrogance of a few years ago has given way to a laid back stateliness, has been having a bit of fun with his fellow champions. During an interview earlier in the week he said the food would be 'spicy enough to stir up a few tummies' but later said he was joking and the expected fare was 'pretty mild'.

If Singh was prone to ask the chef to throw in a few more chillies to spice up the evening, the Masters favourite would not mind - Tiger Woods is, after all, part Thai and has the genes to cope with hot food.

While the pre-tournament eating habits of Woods rarely seem to affect his performances, one sportsman was humiliated by his appetite last week.

Fiji rugby player Saula Rabaka, who arrived at the Hong Kong Sevens carrying the heavy tag line of the 'new Serevi', fell in love with the buffet feasts served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel.

His weight rose quickly from the 80 kilograms he normally carries about and Rabaka flopped so badly that coach Tomasi Cama dropped him like a hot jacket potato smothered in butter and cream. This was truly expected hero to zero stuff with Rabaka not even figuring on the bench for the knockout stages.

'Saula seems to have put on weight this week, eating all this hotel food, and it has slowed him down,' Cama said. 'I noticed it against Russia, so I gave him a rest. Lote [Degei] has filled in well so I'm not too worried.'

Food is also very much on the mind of the Dallas Mavericks as they prepare to unleash Chinese colossus Wang Zhizhi on an unsuspecting NBA. Wang, the first Asian player to sign for a top American team, has a seven-foot-one frame which takes quite a bit of fuelling. Chinese staples are, of course, freely available stateside but so to are a galaxy of goodies which Wang has had little exposure to.

Which is probably one of the reasons why Mavericks assistant coach Donnie Nelson has installed Wang in his suburban home and is constantly by his side during waking hours.

'I've got to stay here with him because he needs that connection right now,' said Nelson. And it also helps prevent Wang raiding the fridge. Adds a new dimension to 'dunkin' donuts' doesn't it?