A Day In The Life

I read the news today (oh boy) about an unlucky man whose knees had failed. And though the news was rather sad, some folks just had to laugh. They posted photographs.

It is difficult to convey to the younger generation what a limited and inadequate thing Schadenfreude was before the internet elevated it into a defining principle, and granted a voice to those small spirits who had, with some reason, hitherto been denied one. The capacity to extract delight from the hardship of others is hardly a modern invention; cruelty was a staple of antiquity, and not all the tales of what went on in the Colosseum are untrue. But what was once a scattered archipelago of mean-spiritedness has been joined up via an extensive dredging project into an endless spit, a term that hopefully conveys something of the regurgitative quality of what has consequently been thrown up.

I received the news that Rafael Nadal had withdrawn from the London Olympics at about 5.30am this morning. I confess my immediate reaction was not one of disbelief. It seemed plausible enough. His knees are a mess. My uncontroversial assumption was that this must have been a horrible decision for Nadal to have to make. He was to carry the Spanish flag in the opening ceremony. He was the defending gold medallist from Beijing. I imagine he was gutted. A quick search yielded the actual announcement, and I didn’t need to imagine it. He was gutted. For whatever reason, I decided to put off a return to sleep, and instead probed the internet for further information. I immediately regretted this decision. Where I’d taken Nadal at his word, others expressed only scepticism. Where I’d seen a devastated Nadal, others somehow saw a dissembling one. The conspiracy theorists were having a day out.

The theories have predictably ranged from the unrepeatably nasty to the ludicrous. This latter quality covers the suggestion that Nadal has deliberately withdrawn from the Olympics in order to focus his attentions on the Canadian Masters, having carefully measured the pride he would take in bearing the Spanish flag against the satisfaction engendered by potentially avenging last year’s early loss to Ivan Dodig. Having coolly weighed it all up, he apparently decided that Dodig represents unfinished business that simply cannot be ignored, whereas as he already has a gold medal. Athletes are notoriously disinterested in winning multiple gold medals. I’m not sure you’re even allowed to have more than one.

Other theorists, vouchsafed a vision of the world’s deep structures, have suggested Nadal’s latest withdrawal cleaves to a shadowy template. After suffering an upset at Roland Garros in 2009 he withdrew from the next big event, which was Wimbledon. In light of his defeat to Lukas Rosol some weeks ago, he is now compelled to withdraw from the Olympics. (The pattern seems clear enough, although it doesn’t explain why he was playing the week after losing to Dodig last year, given that the Canadian Open is apparently so big a deal that it is worth skipping the Olympics for.) Clearly there are subtleties at play here beyond my ken. But who could put such machinations past Uncle Toni, a tactician whose powers of foresight are so mighty that he cruelly forced young Rafael to play left-handed so that he could one day tarnish the legacy of an as-yet-unknown Swiss junior? You couldn’t write it, unless you are Dan Brown, for whom nothing is unwritable, merely unreadable.

Leaving to one side the legions of Nadal faithful for whom this heavy blow was hardly softened through being dreaded, various timid souls have essayed the entirely radical theory that the Spaniard was telling the truth: his knees have in fact not recovered sufficiently from the treatment, and he therefore isn’t able to compete to the best of his abilities. Some have taken him at his word, and have applauded his decision to withdraw now, thereby freeing up a spot on the Spanish team, and allowing someone else to haul la Rojigualda into the Olympic Stadium in a week’s time. All told, countless thousands have no trouble imagining how gutted Nadal must feel. They feel it, too. Even for those who don’t there must surely be some concession that his absence is a blow to the Olympic event.

I saw a film today (oh boy) the world No.3 had just withdrawn. A crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look, having read the book. Eventually I stopped looking, closed my eyes, and returned to sleep.

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