Sports bridesmaids: Careers in the shadow of legends

IMAGINE if Winx had never raced, but spent her life in a field munching grass and enjoying the good life.

It sounds preposterous, given the mighty mare's historic run, but in another world, rival Happy Clapper could have been the best sprinter of all time.

Today's $4 million ATC Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2400m) will be the eighth time the "people's horse" Happy Clapper has locked horns with Winx.

The scorecard is currently 7-nil in favour of the great mare.

Happy Clapper's trainer, the king of one-liners Pat Webster, once said it would take a Steven Bradbury moment to beat Winx. So far it hasn't happened.

If there had been no Winx, Happy Clapper would have pulled in extra earnings of $1,990,000. Instead, the sprinter, despite winning the Doncaster last week (pictured), is likely to go down in history as one of sport's perennial bridesmaids.

But there have been plenty of those, including another great racehorse Hay List.

Many pundits say Hay List would have been a champion sprinter in any era but he had the distinct misfortune to race against the legendary, unbeaten Black Caviar.

Black Caviar pips Hay List - again.
Black Caviar pips Hay List - again.

Hay List, the horse from Gosford, ran second to Black Caviar in four Group 1 races, in effect costing him some $1.2 million in "lost earnings".

Hay List's trainer John McNair once described Black Caviar as a "sledgehammer". McNair came as close to any at doing the impossible and beating Black Caviar.

"I keep getting to the races where I think we're a chance and it evaporates after about 10 seconds,'' he once said.

How many seconds Pat Webster and the Happy Clapper camp feel themselves a chance of pulling off the unthinkable will be known shortly after 3pm today.

But what of the other amazing athletes who, due to bad timing, didn't get to shine because of being in the shadow of a legend?

 

The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan (23) goes up and under Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. Pic: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser.
The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan (23) goes up and under Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. Pic: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser.

 

Perth-born right-hand leg-spinner Stuart MacGill (left) could have had 500 Test wickets if not for the brilliant career of Shane Warne.

The colourful Warne dominated all levels of cricket to be known today as Australia's greatest spinner.

This impressive record ensured MacGill was often kept out of the national team and spent his highly successful career behind "Warnie" in the hearts and minds of the cricket public.

Coming second best to brilliance is something to which Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake is well accustomed. Blake has spent the majority of his life in the shadow of the world's fastest man, fellow countryman Usain Bolt.

Yohan Blake watches on as Usain Bolt does push ups to celebrate winning the men's 200m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Pic: EPA/KERIM OKTEN.
Yohan Blake watches on as Usain Bolt does push ups to celebrate winning the men's 200m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Pic: EPA/KERIM OKTEN.

The man affectionately known as the "Lightning Bolt" made winning an art form during his stellar career, including a historic six gold medals for the 100m and 200m at three consecutive Olympics.

As a result, Blake was left to settle for second position on most occasions. With Bolt retired, it's up to Yohan to try to emulate the imposing legacy left by arguably the greatest athlete ever.

And thus far it hasn't been easy. Blake finished a disappointing third in the 100m men's final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast earlier this week.

It was a shock result for the 28-year-old, who was expected to seize control of world sprinting following Bolt's retirement last year. But perhaps it is now too late. Unfortunately for Blake, South Africa's Akani Simbine had other ideas as he surged to the gold medal.

The tennis court has also witnessed its fair share of bridesmaids. Just ask Venus Williams, whose sister Serena has relegated her to second-best her entire playing career.

Serena Williams holds the winner's trophy as she poses with runner up Venus at the Australian Open in 2017. Pic: AFP PHOTO / Greg Wood.
Serena Williams holds the winner's trophy as she poses with runner up Venus at the Australian Open in 2017. Pic: AFP PHOTO / Greg Wood.

Serena has the most grand slam victories of any woman, and the player most adversely affected is Venus, who she beat six times in slam finals.

The siblings played in four consecutive grand slam finals: from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, with Serena winning all four.

When it comes to basketball's best, you can't go past the mercurial Michael Jordan. The Brooklyn-born shooting guard won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, and collected the NBA finals MVP in each of those successful seasons.

The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan (23) goes up and under Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. Pic: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser.
The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan (23) goes up and under Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. Pic: AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser.

Jordan's greatness dominated the headlines, often prompting some scribes to forget about Utah's prolific Karl Malone. "The Mailman" made the playoffs every season of his career, but was beaten in consecutive finals by Jordan's Bulls, and so never won a championship.

Then there is rugby league and the tale of the Western Suburbs Magpies. Between 1958 and 1963, Wests were runners-up four times to the mighty St George Dragons, who would go on to win 11 straight titles.

Wests had only won the premiership four times previously. Sadly, though, the Magpies will be forever bridesmaids to the all-conquering Dragons in the rugby league record books.



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