Friday, 5 July 2013

Now that's what I call bravery 2013

"I've been better."
With those three words, cyclist Geraint Thomas wrote himself into Welsh sporting folklore.
The team Sky rider deservedly took his place alongside the likes of JPR Williams, Jamie Roberts and Alun Wyn Jones.
And on a wider stage, he put himself up there with the likes of Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, German World Cup winning captain Franz Beckenbauer and Warrington Wolves rugby league prop Paul Wood.
Why? Well, when Geraint said: "I've been better," he had just completed two stages of the Tour De France with a fractured pelvis.
Yes, you did read that right - two stages of one of the world's toughest sporting events with a fractured pelvis. Or to put it another way, he had just ridden 301.5 kilometres, on a bike, with a fractured pelvis.
Have you seen those bikes? More importantly, have you seen the seats on those bikes?! They aren't exactly built for comfort.
When you think about the twists and turns, ascents and descents, lumps and bumps, and even sleeping policemen on an average Tour de France stage, you can only imagine the kind of agony Thomas must have gone through.
And that's not to mention the pain he must have been in when he completed the last few kilometres of the first stage of this year's race when he suffered the fracture in a horrific crash.
If you thought the "I've been better" comment was understated, how about: "I can feel it slowly getting better, but I've got a crack in the bone so I guess it's always going to hurt a bit isn't it?".
Hurt a bit?! Remarkable.
Tour de France favourite Chris Froome hit the nail on the head, however, when he said: "He's Welsh. He'll survive."
Not only has he survived, at the time of writing, he's still riding despite the pleas of his mam back in Wales who wants him to come home and put his feet up!
Geraint has form for shrugging off serious injury. In 2005 he ruptured his spleen - which later had to be removed - during a training ride in Australia.
Geraint has certainly, then, earned his place alongside Welsh sport's pantheon of absolute nutters, when it comes to carrying on in the face of serious injury.
Sitting up there with other Welsh sportsmen who appear to have little regard for their own well being is former Wales and British Lions full-back, JPR Williams.
His most impressive injury-defying moment came during the 1978 match between centenary-celebrating Bridgend and touring New Zealand.
All Black prop John Ashworth’s studs ripped a large hole in the side of JPR’s face, as he lay defenceless on the floor at a ruck.
Even by modern standards, where players seem to be constantly shuttling backwards and forwards to the blood bin, this was a bad one.
I will never forget the horrific sight of the Bridgend captain as he left the field. The right side of his face was completely obscured by blood, which was dripping down the front of his blue and white-hooped jersey and white shorts.
As he disappeared from the field and down into the dressing room, I remember thinking to myself “that’s the last we’ll see of him today”.
I should have known better! JPR was built from sterner stuff. He soon returned to the field with 30 stitches literally holding his face together.
The only real surprise was that our hero hadn’t embroidered his own face back together, Rambo-style.
In fact, the needlework was carried out by his father in the changing room, with help from his brothers and a local dentist!
Despite a branch of his facial artery having been severed, causing him to lose two pints of blood, they managed to close the gaping hole in his cheek and get him back out onto the field.
Unfortunately, his heroics failed to save the game as the home side went down 17-6, but Bridgend had won a moral victory, and JPR had written another chapter in rugby folklore.
As a medical man, you would have thought JPR - a consultant orthopaedic surgeon - would have know better, but it seems rugby playing medics don't make the best patients.
Jamie Roberts, then still a medical student, should have known better than to carry on playing for 15 minutes with a fractured skull during the 2008 Autumn International against Australia!
To be fair, if I’d just cracked heads with Aussie Stirling Mortlock at full tilt, I doubt if I’d be in any state to self-diagnose either.
In fact, I would just be grateful to be in one piece and still breathing.
Not Jamie though, when he was finally reintroduced to some of his senses, he not only carried on but played a huge part in the first Welsh try in a wonderful win against the Wallabies.
Even after he had left the field and been taken to hospital, he managed to send a coherent text message (no mean feat in itself) to his victorious team-mates, congratulating them on their win.
This, despite the official description of his injury being: “a fracture extending back from above the nose, along the roof of the eye towards the central structures in the base of the skull”.
And that brings us to Roberts' fellow British Lion on the current Australian Tour - Alun Wyn Jones, who leads the tourists in the final test.
In the 34th minute of the Wales v Scotland Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium in 2010, Alun Wyn dragged himself from the turf where he had been lying in obvious pain for some 20 seconds after tackling Sean Lamont, his left arm hanging limply by his side. It looked like his match was over.
But far from searching for the sanctuary of the touchline and treatment for his injury, he took his place in the defensive line, determined not to let down his team mates, or his country.
And he wasn’t just satisfied with standing there as nuisance value to make up the numbers either.
As Scotland’s Thom Evans threatened to break through the Welsh defence, the big second-row, his arm still dangling uselessly, lined up the wing and launched himself like a torpedo into a double tackle with hooker Gareth Williams.
Knowing he was already injured, and likely to cause himself further pain and possibly severe damage, he made a calculated decision to throw himself into the challenge.
The fact that seconds later, the target of that shuddering tackle, Thom Evans, had got to his feet and continued his run, only to be tacked again, this time with grave consequences, only serves to highlight Jones’s bravery and commitment to the cause.
Even then, Jones managed to keep up with play and cleared out a player from an ensuing ruck with his right shoulder as he kept his left arm tucked into his side to protect it from further injury.
Having managed to play on until half time, no one would have blamed him if he hadn’t reappeared for the second half.
But return he did, to play a vital role in the thrilling finish. Although the extent of his injury was not then known, to play over half an international rugby match with a chipped bone in his elbow, and ligament damage, was nothing short of remarkable.
To my mind, though, Geraint Thomas' excruciating escapades don't just put him up there with his fellow Welsh heroes, they put him alongside the likes of the great Franz Beckenbauer.
The legendary German skipper broke his clavicle in the early stages of the 1970 World Cup semi-final versus Italy. His arm was put in a sling and he played the remainder of the match - including extra time!
He had doubtless gained inspiration from his countryman Bert Trautmann, who dislocated five vertebrae in his neck when he collided with a Birmingham City player in the 75th minute of the 1956 FA Cup final.
Despite having been knocked out, Trautmann played on until the final whistle, even making two more saves to help City in the cup.
Perhaps one of the most eye-watering sporting injuries ever was suffered by Warrington Wolves Paul Wood, who played on for 20 minutes in last season's rugby league Grand Final having ruptured a testicle, which later had to be removed.
But the one thing I reckon that puts our Geraint above all the others is that most of them didn't know the seriousness of their injury when they carried on playing, whereas our hero has climbed, or rather been helped, back on his bike day after day following the diagnosis of his injury.
Now that's what I call bravery. Hopefully some of our modern day professional footballers will think of Geraint the next time they feign injury and limp to the touchline when the only thing they've pulled is the wool over the referee's eyes.
By Mogz


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