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Ronnie O'Sullivan and sport's game-changing moments

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Ben Dirs | 08:30 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

Sports usually change imperceptibly, nudging forwards in increments, so that it is only with the benefit of hindsight - footage of muddy old pitches, of funky old golf swings, of scrum-halves 10st when wet - that you realise exactly how far a sport has come. Or, in the case of heavyweight boxing, regressed.

Then you get those game-changing moments when a sportsperson is able to shunt their sport forwards so that you can actually see the foundations move. Moments so jaw-dropping, they become crystalised in the mind.

Snooker's Ronnie O'Sullivan, playing in his 20th World Championship from next week, was one such game-changer, a man who altered the perception of the way his sport could be played: fast, loose, rakish. And brutally effective.

Alex Higgins was fast, loose and rakish, but he was a maverick rather than a game-changer. Alex Higgins made seven century breaks in 14 Crucible appearances. The more prosaic Tony Meo made eight in 11. O'Sullivan has made 106 in 19.

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Stephen Hendry has won seven world titles to O'Sullivan's three and made 124 Crucible tons. Most snooker buffs consider Hendry to be the greater player, even O'Sullivan. But, in terms of temperament, Hendry was Steve Davis. Only better. Cold, mechanical, stripped down to a winner. Then came 'The Rocket' and 'that' 147 break.

Hendry made superior maximums, including one in a Crucible semi-final against Jimmy White, with the result still up in the air. But Hendry was so calculating, so inscrutable, he made the peaks of snooker seem remote, something only the emotionally shackled could aspire to.

Five minutes and 20 seconds was all it took for O'Sullivan to make his break heard 'round the world in 1997. It was a break made with swagger and crowned with a grin. Hendry worked cloaked in the solemnity of great achievement, O'Sullivan found it impossible not to acknowledge how great he was.

A couple of years back, former world champion Shaun Murphy criticised O'Sullivan for neglecting his ambassadorial duties. Strange, when you consider an awful lot of players since O'Sullivan have wanted to be like him.

"Ronnie's the best player out there," says Hendry, beaten 17-4 and 17-6 by O'Sullivan in their last two Crucible meetings. "He might not be in terms of stats and titles, but in terms of talent and ability to play snooker, he is."

O'Sullivan's greatest legacy was to show it was possible to brutalise opponents, on a consistent basis, in a way the average sports fan could relate to. Not as consistent as Hendry, or even John Higgins, but what is perfection without magnetism, without emotional involvement - without joy?

FIVE MORE GAME-CHANGING MOMENTS IN SPORT

Usain Bolt (2008 Olympics, Beijing)

The accepted wisdom was that tall men can't sprint. At least not 6ft 5in men. "Leg turnover too slow. Too slovenly out of the blocks." But there was one lanky Jamaican who said different. Him and his imaginary bow and arrows.

Pre-Bolt, the archetypal sprinter had been built like a Sherman tank - Ben Johnson, Leroy Burrell, Maurice Greene. There had been taller specimens - Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Asafa Powell - but they weren't 6ft 5.

Usain Bolt

Jamaica's Usain Bolt changed the rules of sprinting in Beijing in 2008. Photo: Getty

Barely two months before the 2008 Olympics, Bolt lowered Powell's 100m world record to 9.72 seconds, in his fifth senior run over the distance. American rival Tyson Gay commented: "It looked like his knees were going past my face."

Then came Beijing and the final of the 100m - 9.69 seconds so shocking, the natural reaction was to laugh out loud. It wasn't so much that he had beaten the field by 0.2 seconds. It was more that he started mucking about after 60m. Not only a great leap forward for the tall, but for the whole of humankind.

Adam Gilchrist (Australia v Pakistan, second Test, Hobart, 1999)

In truth, several players from Australia's most recent golden age embody the ruthless streak that made that side so formidable. But none more so than wicketkeeper Gilchrist, a man who made the most death-defying sporting acts look about as nerve-jangling as a game of French cricket on Bondi Beach.

On Test debut in Brisbane, Gilchrist took five catches, made a stumping and scored a rapid 81 as Australia beat Pakistan by 10 wickets. But it was his batting display in the second Test in Hobart that left fans sensing things had changed.

Chasing an improbable 369 for victory, Australia were 125-5 when Gilchrist joined Justin Langer in the middle. Facing an attack that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, the pair put on a record-breaking 238 to guide their side home, with Gilchrist making an unbeaten 149 from 163 balls.

Gilchrist, whose feats opening in one-day cricket also altered the landscape of that form of the game, would play more brutal and more important innings. But this knock made it abundantly clear that no side was safe in Test cricket any longer, whatever the situation. Especially against the Aussies.

Tiger Woods (The Masters, Augusta, 1997)

Since turning pro, Woods had won three of 15 PGA events, so something was brewing even before he arrived in Augusta. An outward nine of 40 on the opening day left the patrons wondering whether he could handle the pressure. Woods came back in 30 for a round of 70 and a share of fourth place.

On day two, the 21-year-old carded a 66 to lead by three; on day three, Woods carded a 65 to lead by nine; on day four, Woods carded a 69 to seal a 12-stroke victory, the widest margin in the history of the Masters. He also broke the tournament scoring record and became its youngest winner.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods elevated golf to new heights with his 1997 Masters win. Photo: Getty

While the numbers were astounding, the symbolism was more so. For Augusta National was a club that had not invited a black man to be a member until 1990. "No-one will turn their head when a black man walks to the first tee after this," said Lee Elder, the first African-American to play the Masters.

In addition, Woods ushered in the age of golfer as bona fide athlete; as analytical machine; as commercial commodity. "I'm Tiger Woods," went the famous Nike advert. Today, every professional golfer has a bit of Tiger about them.

Jonah Lomu (NZ v England, 1995 Rugby World Cup, Cape Town)

All Black wing Lomu was already a star of the tournament when he lined up against Will Carling's England for their semi-final clash in Cape Town. Roughly eighty minutes later, rugby union, already on the cusp of professionalism, looked different.

The 20-year-old Lomu - 19st, 6ft 5in and with a 100m best of 10.8 seconds - scored four tries against a shellshocked England and his first was almost disturbing in its beautiful barbarity. Especially if you were English.

Lomu, travelling sideways, collected an errant pass out wide before arcing round Tony Underwood, accelerating through the despairing cover tackle of Carling and trampling over Mike Catt as if the England full-back was nothing more inconvenient than a stuffed toy.

"I have never seen anything like that before," said Tony's big brother Rory. "He's a freak," said Carling, "and the sooner he goes away the better." Seventeen years later and you can't move for "freaks" in rugby union.

Cassius Clay (v Sonny Liston, Miami Beach, 1964)

"The kid hadn't lied," wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times in his fight report. "All those interminable refrains of 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee' had been more than foolish songs. His style was unorthodox, but..."

Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was then, wasn't the first to be like him. His hero Sugar Ray Robinson, unarguably the greatest boxer of all time, was every bit as dazzling, both in and out of the ring. Only Ali had television on his side.

Furthermore, heavyweights weren't supposed to fight like Robinson, who was a natural welterweight. Heavyweights - especially black heavyweights - weren't supposed to be bright like Ali, weren't supposed to be funny like Ali, weren't supposed to be cocky like Ali.

The "human electricity" that "danced and flowed", according to Lipsyte, was the Miami crowd feasting off Ali's power. Boxing today is as Ali invented it - for better and for worse. "I shook up the world!" proclaimed Ali after his victory over Liston. Exactly how much he would continue to do so, even he couldn't have begun to imagine.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Ronnie O'Sullivan is still the most talented man in snooker. He may not always show us his top level but class is permanent and he still has a great chance this year.

    And there's not much left to say about Usain Bolt. He is a living legend http://playwithflair.com/2012/04/18/countdown-to-london-2012-100-days-to-go/

  • Comment number 2.

    I think the author of this blog has got this the wrong way round. The changes that O'Sullivan brought in are accurately described, but wrongly attributed. They were in direct response to what Stephen Hendry had done. Hendry was the man who changed snooker from 'old world' to 'new world'.

    I was chatting about this with family the other day and Stephen Hendry is one of a select bunch of sportsmen who came along and changed the game they played. He is similar in terms of what he did to Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Michael Schumacher did to their sports.

    Before them there had always been 'the best' competitor in the sport. Then someone else came along, improved on that person's game a little bit and they became the new 'best in the world'. What these guys did is come along with a level of ability that left the other guys trailing by such a margin that simply improving their game was not an option. If you wanted to compete with these guys you had to CHANGE your game. You had to re-invent your swing, learn how to play a shot like no-one else has before, drive a car in a way that previously no-one else has been able to do. The gap between Hendry and the rest of snooker was WAY beyond an extra hour's practise a day, or a new cue could resolve.

    So along came Ronnie O'Sullivan. He played the game in a way that was radically different to what Hendry was doing. Your comment about comparing him to Higgins is fair. Higgins had the same game, but he couldn't control it week in week out. O'Sullivan could play shots and make breaks every tournament that other players could hope for once or twice a year (if they were lucky.)

    So yes, O'Sullivan did change snooker. But as a direct response to the ridiculously high standard that Hendry had set. O'Sullivan's immense achievement and ability (as he has acknowledged) stand on the giant shoulders of Hendry's genius.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ronnie definitely is memorable - his personality (especially the way he beats himself up after playing pretty well), ability to play left handed and his background helps with that. My 89 year old gran, who doesn't follow sport at all, can still remember that "nice young man".

  • Comment number 4.

    Alex Higgins was the man soley responsible for putting snooker into the mainstream spotlight - followed by Jimmy White & Steve Davis. Hendry, O'Sullivan, etc etc were the benefactors of those guys.

  • Comment number 5.

    Totally agree with Joe G. O'Sullivan is immensely talented on the table and has provided us with much entertain over the years, Ill never forget asking the referre what the prize for the maximum was and then going on to make it, how I wish he had not potted that black though.

    Hendry on the overhand was incredible, fearless consistent and changed the game from a somewhat defensive nature to a more attacking one, breaking the balls as soon as he could. I doubt we will ever see someone like Hendry again in our lifetimes. Sheer determintaion, focus, long ball game and a never say die attitude. Opponents had already lost most frames before they even struck the cue ball.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm a big Ronnie fan and a big arsenal fan. Both play with style and swagger and at times over the last 15 years have destroyed opponents, however like arsenal players, Ronnie's temperament is awful. To be considered great you have to have the whole package. Mental attributes like composure have to be considered part of "talent". Thats why Man U and Hendry have achieved so much more respectively.

  • Comment number 7.

    while your blog is not supposed to be all inclusive, how could it be when there are so many game changing athletes?, you haven't included the obvious one:
    Dick Fosbury
    In the 1968 olympics he didn't only win a gold at high jump, and set a new olympic record, but he changed forever the style of jumping. Before Fosbury there were 3 or 4 styles, western roll and straddle as the favourites, but after him nearly everybody (more than 98% of competitors in the last 9 games and 34 of 36 medal winners from 1972 until 2000 when everybody used his technique) performed the Fosbury Flop.
    A real game changer.

  • Comment number 8.

    If O'sullivan retired tomorrow he'd be more remembered as the player who never really lived up to his potential and didn't dominated the sport in the way he possibly should have. You get the feeling that, with the current crop of players around he has 'missed his chance' to get close to Davis' and Hendry's number of world titles.

    Yet for all his talent and ability his post match interviews at events are usually a low point, saying he played rubbish when he battered an opponent and generally how negative he is. He keeps threatening the quit the sport, and i've lost cost of the amount of times he's said that he 'doesn't need snooker'.
    A few years ago, the circuit without Ronnie would've been unthinkable, but now, with the likes of Selby, Allen, Robertson and of course Trump, there's a new breed of hotshots coming through, all who have bettered O'sullivan in recent years.

    At times with Ronnie, you get the impression that he believes if he isn't winning, the crowd and fans aren't interested, that may have been the case a few years ago, it certainly isn't the case now.

    I like Ronnie, overall he's been good for the sport, and his failings have been highlighted. When he retires, he'll be remembered as ONE of the best, and not THE best to have ever played the game. Which to him is probably a failure.

    That said, I think John Higgins is and has been the best player for the past 5 years, I wouldn't bet against him taking the title at Sheffield again this year.

  • Comment number 9.

    Ali was a cheat, especially against Liston. The fact that fight was rigged wasn't groundbreaking in any way. Marciano had been doing it for years. Tyson was the real gamechanger for heavyweight boxing. He dragged a noble enterprise into the gutter and, as two lunatic Brits showed in Germany recently, it's remained there ever since.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think that Joe G is correct in his critisism of the article.

    It was Stephen Hendry who changed snooker, Steve Davis did in approach, practising at home and drinking a glass of water. He raised the bar in terms of concentration.

    But it was Hendry who changed the game in terms of approach at the table, always going for the pot. Though he had a decent safety game, he wouldn't employ it if there was half a chance on which did turn out to be his only slight weakness in the game. In this respect he was more attacking that O'Sullivan, just not as fast around the table.

    Today the way is to attack, Mark Williams phillosophy of, "I either pot it, miss it and leave it on or miss it and leave it safe and that's 2 to 1 in my favour" is born and extended from the Stephen Hendry approach.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good blog Ben. This is slightly off-topic, but whenever I read something about how sensational Usain Bolt was in Beijing, I always think of Victoria Pendleton. The way she rode away from her opponent in the last lap of the sprint final blew me away (wish the BBC would put it back up online) - for me one of the most exhilarating moments of 30 years watching sport, and never quite got the recognition, as it was "just another cycling gold medal". Not a game-changing moment, but certainly the moment for me that epitomises Dave Brailsford's game-changing achievements over the past few years.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi, and thanks for reading. I don't think I would disagree with those that say it was Hendry that changed snooker with his weight of scoring and attacking approach to the game - as I say in the blog, few doubt Hendry is the greater of the two. However, I would argue O'Sullivan took the changes a step further and is - or was - the apogee of the modern snooker player, someone who played with the swagger of a White or Higgins and often attained the same results as Hendry.

    I would also say that four of the other five 'game-changers' I mention weren't necessarily the greatest at their given sports either. Certainly, Gilchrist wasn't the greatest batsman, Ali wasn't the greatest boxer and there are those that argue Woods wasn't the greatest golfer. Not sure you can argue against Bolt, though.

    Another point I would agree with is that snooker seems to be the only sport in which people harp on about so-and-so being the most "naturally-talented player of his generation". In golf or tennis, natural talents are a given, they're the ones who win the most titles.

  • Comment number 13.

    It is always interesting to read opinions about 'game-changers' and as it is an emotive subject it is also difficult to be objective. Davis to Hendry to O'Sullivan is a very effective 'passing of the batton' case but misses out many others that in their own way have greatly contributed. One thing that all three have in common is that at their best they stand/stood out amongst their peers.

    Though I agree with many of your comments, the one thing that I would disagree with is the term 'loose' - this is one thing that cannot be said about O'Sullivan. His control of the cue ball, linked with his vision for shot selection and superb technique make him the almost complete package.

    Snooker has certainly benefitted from O'Sullivan and I hope that it continues to do so for at least a few more years.

  • Comment number 14.

    sw137 - Hi. Yeh, by "loose" I wasn't referring to his control of the cue ball, I was referring to his general demeanour: Loose, as in looking relaxed, untroubled - human.

  • Comment number 15.

    Ok O'Sullivan has mis-behaved in the past and has never trully appreciated how lucky his is unlike someone like Ken Doherty who didn't he once say he got up every morning and gave thanks for his own considerable talent.

    But what really bugs me are his fans. they are the only ones who cheer when his opponent missies or plays a bad shot. You also hear a much louder applause when he makes a good shot which means that some of his fans are not applauding his opponant which all other fans do. I just hope that is one thing that dies out with him.

    I know its not his doing but neither he nor any other pundit has levelled critisism of this and it has the potential to do harm to this game.

  • Comment number 16.

    To say Alex Higgins was not a game-changer is insane. No one did more to change the perception and popularity of the sport than Alex. And you cannot compare eras so frivolously when the equipment, money and lifestyles of the players involved have changed so much.
    It may be fun to conjecture who out of Joe Davis, a sober Alex Higgins not playing to the crowd, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan at their best would win on an even playing field, but it may be easier to guess who will be mostly fondly remembered in 50 years time.... I've a strong suspicion it will be Alex Higgins and Steve Davis.

  • Comment number 17.

    Ben I agree with you about Ronnie rather than Hendry - but you missed the greatest game-changer of all - Jesse Owens

  • Comment number 18.

    Nadal seems to have been something of a game-changer as well, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Federer was rampant at one stage and only Nadal could trouble him in the majors, but Nadal found that playing long, deep rallies and raw power was able to break his resolve over a long distance. Djokovic has since perfected that art, but the cost to the game is quite dramatic. The game really doesn't feel like it has much variety anymore. It used to be that every type of playing surface had a different feel to it, with clay generally being the slowest. Now, however, the players at the top of the game seem to be playing clay court matches on hard courts, and even grass courts occasionally. It's getting trickier for players to end the points early (unless they have an amazing serve, as evidenced by Isner at Indian Wells), and the matches are getting significantly longer which - while engrossing and entertaining for the audience - can't be good on the bodies of those who subscribe to that style. So, it's a lose-lose situation. Do you play deep at the expense of your health, or do you try mixing it up and almost certainly get swept aside? It's a tricky dilemma which, hopefully, will have eased itself out of the game once Nadal is no longer there. Sadly for him, that might be sooner rather than later given his knee and shoulder problems and Djokovic's dominance.

  • Comment number 19.

    Gilchrist is one of the greatest sportsmen ever considering he is/was one of the few cricketers to 'walk' even if it brought the anger of some of his team mates. His counter attacking batting brought so much fear that every team now uses their keeper as an additional batsman forgetting that there haven't been that many better with the gloves.

  • Comment number 20.

    Really interesting blog, enjoyed that on my tea break this morning.

    As a cycling fan, i'm going to throw Lance Armstrong into the frame. Not simply because he won a number of titles in a row (like Hendry etc)...but because of the way he proved that the Tour could be won using a high cadence. I'm pretty sure that was a big change, and has led to this 'new science' we see nowadays for cyclists where 90-100rpm is seen as the most efficient/best technique.


    #2 Joe G

    I'd have to agree, great to read some sensible thought provoking stuff (although perhaps it's a tad unfair to compare this with the mindless football blog comments - which i do enjoy too).

    #7 PortoIan

    Definitely. I remember my old PE teacher banging on about how Fosbury changed the high jump, particularly with such a visibly different technique.

  • Comment number 21.

    @18
    With tennis though, you've always had the top few players who seem to win the majority of tournaments, you get the same players dominating the sport.
    At least with the modern crop of snooker players, on their day they can all beat each other, look at the titles Stuart Bingham and Peter Ebdon have recently won. You wouldn't get the equivilent players in tennis winning against the sports elite.

  • Comment number 22.

    greta blog as usual and i agree whole heartedly. i can remember my very first snooker match and that was the Davis v Taylor epic that ran until the wee small hours. But it was O'Sullivan that got me wanting to play, his gun-ho, attacking style, outlandish shots and seemingly insane speed for a sport that had been played at a tepid rate for so long. Would the game be full of the excellent new young players that we have now, Trump, Fu, etc if Ronnie hadn't of come bulldozing his way onto the scene? or would it still be played at a snails pace, painfully slow to watch and nowhere near as exciting. I, for one, think that Ronnie is the best thing ever to happen to the sport. I would give my right arm to have half of his talent, though I wouldn't be very good with just one arm....

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the difference is whe the great sportsmen make the game look easy or look as if they are playing the game totally differently to everyone else. With Usain Bolt it's the fact everyone else is concentrating in their speed suits, whereas he still wears the shorts and is still having fun with the cameras moments before the start. O'Sullivan was like this in that he didn't seem to take any time to think about his next shot. Lomu similarly looked like he was a man playing against boys. [I don't follow golf so can't comment on Woods and Clay was before my time]

    The Lomu example is a joke though. As you allude to the guy had steamrollered over Ireland, Wales and Scotland well before he destroyed England so it's not quite the sudden defining moment I think you allude to. There certainly was a lot of arrogance leading up to the game since I particularly remember the pundits dismissing Lomu beforehand saying that England had a better defence than the other teams. But when the match kicked off the Rugby League training that Lomu had grown up with meant he sort contact and aimed to win it, and that just was miles ahead of anything the Northern Hemisphere unions had at the time. The Sprinboks who played a hard hitting defence similar to League actually showed if you tackled properly (ie around the legs and hit hard) he could be stopped in the final (though he still always made ground).

  • Comment number 24.

    It was definitely Stephen Hendry that changed the way snooker was played. He took pots on that would have been turned down by the old guard, he made century breaks on a consistent basis. The old guard were safety first, Hendry made the game much more attacking. I used to hate him, he was too dominant for my liking and slightly lacking in 'character', not that it should matter in snooker! O'Sullivan is showbiz. I love watching him and it frustrates me massively when he isn't playing well because you know that with more dedication and mental strength he could have challenged the amount of world titles won by Hendry and Davis.

    It's very difficult in some sports to define what makes a game changer. Tiger Woods definitely was, not only did he set a new high standard, he also gave golf a new audience and single handedly increased participants - particularly amongst groups of people who maybe wouldn't have entertained the idea before.

    Federer? I'm not so sure. Great, great tennis player, but why not Sampras? Why not Agassi? For me the likes of Becker and Edberg created the modern tennis world.

  • Comment number 25.

    Shane Warne - before him leg spin wasn't very fashionable.
    Johan Cruyff - introduced Total Football.
    Daley Thompson - changed the way track and field games were made for computers :p

  • Comment number 26.

    I think in games like golf and tennis it is more difficult to pinpoint game-changers because it is tricky to work out whether it was individual players or advances in equipment that brought changes about. I know snooker equipment has changed, but Hendry, Higgins and O'Sullivan's century stats dwarf their predecessors, and even contemporaries, to such an extent that there is no question they dragged the game forward.

  • Comment number 27.

    Without getting too off topic, I just want to respond to comment #24.

    The reason I mention Federer is they way he took control of the game in his earlier days. Sampras and Graff won as much and now Federer, despite still in theory being in his prime, is routinely matched and sometimes bettered by Djokovic, Nadal and even Murray.

    However they have risen to match him by adjusting their game to mirror his. Namely the power and top-spin he generates on his forehand and backhand.

    I'm reminded of an interview with Tim Henman a couple of years ago. He was asked what the most significant change in Tennis was. Without hesitation he said that it was when the strings on rackets changed from cats-gut to synthetic material in the mid 90's. This allowed the strings to get far more grip on the ball than before. Federer was the first to really exploit this new massive increase in the top-spin that could be deployed and he was able to hit the ball faster in open play than most players could muster on their first serve!

    When you see how hard players like Nadal and Federer hit their forehand shots now, try these shots without synthetic strings at Wimbledon and the ball will land somewhere in Kent!

    Again. Coming back to the snooker. It's not a question of who is the best as this is always a somewhat facile question. Lionel Messi would make Bobby Moore look like a Sunday League player but the comparison is of course unfair. Equally O'Sullivan routinely beat Hendry, but he himself said Hendry was the better player.

    Federer may get beaten by Nadal and Djokovic, but he changed tennis FAR more then they have. They have merely continued his revolution.

  • Comment number 28.

    fair to say that any comparison is between flair and text book,
    text book in the form of reardon, davis s, and hendry produced 19 titles.
    whereas flair in the form of higgins a, white and o`sullivan has only produced 5
    both styles great to watch but long term/money wise, text book is the proven winner.
    got £5 on Stephen Lee @ 33/1 for the worlds, remember where you heard it lol

  • Comment number 29.

    Sir Donald Bradman. Not just better than anyone else. Not even better than anyone else ever. 50% as good again as the next best guy in history. Lost the best six years in his career due to WWII or the margin would be wider. They had to invent bodyline to cope with him then they had to ban it to save the game

    Eddie Merckx. Better than any other sprinter, better than any other climber, better than any other one day racer, better than any other stage racer. Better than anyone else while he was still a junior. After Merckx, nobody else tried to do everything, they specialized.

  • Comment number 30.

    There is a huge difference between being a game changer in a sport and then being classed as the greatest.

    Take Usain Bolt - he ticks every box in terms of lanky people are not supposed to be rgeat sprinters, then compare his demeanour to Johnson - hes fun, eccentric, off-the-wall, and to boot hes the fastest man on earth ever over 100m and 200m.

    Whereas with Ronnie, you cannot really say anything about his physical attributes or cue motion that makes him different from what you would expect of a great player. His demeanour of course and his style of play is what made him different. He had a swagger, an arrogance, a casual approach to what had always been a game played in a chess-like manner. This funnily is his downfall at times because he does not have the patience to ride out some matches - look at when Ebdon beat him after Ronnie complained. Ronnie is not the greatest snooker player ever, but then I do not think Ben was suggesting that.

    The crux of the blog for me is whether each particular sport would be "the same today" so to speak, if it were not for the individual.

    Golf would not be the same today without Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. Each changed the way the game was thought about and played by their peers. Seve proved you did not have to be a machine to win tournaments and majors. TW proved that being an athlete and having raw power to destroy golf courses could be a huge advantage if paired with a supreme short game - look at how long golf courses are now, how technology has changed so that more golfers can hit the ball further.

    Would snooker be the same today without Ronnie O' Sullivan.......?

  • Comment number 31.

    15.
    At 10:49 20th Apr 2012, GM Massingbird wrote:

    Ok O'Sullivan has mis-behaved in the past and has never trully appreciated how lucky his is unlike someone like Ken Doherty who didn't he once say he got up every morning and gave thanks for his own considerable talent.

    But what really bugs me are his fans. they are the only ones who cheer when his opponent missies or plays a bad shot. You also hear a much louder applause when he makes a good shot which means that some of his fans are not applauding his opponant which all other fans do. I just hope that is one thing that dies out with him.

    I know its not his doing but neither he nor any other pundit has levelled critisism of this and it has the potential to do harm to this game.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I have to agree that this is something that really gets my back up about snooker these days, this and cheering a fluke as if the player intended to play the shot.

    I don't however think it's fair to single out O'Sullivan's fans on this point as it seems to be happening more and more. Is it perhaps that snooker fans are getting younger and perhaps don't understand the game like older generations do?

  • Comment number 32.

    Great blog Ben - enjoyed it.

    "In golf or tennis, natural talents are a given, they're the ones who win the most titles."

    I disagree with this, actually. I think success in any sport comes from a mix of natural talent and a load of less ethereal and more mundane factors, like discipline, bloody-mindedness and mental strength. Federer, for me, is the most talented player in the history of tennis, and granted this is reflected in the stats. But Nadal and Djokovic overhauling him is not - as far as I can see - a reflection of their superior talent, or a waning of Federer's talents: simplistically, they wanted it more which gave them the mental edge, and they have both maintained that mental edge. Federer remains the most talented tennis player, but no longer goes home with all the titles.

    Your example of Woods is also a bit contradictory to the above: lots of what he did differently were around his training regime and athleticism, his obsessive mental strength and desire to win etc. etc. Of course he was/is supremely talented, but it's arguable that these other factors set him apart further from his peers than pure natural talent - something that was never lacking in golf.

  • Comment number 33.

    #32

    The latter point I agree with and the easy comparison is TW vs Seve

    In terms of "natural talent" Seve surely wins hands down

    But in terms of discipline, hard work, determination, nutritional and fitness regimes - all from a young age - then TW is the winner and he has the stats to prove it paid off

    Not diminishing anything Seve did and Seve was perhaps more enjoyable to watch. But TW took it to a totally different level.

  • Comment number 34.

    Jimmy White. 6 Finals with his drinking and recreational drug use, in a time frame that spanned alex higgins to ronnie, not to mention the ice men davis and hendry, jimmy is still the most talented of all time, if he had been sober, the record books would look very different, he was the last great hustler.

  • Comment number 35.

    Stephen Hendry "changed the game"? Not a chance. I cant even begin to think how someone could think this. He was was more of the same yet more consistent. Better. Colder. More boring. Less public entertaining character.He was more Steve Davies than Steve Davies. A frankenstein's monster containing all the best and worst parts of Davies, Eddie Charlton, Reardon and the whole host of nameless players whose plodding styles so strongly epitomized the game of Snooker back then. He didn't even look comfortable doing his bit for the Snooker Loopy "zany" bits... Suggesting Hendry changed the game is akin to suggesting a player like Ray Wilkins is the inspiration behind Barcelona's style of play..

  • Comment number 36.

    When I think of Snooker I think of Ronnie O'sullivan! When I watch Ronnie play, and it's a close one, I'm so tense and nervous and still go through it all. No other game/sport has the same effect on me.

  • Comment number 37.

    I'd have to agree with #2. I would never consider Ronnie O'Sullivan in the same breath as Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Michael Schumacher. That is Hendry's place.

    Hendry changed the way snooker is played to such a degree that nobody could match him for so long. Part of "talent" is mentality and Ronnie didn't have the mentality required until he started working with Ray Reardon in the early 2000s. Even now he is so up and down that you can't compare him to the genius of Hendry who has won so many matches he shouldn't have in the past. That is why he has 7 WCs and Ronnie 3. And what about that UK final against Doherty? 7 centuries in the 10 frames he won? Or the 1997 Liverpool Victoria. Up 8-2 against Ronnie, loses 6 in a row to 8-8, wins it with a flawless 147. BIG. GAME. PLAYER.

  • Comment number 38.

    35# Richard R

    I simply do not have the words to express how spectacularly wrong I think you are. The suggestion that Stephen Hendry simply played like others did before him either suggests you have fundamental shortcomings when it comes to understanding snooker, or you're getting Hendry confused with someone else.

    In fact I'm tempted to assume you're taking the Michael with such an absurd suggestion.

    If you can find a single other person who agrees Hendry didn't change snooker I shall retract everything.

  • Comment number 39.

    couple of game changers or moments:
    Barcelona FC re-difining how football should be played
    Valentino Rossi "Greatest of all time" a moniker given to him by his peers even those who dont like him!
    Jonathan Edwards Gothemburg world record smashing the old one in similar Bolt style.
    I would have also said ALi's biggest game changer or maverick moment was the rumble in the jungle -two fingers up at a government, press and USA who thought he had no hope, and showed that you can succeed with enough self belief and determination, - that is truly inspirational.

  • Comment number 40.

    P.S. Watch videos of young Hendry in late 80s and you'll see he's as fast and flamboyant as Ronnie ever was. He just realised to win you need to be consistent...

  • Comment number 41.

    # 39

    Disagree about Ali - he is rightly labelled a legend for the way his style changed heavyweight boxing. he danced, he moved, he was quick AND powerful

    yet his win against george foreman was a one-off tactic as a means to beat a man who was bigger and stronger but with good enough footwork to cut off a ring. Ali's genius was that he could be un-maveick in this instance, rope-a-dope, be patient and smash foreman when the time was right.

    however this is not the way or style in which he changed heavyweight boxing

  • Comment number 42.

    Phil Taylor anyone? 15 World titles, and raised the bar so much that it has taken 20 years for the next generation to really catch up with him, the hours of practice and dedication he put in were unheard of in darts, now it has become the norm if anyone wants to beat him.

  • Comment number 43.

    i 100% agree with what Joe wrote "2. At 09:49 20th Apr 2012, Joe G wrote:" yes Ronnie is the most talented, just like how Lewis Hamilton is the most talented in F1 currently but it was the King Stephen Hendry who changed the game and bought it to the next level. and it is only because of Sir Stephen Hendry :-) that we have these great players today.

    So show some respect Ben Dirs

  • Comment number 44.

    Two words. Michael Jordan.

  • Comment number 45.

    Couple of game changingmoments for me
    Federer v Sampras at Wimbledon - The death of the serve volley and the birth of arguably the greatest of all time

    In 1956 the NHL changed the power play rule simply because at the time the Canadiens were so good they would routinely score two or three goals in the two minute penalty - The rule was changed so that the power play was over as soon as the team on the power play scored a goal - Now that was a real game changer

    What about Roger Bannister?

    There are actually many game changers in history but sometimes it is not until sometime after that you realise you have witnessed a change

    Remember Nadia Comaneci? The first perfect 10

  • Comment number 46.

    Ronnie is a fantastic player, but just because he is fast, pots everything, people seem to forget how much of a tactical player he is.

    On his day he can match the tactics and the defensive play of a John Higgins, etc, but the speed at which he makes breaks just destroys opponents.
    When Hendry is on form, he can win multiple frames on the trot, the difference is he might take a period time, so an opponent has time to adjust to Hendry's way of thinking and at least challange him (Normally unsuccessfully). However, when Ronnie is on form, he wins 2-3 frames within the blink of an eye and opponents are destroyed and does not know what has hit him, thats the difference for me.

  • Comment number 47.

    I think game changers in sport are often those that cause audiences to start watching that wouldn't normally. I have to agree with Steve Henry, and Woods, but for me the real game changer in cricket has undoubtedly been Steve Waugh whom took the draw out of cricket.

  • Comment number 48.

    Also what makes Ronnie so special is the concertration levels needed to play like he does, snooker is such a unique sport with regard to the fact that if your opponent is at the table, then you sit in your seat and wait. With other sports its different, football for example, when playing against Barca, you can at least try to close them down, in tennis you can at least try to make the shot, but in snooker, you just sit and wait.

  • Comment number 49.

    #35 RichardR

    Sorry but you are completely wrong. For an obvious example, look at how often Hendry attempted and got long pots versus the likes of Davis, Griffiths, Thorburn etc who would often play safe rather than take the risk. Nowadays everybody can do that (and I'd argue that there are better long potters in the game now, e.g. Shaun Murphey than Hendry ever was) but now its a skill that is required, in direct response to the game that Hendry was playing in the 1990s.

    Hendry looked to keep bereaks going more often than his predecessors, and possessed a much greater range of shots as a result. Again, this attictude is commonplace now, but watch the safety-first snooker of the 80's again and see if you still think Hendry didn't really change the way players approached the game.....

  • Comment number 50.

    Thought provoking article. In terms of game changing snooker players, one who had a significant impact on snooker was Allison Fisher. When snooker ignored her contribution, she blasted pool into a new universe, something no male snookerplayer has acheived.

  • Comment number 51.

    Hendry should be the topic and not o'sullivan, it is Hendry who had to overcome Jimmy White in his prime to win what he has thats not forgetting Steve Davis albeit coming to the twilight of his domination. The rocket is arguably the most entertaining and best to watch and who knows what he could achieve in the future.

  • Comment number 52.

    You forget to mention a certain Valentino Rossi! If that's not a man who grabbed his sport by the balls then I'm a fool....

  • Comment number 53.

    @38

    I completely disagree with you. Stephen Hendry did not change snooker in the slightest.

    You are completely missing the point on game changers and just being a lot better. What on earth did Hendry do that was different that just being a better potter than everyone else?

    He could pot everything, that's not a game changer.

    Ronnie O'Sullivan changed the game because he did what no-one else thought possible, he sped it up and got younger people watchign it. Hendry certainly didnt do this!!

    Gilchrist is the other on the list who really changed cricket, especially the 1 day game. Instead of having Atherton crawl slowly to 100 and then everyone having a hit at the end Gilchrist took the attack to pieces right from the start = Game changer.

  • Comment number 54.

    To back up Richard R (#35) - I agree with you that Hendry was arguably colder, more consistent, better and less flamboyant. But more boring? The only boring thing about Hendry in his prime was that he always won. He played attacking snooker, and attempted far more long pots than the likes of Reardon, Charlton etc that you mention. The boring thing (speaking as a 14-year-old Jimmy White fan in the early 90s) was that he so rarely missed, thus denying us those "oohs and aahs" moments that Jimmy obviously provided. For me, he was the first player that managed to consistently produce attacking snooker whilst remaining focused and ruthless, and thus can absolutely be called a game-changer. Was it the matchplay final when Ronnie came back at him from 8-2 to 8-8, only for Hendry to produce a 147 in the decider? Awesome.

  • Comment number 55.

    I would add Seb Coe to this list. The way he took middle distance running to a new level was breathtaking. Of course he could not have done this without the presence of Steve Ovett, who also helped raise the bar, and certainly beat Seb Coe on many occassions. Not exactly a fair comparison here but you might say Steve Ovett was a Hendry type of character, with the explosiveness of Coe being more like O'Sullivan.

    Seeing Seb Coe pull away like only he could with 150 metres to go was astonishing, and how often to this day does his 800m world record time get beaten? Hardly ever.

    Imagine if Ronnie and Hendry had exploded on to the scene at the same time as each other, how exciting that would have been. That's what we had with Coe and Ovett.

  • Comment number 56.

    #53, No offence intended but you are so wrong (in my opinion.)

    To say Hendry wasn't a game changer simply because "he could pot everything" is silly in two ways. Firstly, if a footballer came along who could convert every shot into a goal, a golfer who could convert every put into a birdie, a tennis player who could convert every first serve into an ace they would all be described as game changers... Why is Hendry coming along and sending pot conversion into the stratosphere not as game changing?

    Secondly, to say "simply because he could pot anything" is to grossly underestimate what he did. He didn't simply come along and say "You know what, I'm going to take on every pot!". He completely changed the emphasis of the game, almost reversed it!

    Beforehand (and the following is not a criticism of the older game) the idea was to play snooker like a chess game. Careful tactical safety, leave nothing on, wait for your opponent to falter then pounce! Hendry came along and said "the balls are there to be potted, unless you put the cue ball right behind a colour in baulk I am going to take something on". It sounds reckless, but the fact he would repeatedly pull it off made it genius (and I loathe over using the word genius.) He practically invented the 'shot to nothing' which is now a fundemental part of the game.

    He single handedly changed the nature of the game from being a slow paced battle of tactical play to being a blow for blow battle of skill on the utmost limit of ability. No-one had ability even approaching his level for a while so he crucified the field year in year out.

    It took the snooker world a decade to catch up because the players of the time simply couldn't compete. The game of snooker had to wait for someone to come along who'd seen Hendry play and grew up playing a game designed to compete with him.

    What O'Sullivan did was come along with the same game as Alex Higgins, but did it better. No-one here is criticising Ronnie O'Sullivan or in any way saying he doesn't rightfully sit at the table of all-time great snooker players. But whilst he advanced the game, he inspired players and a new generation of viewers, he didn't change it, he just livened it up in a wonderful way.

    The game of snooker can be divided into three eras... The era of Joe Davies and before, The era after Joe Davies up to Stephen Hendry and the game after Stephen Hendry. O'Sullivan was a truly great snooker player, Hendry was a revolutionary!

  • Comment number 57.

    #56 - what you said. :)

  • Comment number 58.

    This might be controversial but out of all those guys you mention Ben i think Gilchrist 'changed' his sport the most, as you mention you look at every international side and the emphasis on not only having a keeper that can bat but one that can be a power hitter particurly at the top of the order (In England's case they have tried about 6 or 7 keepers to open since 06). Also Gilchrist changed the way people batted in test matches, his innings at the WACA against England in 06 was simply breathtaking, and arguably now scoring at 3-4 runs an over in a test is seen as normal rather than before Gilchrist's time where teams rarely scored over 250 in a day, now 350-400 is more common.

    I cannot think of another player who changed the way batsman played both the short and long form of the game and this is coming from an Englishman who was forced to suffer painful defeats many times due to Gilchrist's blistering knocks

  • Comment number 59.

    I remember hearing a stat on Hendry after he won his first world title and it was that he took on - and potted - many more balls to the middle pockets. Before him the middle pocket was used for the blue and not much else, then along comes Hendry and his opponents know if they leave even a small chance to the middle he will take it. Game changer!

  • Comment number 60.

    Joe G.... your the man, Stephen Hendry for knighthood....

    Sir Stephen Hendry ...hipip horay,hipip horay,hipip horay

  • Comment number 61.

    I suppose the example who did it the least was Lomu, though his impact was possibly the greates he just had the advantage of being born the physical speciman he was. The change came in the reaction and what coaches did to counter to him.

  • Comment number 62.

    Nice article Ben. Here's my twopenneth.
    1. Ronnie wasn't a game changer, no one could copy his game. He was and is a true genius. Such talent is mesmeric and a privilege to behold. Probably the most naturally talented sportsperson I have ever seen in ANY sport.
    2. What made Ali the greatest wasn't anything he did in the ring. At a time when the Heavyweight champ was the King of sport he chose to give it all up and go to prison rather than go to Vietnam.
    3. I know this list isn't meant to be exhaustive but I'm sure it's not meant to be sexist either. Navratilova's first Wimbledon victory was far more influential than any of the moments you mention. She transformed not only her own sport but arguably the whole concept of what it meant to be a female athlete.
    Putting Ali's (non sporting) greatness to one side I would argue she has changed the sporting landscape more than anyone else in my lifetime.

  • Comment number 63.

    I know it's probably been said in the other comments a couple of times, but this blog could have been more thorough with the amount of sports they chose to cover.

    Snooker, Boxing, Cricket, Track, and Golf....seems like a narrow field.

    We have only recently witnessed the game-changing supremacy of Roger Federer from 2004-2006 (his majors kept coming but year round dominance all over the tour slowed considerably in 2007).

    We also have unbelievable season goal tallies in Football with Messi and C.Ronaldo scoring 40, 50, 60 in all competitions. How are they doing this? Because of great teams. I think Barcelona's team effort over the last 4 years has been staggering. Perhaps we don't know it yet, but surely their 'carousel' model will influence many managers and teams to come.

    Anyway, interesting read none the less, and Ronnie is fantastic.

  • Comment number 64.

    anyone that thinks hendry didnt change the game of snooker wants their heads testing, the half ball blue the splits the reds up in his own signature shot, the long shots that are not a shot to nothing was called reckless (now fully part of the game), comentators even frown upon "shots to nothing" now days if you leave the cue ball safe
    but the biggest change he made was to keep the break going at all costs, the norm was to get a 40-50 break and run the cue ball safe davis helped in this change of attitue though.
    having said all that i agree totally that it was ronnie that changed the game to the level it is now just ask judd trump,ding,allen e.t.c.

    my shout for the person that changed sport is phil taylor
    back in the 80s it was realtivly unheard of to get 100 average now if the power gets 100 average he is playing really really poorly and equipment dosent really come into the reckoning with darts.
    without phil the game would still be played at the level it was 20 years ago . the best player ever and probably the best that'll ever be.

  • Comment number 65.

    I love Ronnie's flair but I think Alex Higgins was the forerunner, making snooker popular around the country and on tv. Likewise Steve Davis' ruthless "professional" approach was the blueprint for Hendry.
    I like the Valentino Rossi and Phil Taylor shouts, dominated their sports and had an abundance of flair too.
    Messi (and Ronaldo) are scoring goals like no one since... Gerd Muller and Pele?
    John McEnroe changed tennis with his behaviour... but i like to remember him for his immense touch and skill.
    If you are going to mention Woods, then surely you have to talk about Jack Nicklaus.
    It seems like the debate is often about flair and natural talent vs dedication and professionalism and your preference is subjective. O'Sullivan vs Hendry, McEnroe vs Borg or Lendl, Higgins vs Davis, I'm sure there are more but can't think of them right now...

  • Comment number 66.

    I was lucky enough to be in the Crucible when Ronnie destroyed Hendry 8-0 in a session in 2008. The ease and laziness as Ronnie casually wandered round the table hammering in centuries and 60+ breaks while the crowd just gaped at it in bewilderment, remains the closest thing I have ever had to a spiritual moment.

    I also maintain this was what ruined Ronnie - when you've belittled and humiliated the greatest player to have played the game - there's simply nowhere left to go.

  • Comment number 67.

    I think the debate of Ronnie versus Henry is most likely young folks versus old.

    Unlikely many of the young folk on here saw Hendry in his prime and what came just before him.

    "Pot Black" and Eddie Charlton also deserve credit for bringing snooker into our homes so that we could live that dream of snacking and drinking and one day not being able to get through our front doors.

    I think if you asked most experts, other than Terry Griffith, they would tell you Henry changed the game. I remember when he starting going for and making long pots the audience was left aghast. We were use to seeing the players simply try to play a safety shot, but Hendry took it to another level. As far as speed is concerned, well Hendry broke speed records all the time also leaving the audience aghast. Ronnie certainly came along and broke those speed records to the point where we were laughing because the black wouldn't even be back on the table yet and he would be ready to strike the next red.

  • Comment number 68.

    I think people are doing Steve Davis an injustice by saying he did not change the game but Hendry did. Seeing as Hendry has regularly quoted Davis as his role model answers that. Also I m guessing the age of many commenting here is too young to remember Davis at his peak. You can't compare Davis of 1990s with the same player in the 80s.

    Let us also remember that one black ball (1985 final) separates Hendry 's 7 titles and Davis' six. Whilst I accept facts are facts it seems somewhat harsh to laud Hendry as "obviously" greater and a bigger game changer than Hendry because of that.

    Davis changed snooker, Hendry built further on it. I don't see how the disgraceful Alex Higgins or self pitying O'Sullivan can be considered game changers. We keep hearing how Alex Higgins was "one of a kind" and the same for O'Sullivan. If that's the case they are not game changers. If its not the case then they are not unique.

    More players play like Davis and Hendry now. So who has really changed the game?

  • Comment number 69.

    Come on the Rocket smash that bald guy Ebdon off the table next week, you can do it.

  • Comment number 70.

    Everyone has a point, but that's sport over the ages. No point really in comparing sportsmen from different eras, different sports, etc. because everone will have a different idea. Good fun though (I really enjoy the Bolgs, Ben). Take the case of Fernando Alonso. F1 was completely ignored in Spain until he came along. For a Spaniard, I would guess he changed the sport. For a German, I rechon it might be Schumacher. I, personally wasonly interested in bikes when Barry Sheen was fighting with Roberts. How many of you would put them above Rossi? Great fun though!

  • Comment number 71.

    Look, Ali was not a game changer- he was much more than that. Yes, he changed the way traditional heavyweight boxers fought- he was fast, improvised, and fought most of his fights, with his hands just above his waist- hardly protecting his face from any punches and instead relying on his quick reflexes.

    He was a pure genius in the ring and fought in a heavyweight dynasty that we can only dream of today. Outside of the ring you could arguably say, he was an even bigger genius. He didn't only transcend boxing, he was an inspiration to humanity; he was a comedian, a poet, a rapper, an entertainer, a debater, a politician.... he was the greatest sportsman of all time no matter how you look at it.

    To say he was just a gamechanger is playing down the significance of Ali's impact he had on the world.....

  • Comment number 72.

    OK, heres my 2 pence worth. We started out here discussing game changer(s) at snooker, so I shall keep to this sport only. I am 48 years old and have been watching and playing this game for 42 years. I have seen them all come, and eventually go.
    In my lifetime there is without doubt only one snooker player that changed the game fundementally from where it had been prior to their arrival.
    O'Sullivan - great player, brought superstardom to the sport in some ways - changed nothing.
    Hendry - great player, possibly the best ever, won more than most but simply continued and improved upon the Steve Davis era. Changed nothing.
    Davis (Steve) - took winning to a new level and brought a completely different approach to the game. All he changed was the level of professionalism in the game, not the game itself. So, he changed nothing.
    White - probably the most gifted potter, especially at pace when needed, that has ever picked up a cue. A joy to watch. Liked this guy a lot. But, once again, changed nothing.
    And although one could put a case here for Bill Werbenuik - anyone who can sink 18 pints a session, still see the balls and get a tax deduction on his bar tab, does deserve a mention in my book, there is only one player that changed the game, the way it was thought about by the players themselves with regards to what was now possible that previously had not been was Alex Higgins. I declare an interest here in that he is one of my all time sporting heroes, though I assure readers my judgement here is not clouded by that fact. My Father, now 86 years of age, has been watching and playing the game for 70 odd years. He is of the same view, though he has seen 2 game changers in his time. I offer you - Joe Davis. 20 straight world titles, retired as champion undefeated.
    And whilst I'm blogging I would offer Eric Bristow for the darts. Changed the game in that he threw darts like a girl, but dominated for about 10 years. And soccer it would have to be Didier Drogba. He has changed the game in that he brings new meaning to how the game should be played on the ground!

  • Comment number 73.

    Not an individual like all of the above, but a moment that changed a sport forever, England 3 - 6 Hungary in 1953. The consequences of that result are still apparent today.

    On the matter of the Hendry debate, anyone saying Hendry was just more of the same as what had gone before is way off the mark. Hendry caused a mentality shift in his sport. Everyone that has come since had to adjust to what he did. That mentality shift was created by the way Hendry split the pack at pace, early in the break by screwing into the pink off the blue. Prior to Hendry, it was conventional to pick off all the loose reds before attempting to split the pack in a far less risky manner. That is what makes him a game changer. He redefined the way his sport was approached. Everyone that has come since has had to do it the Hendry way. The old way is dead. Not many sportsmen can lay claim to such a fundamental change in the way their sport is played.

    Similarly, Michael Schumacher's approach to Formula 1, which took the driver's role in the technical progress of the car to a new level, has led to a generation of drivers who know as much about their cars as their chief engineers. He was a game changer because suddenly the old way was just not good enough any more. In a sport of such fine margins, his technical awareness set him apart. I doubt you would find a driver on the grid today who would not acknowledge that Schumacher ushered in this new era and made it here to stay.

    The real game changers are the ones who cause their sport to be split into eras that will still be considered eras in decades to come. Snooker will forever be pre and post Hendry. Formula 1 will forever be pre and post Schumacher.

  • Comment number 74.

    @richped73 I m not sure that the Hungry game changed football as dramatically as you think. It removed complacency from the home nations that they were "obviously" the best but consider the 1954 World Cup, West Germany won playing a boring brand of football. The 1958 World Cup, Brazil won playing good football but in an entirely DIFFERENT formation to the one Hungry used at Wembley in 1953. The Hungry result changed perceptions but not ultimately the "way" teams played. No one played like them and following a second World Cup final defeat they didn't even do it themselves. The "change" you refer to is more in the mental psychology of English and at that point other British teams who those days were culpable of the same arrogance England had.

    Re: Hendry. I imagine you are too young to remember Davis. Hendry quotes Davis as his mental role model and followed him. Sure, others followed Hendry but that makes Davis the game changer, NOT Hendry. Don't compare the washed up Davis of the early 90s with the Davis of the 80s. People under late 30s tend to assume Davis was a boring player because of his "interesting" tag. The reality is that he was anything but boring and was often very attacking, he just had a second dimension to his game. It was deemed his personality was boring compared with the moronic Higgins and other "lads" such as Kirk Stevens etc.

  • Comment number 75.

    Ah, without Alex would there have been Jimmy or Ronnie? Alex brought a stiff & tired game to new popularity and increasing media coverage. His fighting, boozing & womanizing all made headlines, front & back pages, and whilst I condone none of it, it kept the game in the public's mind & helped to bring the ensuing generation of Jimmy & Steve Davies to the fore.

    Ronnie, for all his natural talent, hasn't quite achieved all he should have (and you can certainly say the same for Jimmy). Ronnie has his demons (as did Alex), which are often on public display, something that I think irritates a certain section of the sport (especially when he's been disingenuous when winning). What he brought to the game that Alex didn't was consistency but did he really change the game of snooker, I think not.

  • Comment number 76.

    I found this interesting but the one event that really changed snooker was Steve Davis' televised 147 break. I can't think of anything else that raised its popularity or appreciation of the skill involved - I'm not even a snooker fan but when I think about snooker I think about that break.

  • Comment number 77.

    Snooker's game changer was not a player. He was the BBC2 controller who saw the opportunity of showcasing colour TV ,though the game of snooker with it's coloured balls.

    The result was to bring a game that had fallen away in popularity back to prominance at the same time as the likes of Higgins, then Davis were coming through. The players benefited considerably, and new exciting players such as White and O'Sullivan came on the scene.

    Innept management of the game by the like of Sir Rodney Walker took the game back to the edge of obscurity, then the arrival of Hearn's management and the increased TV coverage across Europe, through Eurosport, has breathed new life into the game once again.

    The game changers then, are not so much the players, but the broadcasters and the management. The increased popularity results in more people taking up the game, and by the law of averages, more exciting players breaking through.

  • Comment number 78.

    Usain Bolt certainly destroyed the current field and records but you could argue that he's not necessarily a game-changer, he's just set very impressive records. It's not like his competitors can change their physique to match his, although we may find more taller athletes entering the sport.

    Hendry was a definite game-changer. His no-nonsense, aggressive and hugely composed style forced others to up their game. Very similar to Sampras in tennis.

    Then came the next generation with the composure of the above, but superior technique and a twist of flair, in the form of O'Sullivan and Federer.

    In terms of tennis, even Nadal has changed the sport in recent years. Everyone, even Federer, pay a lot more attention to physical fitness than they previously had in order to compete at the same level.

  • Comment number 79.

    What a pathetic article. Hendry was the man who changed snooker. The results and century breaks speak for themselves. He seems to be penalised by Dirs and others for not being as mentally weak as O'Sullivan, White or Higgins. Did Dirs watch snooker pre and post Hendry?

  • Comment number 80.

    I'm surprised to hear Hendry being criticized as "Cold, mechanical...". I always enjoyed watching him in his prime precisely because of the level of emotional intensity he had. You could see it in his eyes - the most intense look - unreal. As his power started to fade in later years, you could tell if he would win or not by looking at his eyes, the intensity was only there sometimes - if so he would win for sure.

    As far as the most 'naturally talented player', it's probably some guy/girl who's never picked up a cue, but on TV, the most talented I ever saw was Tony Drago - obviously never practiced a day in his life, and usually didn't play well, but on a good day it was like he had the cue ball on a piece of elastic - phenomenal, I'd also put Jimmy White above O'Sullivan in the 'natural talent' stakes, unfortunately for him, he had Hendry's 'eye of the tiger' years to deal with.

  • Comment number 81.

    Good and interesting contributions on the whole.
    One of the biggest game changers in my lifetime has been Martin Pipe.
    He has revolutionalised the world of Jump racing and how horses are now trained.

  • Comment number 82.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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