Over the weekend word spread, to the surprise of coach Mike Mulvey, that the Central Coast Mariners had offered eight time Olympic Gold Medal winning sprinter Usain Bolt a contract to play in the A-League for them. The idea that the fastest man in the history of the world was intent on trying his luck at a completely different sport has prompted shock all around the sporting world.
Even if it is highly sceptical, the jury remains out as to whether Bolt can make a fist of a new sport. The scepticism of those watching on perhaps born of the fact he is starting down a pathway littered with tales of sport stars who have failed before him. The Pinch Hitters takes a look at five of the most memorable tales of sports stars who have tried their hands at brand new games.
5. Anthony Mundine
Son of Tony Mundine who was Australian Boxing Championships in three weight divisions, Anthony made a career in Rugby League before following his father into the ring. After playing State of Origin for NSW and in a Premiership for the Brisbane Broncos, Mundine was 25 before he fought his first professional fight. Despite being a highly divisive figure, as a World Champion in his secondary profession, his is perhaps the most successful of all the transitions on our list.
4. Karmichael Hunt
Karmichael Hunt’s decision to leave Rugby League and the Brisbane Broncos to join the AFL’s expansion club the Gold Coast Suns was one of the more shocking sports stories of the 21st Century. At just 23-years of age, Hunt had won an NRL Premiership and represented both his state and country. While the decision grabbed headlines across the country, his time in Suns colours was far from newsworthy with Hunt playing just 44 games in the AFL, before making another code swap to Rugby Union.
3. Jarryd Hayne
If Hunt’s move was shocking, it is hard to describe the mood that followed reigning Dally M Medallist Jarryd Hayne’s decision to leave the NRL to try his luck at American Football. He exceeded all but his own expectations when he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers and was a starter in their 2015 season opener. This is where the fairytale would end however, with Hayne taking part in just seven more games before being cut by the 49ers. He is again plying his trade in the NRL after a brief stint in Rugby 7’s at the end of his NFL career.
2. Jeff Fenech
Three-time Boxing world champion Fenech performed a reverse Mundine, by leaving boxing for a crack at Rugby League. The Marrickville Mauler found a home at Parramatta, where this writer remembers fondly watching him run around as hooker for their reserve team in 1989. After scratching his Rugby League itch, Fenech returned to the ring where he fell agonisingly close of creating history in 1991. A controversial draw against Azumah Nelson preventing him from becoming the first boxer to win World Titles in four different weight divisions. In 2014 Fenech was honoured by the WBC when they announced him one of the two greatest featherweights world champions and his photo, along with Salvador Sanchez, on the title belt presented to all future world champions as a result.
1. Michael Jordan
Perhaps the biggest, most shocking, most unbelievable sporting change of all time was that of Michael Jordan when he decided to retire from Basketball in an effort to pursue a career in Baseball. Having just led the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat of NBA titles, Jordan was the undisputed greatest basketballer on the planet. He made a reasonable fist at minor league baseball but was unsurprisingly unable to reach the same heights in his new discipline. In 1995 a two word fax, “I’m back”, sent the basketball world into a frenzy with it signalling Jordan’s return to the NBA. He would lead the Chicago Bulls to another three titles, alongside Australian Luc Longley, before retiring from the game once again.