Hope lingers for legend Schumacher

IN 1988 when Steffi Graf became the only tennis player to win the golden slam of all four major tournaments plus the Olympic Games, she was 19.

When Shane Warne announced himself by coinciding his first Ashes delivery with the ball of the century, he and Graf were both 23.

And when Michael Schumacher won his seventh formula one world title, he, Graf and Warne were all 30.

Three world-beating athletes from vastly contrasting sports, two played with apple-sized balls, the other needing them.

What unites them is having all arrived on the planet in 1969.

Being the same age gave me an extra interest in following their careers and lives.

So it came with a daunting sense of mortality to hear of Schumacher's skiing accident in the exclusive French resort of Meribel last December which has left him in a coma ever since.

Sporting champions tend to live roller-coaster existences, with few better examples than Warne.

But Schumacher seemed to be a natural at staying on the straight and narrow, ironic really for one so skilled at high-speed cornering.

Which made it all the more tragic that after surviving unscathed for 21 years in one of the most dangerous of sports, he should be struck down in another he was doing for pure enjoyment.

The prognosis for Schumacher has not been good.

His official condition of "critical but stable" has not changed in months.

Former formula one chief doctor Gary Hartstein said fans should prepare themselves for the worst news, admitting that the longer it takes, the less likely it is that the 45-year-old will recover.

Then, last week, Schumacher's manager Sabine Kehm said attempts to awaken him in his Grenoble hospital had produced "moments of consciousness".

The German's driving achievements are nothing short of extraordinary.

Among his numerous F1 records are most championships, race victories, fastest laps, pole positions and wins in a season (13 in 2004).

He is the only driver to finish in the top three in every race of a season (2002), he has achieved the most consecutive podium finishes and, according to the F1 website, is "statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen".

Less well-known is that he is an ambassador for UNESCO, a spokesman for driver safety and has donated tens of millions of dollars to charity.

He has been a champion on and off the track, and it is a trait of champions to pull through when all hope seems lost.

It can only be hoped that Schumacher's greatest victory remains ahead of him.

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