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Fathers and sons, the creation and destruction of relationships through sport

There are so many kind of relationships between father and son, especially when both of them are sporting champions: from unstable to symbiotic relationships or simply embracing the athletic legacy of their father fully. Many children are afraid of dragons, but in 1977 in Las Vegas there was one child who was especially terrified of a real dragon. This dragon didn't spit fire, but tennis balls. That seven-year-old boy was Andre Agassi, forced by his father to perform thousands of shots a day in the field he himself had built behind the house. The Dragon was a training machine that former Iranian boxer Mike Agassi had modified to shoot the ball faster and from a higher angle, so that the only way to hit it properly was to drastically anticipate the shot.
Andre Agassi playing tennis with his father
This is just one of many anecdotes of what is probably the most famous relationship between a successful sportsman and his father. A story that became famous at first in the autobiography written by his son which was then followed by his father, who defended himself against the accusations and his work.

Peter Graf, father of the tennis player Steffi, also directed his daughter's life from a very young age, putting a racket in her hand when she was just three years old. He followed every step of her career as a professional, until he got her in trouble when he was imprisoned for tax evasion. Strangely enough, without such an oppressive father and master, Steffi Graf would probably not have become one of the strongest tennis players in history and would not have even met (and then married) Andre Agassi. The first meeting of Andre and Steffi is explained in the biography.

Father and son: love and hate

But the Agassi-Graf family is not the only story in the world of sport that has involved turbulent relationship fathers and sons, on the contrary. The scheme of the parent-coach-trainer-despot is often found in the curriculum of many champions and in disciplines that have nothing to do with each other.

Think of Marc Girardelli, probably the greatest skier in history, who sacrificed the first thirty-three years of his life for skiing. At the age of five he was on the slopes and two years later he was already involved in the first races, always followed by his father, who came to terms with the Austrian federation for the disagreement on the training methods of his son. Helmut Girardelli wanted to be the only person responsible for the career of little Marc and so he denied Austria to have it compete with the Luxembourg flag. But their relationship was symbiotic, just the two against everyone, given the absence of any other support staff. Only the father, the son and a van that travelled virtually any mountain road in the Alps.

Giorgio and Tania Cagnotto have always been united and committed to the same goal. The father, in this case, was not only the coach of his daughter, but also a former champion of the same discipline, as well as a federal technician. A potentially dangerous relationship, with the continuous confrontation between the two generations and possible jealousies which were more or less conscious. A relationship that has always been positive and has led to great sporting results, with a proud father who praises his daughter as often as he can.

Sport, a question of genetics?

It happens, then, that sport becomes a matter of dynasty or perhaps genetics, as in the case of Aldo Montano who had a fencer and Olympic father like him, but also a grandfather and three cousins. All generations, grown up and trained in the same historic gym in Livorno.
But if the family can be a resource and a strength, specifically in the relationship with fathers, it can also be their absence that brings strength and in different ways. The stories of Mike Tyson and Damon Hill could not be further away from the traditional story model, but they share a common thread. Arguably the best boxer in history for many, Mike was first abandoned by his father and a second time by his stepfather, ending up with ten orphans and an alcoholic mother in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Street brawls and anger formed the precursors of what would later become Iron Mike.

Damon Hill, on the other hand, was a serene, wealthy 15-year-old with a famous father until he died in a plane crash. Graham Hill was one of the strongest drivers in motorsport history, the only one to have won what is known as the Triple Crown, a Formula One World Championship, the Indianapolis 500 Miles and the Le Mans 24 Hours. After his death, his son Damon grew up with a kind of moral obligation to continue his father's feat, also winning an F1 world title at any cost

It was difficult to separate the pure me from the wounded boy determined to relive his father's life to exorcise that shocking loss. During my career I've always been confused: I didn't know if I was really a driver or someone who had been given a mission to complete before I could become my true self.

But Formula 1 is sadly rich in fatal accidents, like the one of May 8th, 1982, when Gilles Villeneuve died in Zolder, entering forever into the legend of car racing and leaving only two children. The little Jacques was 11 years old and he was aware that he was carrying the same surname as the most beloved driver of the time and that he would always remain in the collective imagination. Jacques Villeneuve, although not having the same spectacular driving style as his father, succeeded where he had failed, winning the Formula 1 world title in 1997.
Mick Schumacher, on the other hand, has not yet competed in F1 but his career as a young driver is a path aimed at the maximum car competition. To keep the comparison with a father who is also the most famous driver in history is an easy feat, also considering the health conditions of Michael, on which there is total reserve. But the young Mick has chosen the direct comparison, or perhaps the continuation of a path. The concepts are both valid, it depends on the interpretations.

The many stories of football

Of course we have to mention football. One of the most popular sports in the world has many stories to tell, some beautiful, others less so, but all mirror the life and relationship between fathers and sons. There are the Mazzola: the legendary Valentino, captain of Grande Torino, who died in the tragedy of Superga, and his son Sandro, who later became a central player of Inter in the 1960s and 1970s, with almost no memories of his father. There are the Maldini, Cesare and Paolo, both defenders of Milan and the National team, a shining example of a happy "old school" family, with their father warning not to go out to eat a pizza on Tuesday evening in view of the match on Sunday. But there are also Diego Armando Maradona Junior and Edinho, sons of the two greatest footballers in history. The first was not recognised by his father until he was twenty years old and the second was arrested for drug trafficking and money laundering, but both were excellent examples of fathers who were all too absent.

Those who have always been present in their son's sporting career are Graziano Rossi, Valentino's father and driver in the world championships in the early eighties. Even though he didn't win more than a few races, he indirectly prepared the ideal environment for the sporting growth of Valentino, who has been in contact with two wheels practically since birth and who over the years has always maintained a good relationship with his father. Because the truth is that the most difficult job in the world is that of the parent. There are many more possibilities of doing damage than good things and you can never lower your guard. But what really counts in the end is believing in your children, regardless of their talents, because all children need is love, smiles and warmth, even if they are destined to become champions.

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