It was with great sadness that LS Sport learnt of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision this week to pull out of the remainder of the 2012-13 season. Ronnie is an innovator and an entertainer; snooker was so long a sport associated with old men and smoky beer halls – O’Sullivan brought it into the 21st Century.
Of course there were the four World Titles, the eleven 147 breaks and the £6 million prize money, but it was the man’s character that cemented his legend. He has courted controversy throughout his career and what he is set to leave behind is a divisive legacy.
O’Sullivan burst onto the scene as a teenager, winning the UK Championship in 1993 at the age of 17. His explosive style earned him the nickname ‘The Rocket’ – who else would go on to hold the record time for a maximum break with 5 minutes 20 seconds? More success followed for the ‘Essex Exocet’. He won his first World Championship in 2001; two seasons later he climbed to No. 1 in the World Rankings.
There were classic moments along the way. A particularly memorable game took place in 1996, when O’Sullivan defeated Alain Robidoux in the World Championship using his left hand. Robidoux accused him of disrespect and filed a formal complaint; O’Sullivan was more than happy to answer this and played a three-frame match with Rex Williams to prove it. O’Sullivan won all three.
Yet behind the often jocular exterior lies a troubled genius. O’Sullivan never appeared content with his success. He has always seemed split between perfectionism and trying to win in the most laid-back manner possible. The epitome of this came in September 2010, when after making his 10th maximum break in the World Open he had to be persuaded by the match referee to pot the final black. He did this in his trademark nonchalant style.
The bottom line is that Ronnie O’Sullivan suffers from clinical depression. Like a number of sportsmen, he strives for perfection and is never satisfied. No one can begrudge O’Sullivan anything if this is it for his career. He has achieved more than anyone in snooker and a family and a life out of the spotlight beckon for him.
O’Sullivan also struggled with drink and drugs earlier in his career. After checking into the Priory Clinic in 2000, he came back stronger and more focused. A year later he won the World Championship. It is almost a year since Gary Speed’s tragic suicide shocked the nation. His is an extreme case of depression in sport, yet recently many have spoken out about problems that the celebrity culture of the sporting lifestyle can bring about. Stan Collymore, Toby Flood and Ricky Hatton have all talked publicly about their struggles with depression. Hatton’s account was particularly harrowing – he talks about feeling “suicidal” and taking a knife to his wrists.
If O’Sullivan puts away his cue for the last time this week, there should be no shame. Not only has he beaten numerous opponents at the table, but he has battled depression and come out of it as arguably the greatest snooker player of all time. Ronnie, we’ll miss you.
Author: Hugo Greenhalgh, Sports Editor