David Weir, one of Britain’s great athletes, revealed himself as a snooker fan when he came to the final of the Masters in January.
Weir got a fantastic reception from the crowd at Ally Pally
The skill and finesse required by snooker’s top stars – in a hushed atmosphere – are a world away from the strength, speed and sheer determination that make wheelchair racer Weir the best in his field. Yet the 35-year-old, who has won six Paralympic gold medals, can draw parallels between what separates the best from the rest in any sport.
“In my experience, 70 per cent of races are won by whoever has the best mental strength,” said Weir. “I always prepare hard for my races, and sometimes when I get to the track I just feel very confident, as if no one can beat me. And I can tell that attitude gets inside the mind of my opponents and helps me to victory.
“It’s the same in snooker. Look at Ronnie O’Sullivan – he has a certain swagger about him. His mannerisms and body shape help him control the arena. So many players don’t produce their best against him because they don’t believe they can beat him. He has the knack of controlling the situation. Psychology is such an important part of any sport at the top level.”
Weir didn’t see the Rocket in action when he came to watch live snooker for the first time at Alexandra Palace, but he did see two of the biggest green baize guns firing as Shaun Murphy took on Neil Robertson.
And it was Murphy who stormed to victory by a 10-2 scoreline, to win the Masters for the first time and complete the Triple Crown.
“It was a great experience to be sat in the front row and watch it live,” said Weir, who lives in London. “It’s very different to watching on TV because you can see the reactions of the players and you get a much better sense of how they are striking the cue ball. And the atmosphere was much more intense and quieter than I had expected.
I was fascinated by the way the players make breaks by working out the next two or three shots. And each time they get down to the table they are totally committed to the shot they are playing. It must take a huge amount of focus and concentration.
“I grew up watching snooker because my dad was from Northern Ireland and he was a huge Alex Higgins fan. So we always watched the big tournaments together. Then Ronnie became my favourite because of his speed and style. He just looks as if he was born to play snooker. A couple of years ago it looked as if he was going to quit, so I’m pleased he has come back and found a new will to win.”
Weir was born with a spinal cord transection which left him unable to use his legs. During his schooldays he developed his talent for wheelchair racing, and soon began taking part in marathons. In 2002 he won the London Marathon for the first time, and he has since won it on five more occasions, clocking a record time of 1:29:48 in 2006.
At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing he captured gold medals in the 800m and 1500m. Then his finest hour came at the 2012 Games in London when he struck gold four times, in the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and marathon. Lord Coe summed up Weir’s performances when he described him as a “phenomenal athlete.” He held the British flag at the closing ceremony, and a few months later was appointed Commander of the British Empire in the New Year honours, for services to athletics.
Weir has just come back from his annual warm weather training in Portugal, where he beat arch rival Marcel Hug to win the Lisbon Half Marathon. He is now in training for the Boston and London Marathons, but already has one eye on another trip to the Masters next year. “I’d love to go again,” he said. “Alexandra Palace is perfect for me and I hope to be there in January.”