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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
Unknown legend

By Tom Fordyce

Peter Nicol
The smiling assassin: Nicol won more than 50 big tournaments
In a grand, high-ceilinged room in a palatial building on London's Pall Mall, one of the all-time greats of British sport is announcing his retirement.

This man has won every tournament there is to win in his field, been ranked world number one for 60 consecutive months and won over 100 international caps.

But if he walked up to you right now and said hello, you probably wouldn't have a clue who he was.

Even when you hear his name, chances are it won't trigger anything more than the identity of his sport, and maybe a vague recollection of a nasty Scotland-England row a few years back.

But Peter Nicol, soon to be ex-squash player, is right up there with Jonny Wilkinson and Paula Radcliffe in the pantheon of era-defining, scarily-dedicated British sporting heroes.

Just like Wilkinson and Radcliffe, Nicol won success the hard way - by forcing himself through training of an almost unbelievable intensity, driven by an insatiable desire to be the best.

"When I was 19 or 20, I would put in about six hours hard training every day," he says.

"One of the greatest players the world has ever seen"
Nick Rider, chief exec England Squash
"One of the great world champions"
Jahangir Khan, squash legend
"The ultimate squash professional"
Christian Leighton, CEO of World Squash Federation
"The model player of his generation"
Gawain Briars, former England international

"I'd get up at 6.30 in the morning and go for a run before breakfast. Then I'd do a solo practice for 45 minutes on the courts, followed by a couple of hour sessions with my coach and other players.

"At the end of that session we'd do some physical training - circuits or something.

"After lunch I'd do weights, probably playing a match beforehand, or do some interval work, and then stretch. I'd finish with some press-ups and sit-ups.

"I would manage to feed myself and then collapse into bed. I could barely watch a video. Then I'd get up and do the same thing again the next day.

"There was one time when I was staying at my coach's, about four weeks into a training programme.

"We'd been doing phenomenal amounts of work. I was so tired that I got up, went downstairs, put my trainers on to go for the 7am run, and fell asleep tying my laces."

All this in pursuit of success in a sport that provides only very modest rewards for its stars, a sport for which most people conjures up images of raspberry-faced accountants staggering around in bad shorts, vainly chasing a tiny ball into walls while trying to ward off on-court coronaries.

Getting up at 6 o'clock in the morning, and running with an aching body in the middle of winter, pushing myself that hard - I loved it

Peter Nicol

Even today, at Nicol's valediction, there is a yawning lack of interest from the national media.

Of the 20 or so people in the room, almost half work for squash publications. The rest are current or ex-players, coaches or squash officials.

Nicol, like Radcliffe, loved the pain of hard training, and - like Wilkinson - practised and practised until the extraordinary became the mundane.

"Most of the time I revelled in it," he says.

"Getting up at 6 o'clock in the morning, and running with an aching body in the middle of winter, pushing myself that hard - I loved it.

"Every day, getting on court and trying to be better at everything I did.

"I loved standing with someone else on court and trying to beat them. There was no-one else there to help you - you had to do it yourself.

Peter Nicol
1998: Winning British Open
"I put all the emotion of mourning my mum's death into squash; this was the result"
1999: Winning World Open
"I smiled as I walked onto court - I knew I would win it"
2006: Winning Comm gold
"My big goal - and my best experience in squash"

"I loved trying to work it out. If I lost to someone one, two, three times, I'd work it out and try to beat them again.

"I would refuse to lose. The enjoyment I got from that was equal to, if not more than, the winning."

Most young British men have a cavalier tale to tell of their twenties - a story of nights out with mates, hungover mornings at work and eyebrow-raising lady-chasing antics.

Not for Nicol.

His world has been squash. Nothing more, nothing less.

"It's been my entire life up to now," he admits.

"Sometimes I honestly thought the game would consume me.

"I put so much into playing that other parts of my life suffered. At one point I was just a squash player and nothing else.

"But to achieve the goals I wanted, I had to do that - I had to be that single-minded and focused."

So doesn't Nicol mind that, while Radcliffe and Wilkinson have millions in the bank and widespread public adulation, his career has come to a quiet, almost unnoticed end amid a tight-knit coterie of fellow enthusiasts?

"I don't find it frustrating at all," he says.

"The sole reason I did it was to achieve what I did achieve in my sport.

"I enjoyed the anonymity, being able to walk down the street unrecognised.

"It wasn't about outside recognition - it was about the enjoyment of doing it day to day, and the winning.

"I'm not saying everything was rosy. There were a lot of things that went wrong in my life, because of squash, but it's part of my life.

"I always worked on the principal that if I worked that hard, and I was that good, then I should win.

"It was always very simple. I've got no regrets."

Squash star Nicol set to retire
18 Jul 06 |  Squash
Nicol & Beachill win doubles gold
26 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Nicol secures squash title glory
20 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Squash calendar
17 Oct 00 |  Squash

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