Cautionary Tales – The Coup, the Poet and the Secret to Winning Wimbledon

7th July, 2023

If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss…

Those words — from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” — were based on charismatic nineteenth century doctor Leander Starr Jameson. In Britain, Jameson was worshipped as a plucky hero: a bastion of courage and mental fortitude. Ironically, he was also responsible for the Jameson Raid, a South African coup that was an unmitigated disaster.

Jameson might have led an unparalleled fiasco — but could Kipling’s poem hold clues for triumph in another arena?

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Further reading

The author Chris Ash tells the story of Dr Jameson and his ill-fated raid in his entertaining biography The If Man. Our script also drew on the 1922 treatment The Life of Jameson in Two Volumes by Ian Colvin, Sir Graham Bower’s Secret History of the Jameson Raid and the South African Crisis, 1895-1902, and archives of contemporary newspaper reports.

Malcolm Gladwell discussed Jana Novotna’s Wimbledon final with Steffi Graf in his 2000 New Yorker article The Art of Failure. For another interpretation see Choking: The Case of Jana Novotna by sports psychologist Helen Davies. The match highlights can be viewed on The Daily Motion.

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