Pros behind closed doors; the weird and wonderful hobbies

By Liam Nash

A-list athletes are just like you and me.

Except, when the proverbial orchestra is playing above life’s freezing waters, they tend to do their crying in the back seat of a Mercedes.

Sporting icons toil day and night to rack up enormous fortunes and reach elite status, which means one aspect of their domain is sacred; relaxation.

Strict schedules packed tighter than a tin of sardines make professional athletes’ downtime all the more precious, and therefore, most spend it pursuing whichever avenue their flame burns brightest for.

Whether it be a spare hour between ice baths or injury-plagued months, for the pros a good hobby is king.

And, though rare, some of which cause the left eyebrow to lift.

So, pull up a pew and strap in as we turn the spotlight on some of the unexpected leisure activities athletes have been known to hook into.

Driving a wedge

Armed with a set of Calloways, Welsh footballer Gareth Bale met the fate many out of favour athletes face — an entire city turning on him. While his relationship with Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was already on the rocks, all ties were cut when Bale was snapped brandishing a flag which read “Wales. Golf. Madrid — in that order”. Patriotism certainly isn’t a crime, neither is golf (depending on who you ask), but when you’re paid $A638,000 a week to play football, and don’t, there is bound to be trouble. Since falling out with Los Blancos, Bale has done everything within his power to have one of the world’s biggest clubs on strings. Apart from hitting the links daily, 31-year-old Bale has been caught sleeping, pulling faces and blatantly mocking his club while on the bench for Real Madrid. And with two years left on his contract, the club can do little else other than fork over stupid amounts of dosh which, essentially, cover his green fees for life. Never change, Gareth.

Absolutely fowl

Mike Tyson has always been like Dr. Dolittle’s estranged, ear-biting cousin. Taming tigers, squaring up to silverbacks — there is a bit going on in the form of a Tarzan complex with the former heavyweight champ. However, Tyson’s penchant for pigeons is possibly the kookiest. His Nevada mansion is kitted out with a massive aviary, home to more than 400 ‘winged rats’, and if that isn’t quite enough for you, he reportedly enjoys a good old pigeon pageant. Allegedly, Iron Mike’s boxing legacy began with a bird, when he threw hands for the first time following the murder of one of his feathered friends. I’m quite certain if you set Tyson loose around New York with a bag of bread, you’d never see him again.

Board of the game

Standing at 6’11, San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan is quite possibly the world’s largest nerd. Sure, “The Big Fundamental” was a major role player in the NBA, but Duncan took it to new heights off the court as a Dungeons and Dragons buff. Although a dominant and malleable power forward, Duncan was known for possessing the banter of a burnt chestnut and had a fairly left-field personality for a superstar of his calibre. So, when stories emerged detailing his love for basement duels and frequenting renaissance fairs, crazily, it checked out. It was reported Duncan wanted his jersey name to read ‘Merlin’ when he first signed up with the Spurs. Irony aside (Duncan is the best basketball surname I’ve heard), a trade to the Washington Wizards surely would have changed the big fella's life.

Chef Boyar-tee

LGPA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam can’t stay out of the kitchen. Hold fire on the abuse, this isn’t a lame example of chauvinistic male comedy — she takes the culinary arts deadly serious, thank you. Prior to the 2003 golf season, Sorenstam was known for cranking out hefty shifts in the sculleries of Lake Nona Country Club in Orlando, as well as participating in cooking demonstrations during LPGA tournaments (many of which, she won). She sparked up a friendship with celebrity chef Ming Tsai over seaweed, with the Swede offering to help out rolling sushi for 1000 guests at the Trump Taj Mahal hotel in Atlantic City. Her proclivity for cooking landed her in hot water, however, when she sliced the top off a finger during one of her demonstrations. Some say the bread loaf she had on the go ended up … par baked.

Thumbs up

Italy maestro Andrea Pirlo was once quoted saying he spent an afternoon playing FIFA before going on to win the 2006 World Cup later that evening. Former Republic of Ireland and Hull man David Meyler couldn’t hold a candle to Pirlo technically — but virtually, now that is another story. A ranked player of FIFA, Meyler runs a YouTube channel dedicated to mastering the electronic football game, and has more than 360,000 followers. A running joke remains among fans that he is better with the controller than with a real ball at his feet. Funnily enough, Meyler seems to agree when playing as himself on FIFA. “I start complaining about myself, moaning about how useless I am. Now I know how my manager feels.”