To hear of Jonah Lomu’s passing broke my heart because he was the real-life superman I always pretended to be when I was young.
Jonah was so unbelievably special – he wasn’t just the greatest rugby union player we have ever seen. He was the most exceptional athlete the world has ever seen.
This is quite a claim, but I want to take a moment to demonstrate why I believe this to be true.
First of all, Jonah could unleash carnage because of his unique physical properties. Jonah was 6 feet 5 and weighed over 18 stone in his prime. But he could run 100m in under 11 seconds, and more importantly, could accelerate from 0 to 80% full speed within just 3 strides. I trained as an athlete as a junior and can appreciate how ridiculous this is – I weighed 10 stone but Jonah’s power meant he could move his mass faster and in more dynamic ways than I, a dedicated track athlete, ever could.
As well as speed Jonah also had colossal upper body strength, endurance and technique. This is a rare combination and the athletes that do achieve this balance often set unbeatable achievements: e.g. Michael Johnson, David Rudisha, Usain Bolt, Kōhei Uchimura (to name a few off the top of my head). In particular the human body tends not to allow the combination of speed and endurance because they offset each other – more speed requires more energy and leads to faster build up of lactic and reduced muscle performance over time. Endurance on the other hand involves cutting down maximum speed to find a sustainable consumption of energy. But somehow Jonah could do both, with the control of technique, placing him in a unique group of super-athletes. (See tweet for more evidence of athletic prowess).
But here’s what makes Jonah really special, and in my eyes above all other athletes in all other dynamic movement sports. Jonah had unbelievable balance and agility, again completely contrary to the laws of physics given his incredible frame. This enabled him to change direction and decelerate/accelerate in the way even the nimblest of athletes could struggle to manage. Coupled with his brilliant tactical mind and vision, Jonah was IMPOSSIBLE for one man to stop. These talents led to the following scenarios becoming common to the poor souls tasked with the job of stopping Jonah on the rugby field:
1) If you managed to line Jonah up for a tackle, he would jink left, right (agility/balance) and be gone (acceleration/speed), while you, with your inferior balance, would fall over.
2) If you managed to get near Jonah to make a tackle his reach (height/strength) meant he could swipe you away on a different axis to the path he was travelling on (agility/balance). The wasted energy you had stored for the tackle in anticipation of a monster hit (height) would instead be dissipated as you fall off-balance into the dirt, taking you permanently out of the passage of play (vision).
3) If you manged to catch Jonah as he received the ball in a non-optimal position to the try line, Jonah could still side-step (agility/acceleration) faster than most people could run. He would re-orientate himself in seconds so as to be facing the try line (vision), and sometimes he would even do this during the first attempted hit by the opposition (vision/genius/confidence).
4) If you lined up a double-hit on Jonah with a teammate, he would take you both out (power/mass).
5) If you lined up a triple-hit on Jonah with teammates, he would take you all out (power/mass).
6) If you lined up a quadruple hit on Jonah with teammates, he would take you all out (power/mass) or expose your naivety by passing the ball to another All Black (vision) releasing them to score the try.
In the following video, you will see the six scenarios above repeat in endlessly magical ways. This video shows all of Jonah’s All Black trys. What is so important to keep in mind is that Jonah is not destroying ordinary men. He is taking out professional rugby players, who themselves possess abnormal strength, speed and vision for the game.
For the benefit of identifying why Jonah is beyond special, I believe he scored the following trys from impossible positions: #4,10,12,13,15,20,21,24,25,34,37. In my opinion only Jonah could have scored these tries.
While the above video does a tremendous job of showing Jonah’s brilliance, it doesn’t quite capture the physicality involved. TV cameras deaden perspective, making everyone look similar in size and masking the force of the tackles made. Therefore, the following video (which made me emotional) captures the extraordinary force of nature Jonah brought to the field in slow motion, and shows why he was so much more than just a try-scoring machine.
What Jonah brought to the world was extraordinary and transformed his whole sport. It seems impossible to think that such a titan is no longer with us. He was, as many have described, a human-wrecking ball, with a haircut like Tin-Tin. But he was also gracious, kind, and modest about his stardom. My respect for him is endless, I just wish I could have met him to let him know what an inspiration he was.
New Zealand recently won the Rugby World Cup with their greatest team ever, and some of their greatest players ever. It seems crazy that Lomu never won the World Cup, but in the pantheon of New Zealand Rugby Jonah is King of them all, and that perhaps is the greatest accolade anyone could have in the sport.