Today, like never before, a sports champion has to pay attention to every detail, be it technical, physical or psychological. We meet five athletes from around the world who, as well as their professional dedication, all share a true passion: owning and driving a Ferrari
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Location: Paris, France
The number of professional athletes in Europe who have managed to carve out a career for themselves in the competitive world of North American sports remains small, despite the increasing popularity of NFL, baseball and, most notably, basketball. Tony Parker, a French
national, though born in Bruges, Belgium, is one of the most successful exports to come out
of the French game, having initially played for the Paris Basket Racing club. Of course, it helps
that his father is actually from the US, and a former professional player to boot.
Now a major star, playing point guard with the San Antonio Spurs, winners of the 2013 National
Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference Championship, Parker, 31, is still upbeat, despite speaking to us after having just lost out on the ultimate prize, the NBA title, at the hands of Miami Heat. ‘I love this sport; I love the sensations I experience when matches are at stake. I don’t get tired; it’s a pleasure even if it’s true that the pace of the NBA doesn’t leave much time for resting. But I can’t complain. All sports lovers would want to be in my shoes.
‘When you start to practise a sport, you don’t think about the top level. My dream was always to
play in the NBA but never could I have imagined having this experience. You have to think that I
must have been born under a lucky star.’ This sporting spirit, a sense of enjoying every moment, is something that naturally spills over into Parker’s life away from the court as well. His Ferrari California is a prized possession, a car that, as he explains, gives him the exact same feelings
he has while playing.
adrenaline rushes. You have to be on the court to understand. It’s exactly the same thing behind the wheel of my Ferrari. You have to sit in it and take the wheel to appreciate it. You never get used to the good things… Every touch of the wheel brings you a new discovery.’
And it absolutely has to be the Prancing Horse. Parker, it quickly turns out, is a true tifoso:
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
Michelle Surjaputra’s family moved to the US from Indonesia when she was nine years old. Joining the local swimming team was one way of helping the new arrivals assimilate with the local community. Surjaputra soon developed a passion for the sport, so much so that it began to eat into her daily life and, much to her parents’ chagrin, her schoolwork.
‘I started to swim for both USA Swimming and high-school swimming, clocking up to six hours of practice a day,’ she explains. ‘It had its negative sides, including sacrificing time with family and friends and using every energy molecule during practice. Days were filled with fatigue, but that makes me stronger and more disciplined.’ After 16 years in the US, Surjaputra returned to Indonesia to start up BonChon, a Korean fried chicken franchise. However, sport remained a major part of her life. ‘I ran the Paris marathon. Then a friend introduced me to triathlons and I became addicted. I trained for just one month and was placed first in my age group in Bintan. In triathlons, you’re competing against yourself for hours and that takes a lot of mental skill. It’s about pacing for three, six or even over 12 hours. We’re always challenging our body.’
Ferrari values. Surjaputra nods. ‘When we came back from the US, my father got a 458 Italia and it
definitely rides in style. It represents excellence, something I always aim for. It’s sporty, prestigious
and cool. I’m proud to be a Ferrari owner.’
Location: Doha, Qatar
Sport: Rally driving and shooting
Rally driver Nasser Al-Attiyah has 42 wins and eight FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles on his impressive CV. He also has a bronze Olympic medal in Men’s Skeet Shooting, won at the London Olympics, 2012, and was Asian Champion in the same discipline in 2001 and 2006. Clearly, the 42-year-old Qatari enjoys the pressures of professional sport.
‘People dream of being a professional athlete, and here I am as a professional in more than one sport. It makes me proud, and further motivates me to keep improving and staying on top of my game. I enjoy planning strategies to win. As an amateur, I do admit that things were tough at first, but I thrived on the pressure really, I would never back down. That’s been the key to my success.’ How does he measure success? He’s been a champion in two sports and enjoys a global profile, but Al-Attiyah denies that winning is the only thing that matters. ‘The most important aspect of sporting spirit is to never give up. You learn from your mistakes. Many people believe a winner is always happy and a loser is always sad. That is wrong. I believe a winner should be happy of course, but a loser should not be sad, because they should always look for the mistakes they have made, and also look at the strengths of the winner in order to learn to compete better.’ It’s a philosophy that has served him well throughout his career, providing a solid base to build on and, above all, to retain a sense of fun in his work, whether it’s at the wheel of a rally car, or out on the shooting range.
Location: Lucerne, Switzerland
Sport: Formula One
Force India’s Adrian Sutil doesn’t share the usual background of Formula One drivers, or indeed the average athlete. The 30-year-old German was a talented pianist as a teenager, the son of a violinist with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. He grew up in a family where the arts always had a central role. Sport played its part too, of course, (Sutil started racing in karts at the age of 14), but having a range of other interests gives him a fresh perspective on life in F1.
‘The values you need for sporting success are similar to those needed for running a business, or
just to live a happy life,’ he explains. ‘It requires fairness and respect, but also commitment and
hard work. Every day when you wake up, you should think of ways to improve. If one day you
think you’re the best, it’s the beginning of the end.’ For all that, there’s still a steely determination to Sutil’s racing persona: ‘To become the best, you have to work on yourself and keep it up every day. It has to be your passion and you have to live the sport you are in. Only then can you be successful. And sport without success is a waste of energy.’ It’s a passion that drives Sutil to improve himself, both as an athlete and as a man.
‘Every day I wake up, I look forward to working on myself to reach my goals, not just in F1, but also in my daily life. When I’m racing I’m in peace and don’t think about anything else. It’s a wonderful feeling. I didn’t choose this profession. It was my destiny.’ His appreciation of aesthetics meant he was also destined to become a true Ferrari enthusiast and the proud owner of an F12berlinetta (of course he also uses Ferrari engines in his day job with Force India). ‘Each car has its own soul and is the perfect combination of emotion, design, performance and technology. Whichever Ferrari you own, it’s always something truly special. The design and the sound makes my heart race every time that I drive it. For me, to own a Ferrari ultimately means emotion, history and prestige. ‘I grew up in a musical family. Art and a sense of beauty has been a part of my life since I was a small child. I like fashion, and I would say with a Ferrari you always have the right outfit.’
Location: Athens, Greece
Greek footballer Sotirios Kyrgiakos made his name as an old-fashioned central defender, a player whose job it was to disrupt, rather than create. However, his positional sense and powerful physique saw him increasingly called upon to make his presence felt at the other end of the pitch, first at Panathinaikos, then with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Rangers, Liverpool and Wolfsburg. Footballers, more than any other athletes, are firmly embedded in celebrity culture, for good or ill. It can’t be easy keeping a level head when you’re being treated like a rock star, with your every word reported by a hungry media. Kyrgiakos, however, keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
‘I always maintain that pure athletic spirit lives in all athletes, professional or amateur,’ says the 33-yearold international, with 61 caps for his country. ‘For me, true sporting spirit is about self-respect, the way you play, having a sense of justice, the way you treat people, whatever their creed or colour. Having the freedom to give the best of yourself is a privilege. It’s an important value, one that defines that spirit. These beliefs helped me establish my career and made me the man I am today.’ More than that, Kyrgiakos believes that the sport still allows him to enjoy a close relationship with supporters, to feed off their attention, rather than shy away from it. ‘Contact with people gives me the ultimate satisfaction,’ he says. ‘Football is one of few sports where spectators can participate so passionately. That’s the magic of football.’
Not that Kyrgiakos doesn’t enjoy the fruits of his hard work and success. His 458 Italia is a point of huge personal pride. ‘You’re part of a special group that represents status, safety and reliability. You feel lucky because these are the things that people spend their whole life trying to achieve.’
From issue n° 22 September 2013