The fleeing bullfighter who saw sense

Matador is just the latest sportsman to throw in the towel

By Barney Ronay
The Guardian - Wednesday 16th 2010

Footage of Mexican bullfighter Christian Hernandez fleeing the ring last Sunday at the first sight of the slaveringly piqued slab of beef in the opposite corner has become a global internet hit. Hernandez was making his debut at Mexico City's Plaza Mexico: in the event he tried a token spin, appeared briefly on the verge of gelatinous collapse, and then hot-footed it over the nearest wall. He has since admitted, "I didn't have the balls – this is not my thing".

Perhaps the only real surprise here is that this doesn't happen more often. Even with the inclusion of bullfighting – at the more extreme end of what might legitimately be called sport – Hernandez joins a surprisingly select line of sportsmen who have discovered in the heat of battle that, frankly, they'd rather be at home doing something else.

The boxer Oliver McCall had a similar experience during a bizarre world-title bout against Lennox Lewis in 1997. In the fourth round McCall burst into tears and refused to carry on, a shockingly sensible, and shockingly rare, reaction to being repeatedly punched in the head. The England cricket captain Mike Denness famously dropped himself from the team during the Ashes tour of 1974-5 because he felt unable to face the furiously intimidatory pace bowling of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee.

A sense of creeping futility has often seemed to be the biggest obstacle facing snooker's most talented player, Ronnie O'Sullivan. Four years ago at the UK Championships he did what no snooker player, perhaps bafflingly, has ever done before, walking out on his quarter final against Steven Hendry after just five frames because he was bored. O'Sullivan later explained that he "had just had enough".

Which, to anyone who has ever spent six hours pinging a ball around a table, will perhaps sound entirely understandable. As will Hernandez's latest move; aged 22, he has now announced his retirement from bullfighting.