THERE they are, the number one and two in the world. They’ve been waiting for this event for four long years.
FORGOTTEN STARS: England’s James Willstrop and Nick Matthew are ranked number one and two in the world squash rankings but it’s Olympic recognition the sport is wishing for this Christmas (Reuters)
So much has happened in between but this time billions of people around the world will be watching every second.
The atmosphere gives these two Englishmen goosebumps; that’s never happened before.
Both Nick and James become acutely aware of the tension building in the crowd, and now the start is only a few heartbeats away.
The stadium announcer has already introduced the competitors and, in the blink of an eye, it’s underway.
Usain Bolt streaks away from the field, while the world’s two best squash players look on, sat with the other spectators at the London 2012 100m final, wondering whether their sport will ever get an invite to the party.
When the Olympics arrives in London next year, one of the host nation’s most successful sports will be missing from the schedule.
England currently boasts the world’s top two players in the men’s game, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew. And when the new rankings are released on New Year’s Day, Willstrop will replace Matthew, who has been number one for the whole of 2011.
But it is not just England’s men who are dominating at the moment, as the world’s second and third best women are Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro.
This is an extraordinary achievement, which will almost certainly go largely unnoticed at this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
It is not as though squash hasn’t been trying to earn Olympic recognition. The sport was shortlisted for inclusion for both the 2012 and 2016 Games but narrowly missed out on both occasions, with lacklustre lobbying of the highly-politicised IOC electorate not aiding their cause.
Golf and rugby sevens were added for Rio 2016, the glorious prospect of a pre-scandal Tiger Woods climbing on to the podium swaying the International Olympic Committee’s members – although the addition of two cash-rich sports wouldn’t have harmed their campaigns either.
For 2020, squash will try once more alongside baseball, softball, rock climbing, wushu, rollersports, wakeboarding and karate – and they’ve recruited Mike Lee, the PR mastermind behind London, Rio and Pyeongchang’s recent Olympic successes, Qatar’s controversial World Cup campaign and rugby sevens bid for Games acceptance, to give them the inside track.
Squash has been told it is too hard to follow, both in terms of the rules and the ball, meaning a new simpler scoring system and much improved television coverage is now being trialled.