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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

 

The women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut now holds the longest streak of consecutive games won in the history of the sport. On Tuesday, the Huskies took their record to 89, passing the long-standing, historic record of 88 straight by revered Coach John Wooden's UCLA men's squad of the early 1970's.

 

Many have argued this week that you simply can't compare this UConn streak to the Wooden glory days, in that the men's games were more competitive, their opponents deeper. I say we take the opinion of one of the formidable, key players on the Wooden streak team. This is what Bill Walton says of these dominant Huskies: "They play with great sense of team, great purpose, phenomenal execution of fundamentals, relentless attack. It's what every team should aspire to."

 

So UConn is now at 89….and counting….but the fact that the women's team under Coach Geno Auriemma has not lost consecutive games in 17 years is an even more astounding stat. Superior performance over extended time is rare, special territory in sport. Especially given the bone-breaking nature of the NFL, Brett Favre's 321 consecutive starts over 19 years, including play-off games, which ended last week, is flat-out mind-boggling.

 

But one athlete doesn't often appear on our list of phenomenal streaks. So we pay homage to him today. That's the greatest squash player of all time, Hashim Khan.

 

In British Colonial India, in a small town near Peshawar, Hashim cleaned the squash courts for the English officers on the local base. One moonless night, several of the Englishmen, tipsy after dinner, strolled past the courts and, even though it was pitch black, they heard a continuous thwack, thwack of the ball against the front wall. Intrigued, they climbed up to the gallery seats and, once their eyes adjusted to the dark, it stunned them to witness little boy Hashim deftly hitting hundreds of consecutive backhands down the left side wall, without shoes, without light.

Over his prime athlete years, his late teens, all his twenties, the first half of his thirties, Hashim was victim of the class prejudice that kept him a local Peshawar squash wonder, where he beat all comers with sublime ease. It wasn't until he was 37 years old that Hashim broke the class barrier and traveled to the prestigious World Championships, the British Open, and thus embarked on his 15-year run as THE dominant world player, never losing a match on the world stage. Had he been allowed to take London by storm in his prime, he no doubt would have been World Number One for some 30 years. Hashim moved to the United States, first to Detroit, then to Denver, and single-handedly grew the game of squash into a national sport. His expressions in English became legendary around the courts. In my one lesson with him, he declared, "Your hands good. Quick. Legs slow. Stiff. Like oak tree."

So while we're touting the UConn Huskies, Brett Favre, and other athletes of profound durability, those who have demonstrated a remarkable span of unmatched focus, let's not forget the gifted Hashim Khan from Peshawar. And speaking of longevity, Hashim is 96 today, and still talking squash.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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