Jimmy White

No site dedicated to the sportspeople who, for whatever reason(s), failed to fulfil their potential would be complete without the inclusion of the granddaddy of them all, English professional snooker player James ‘Jimmy’ White. A precocious teenager, White became English Amateur Champion in 1979 and World Amateur Champion in 1980. Having turned professional, he was still a month shy of his nineteenth birthday when he made his debut in the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in April, 1981. He lost 10-8 to the eventual winner, Steve Davis, in the first round on that occasion.

White reached the first of six World Championship finals in 1984, again losing out to Davis, 18-16, in the best-of-35-frames match. He did not reach the final again until 1990, but having lost 18-12 to ‘The Wonder Bairn’, Stephen Hendry, he would fall victim to the Scotsman in three of the next four World Championship finals. In between times, White was losing finalist again, going down 18-11 to John Parrott, but it was Hendry who was his principal antagonist. In 1992, White surrendered a 14-8 lead to lose 18-14 and, following an 18-5 drubbing in 1993, missed a routine black, off its spot, when leading in the deciding frame in 1994, eventually losing 18-17.

White, who turns 60 in May, 2022, is still on the World Snooker Tour, albeit thanks to two-year invitational card, which will keep him in the professional ranks until the end of the 2022/23 season. However, time is running out for the man they still call ‘The Whirlwind’ and he seems destined to be known for ever more as the ‘best player never to win the World Chanpionship’. Let’s not forget, though, that he has won 23 professional events, including the UK Championship, Masters and eight other ranking titles, and was ranked in the top 16 players in the world for over two decades.

Tim Henman

Tim Henman officially retired from professional tennis in September, 2007, but for more than a decade previously had been the ‘great British hope’ for victory in the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon, last won by Fred Perry in 1936. However, before the arrival of Andy Murray, who turned professional – and played Wimbledon for the first time, on a wild card – in 2005, Henman was, without doubt, the best British male player of the Open Era and, in fact, since Perry himself.

Year after year, Henman bore the weight of not-altogether-realistic expectation in SW19 but, at the time of his retirement, said, ‘Am I disappointed I didn’t win it [Wimbledon]? Yes I am, but this is as good as I could have been, so I don’t have too many doubts.’ Lingering self-doubt may have been the root cause of inconsistency in his play and, indeed, his less-than-convincing, ‘limp-fisted’ celebrations, from time to time. However, accusations of ‘choking’ under pressure – as levelled by Pete Sampras, among others – are probably a little unfair; on the whole, Henman did pretty well with the tools with which he was equipped.

All told, Henman reached 28 ATP singles finals during his career, winning 11 of them. At his peak, was ranked number four in the world. At Wimbledon, he reached the semi-finals in the Men’s Singles in four of the five years between 1998 and 2002, losing to Pete Sampras in four sets in both 1998 and 1999, Goran Ivanišević in five sets in 2001 and Lleyton Hewitt in three sets in 2002. Henman also reached the semi-finals of both the French Open and the US Open in 2004, losing in four sets to Guillermo Coria in Paris and in straight sets to Roger Federer in New York.

Dean Macey

To a modern audience, Dean Macey is possibly best known as the presenter of angling shows, such as ‘The Big Fish Off’ and ‘Fishing Allstars’. However, in his younger days, ‘The Dean Machine’ was, of course, a world-class decathlete. Indeed, early in his career, Macey was considered the natural successor to dual Olympic gold medallist Daley Thompson, who became his coach. In fact, his personal best of 8,603 points, achieved when winning the bronze medal at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada in 2001, is second only to the 8,847 points achieved by Thompson when winning the gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 in the all-time list of performances by British decathletes.

Macey announced his arrival on the world stage when winning the silver medal at the World Championships in Seville in 1999 with a personal best of 8,556. points. Sadly, though, in a career ravaged by injury, Macey only achieved a fraction of what, at one point, seemed likely. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, he increased his personal best, slightly, to 8,567 points, but that was still only good enough for fourth place. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, it was a similar story, with sub-standard pole vault and javelin performances leaving him stranded on 8,414 points, once again in fourth place.

Macey did win gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, but didn’t have to be at his best to do so. Hampered, not for the first time, by recurring injuries, his winning total of 8,143 points was well below his personal best. In July, 2008, having failed to reach the B qualifying standard for the Beijing Olympics, Macey retired from athletics. At that point, he said, ‘My heart is there, my mind is there but my body has finally given in.’

Graeme Hick

Born and raised in Rhodesia, which gained official independence as Zimbabwe in 1980, Graeme Hick was considered promising enough to be selected for the Zimbabwe squad for the 1983 Cricket World Cup at the age of 17, while still at school. He did not play in that tournament, but made his first-class debut for a Young Zimbabwe against Young West Indies at Harare in October that year.

In 1984, Hick joined Worcestershire on a Zimbabwe Cricket Union scholarship and made his first-class debut in Britain in the final County Championship match of the season, against Surrey at Kennington Oval, London. He did not bat in the first innings but, batting at number nine, contributed 82 not out to a total of 327 in the second innings.

Having already played international cricket for Zimbabwe, Hick had to wait the mandatory seven-year qualifying period before being eligible to play Test cricket for England. By the time he made his Test debut, against West Indies at Headingley in June, 1991, he had already made a huge impact in county cricket. Indeed, he came to the crease with 57 first-class centuries to his name, including a County Championship record 405 not out against Somerset at Taunton in May, 1988.

His Test debut, although eagerly-awaited, proved to be an anti-climax. He was caught at the wicket off the bowling of Courtney Walsh for just six in the first innings and clean bowled by Curtley Ambrose for the same score in the second. Of course, Hick went on to enjoy a long, illustrious career during which he scored over 40,000 first-class runs, including 136 centuries, at an average of 52.53. However, his 65 Test matches yielded just 3,383 runs which, while not exactly a paltry total, represents an average of 31.32, or an underachievement when compared to his first-class record as a whole.