Don’t tell me the score revisited …

When Ronnie’s interview on don’t tell me the score. came out because of the BBC putting the focus on one sentence taken out of context, there were a lot of negative reactions from people who had clearly not listened to the interview.

Now, a few weeks later, Phil Haigh, writing for metro.uk, has extract some key elements of this interview in three separate articles.

Ronnie O’Sullivan opens up about how anxiety has affected his snooker career

Ronnie O’Sullivan is arguably the most naturally gifted snooker player in history, but that does not mean everything comes easy to him on the baize. The Rocket has battled various mental health struggles over his lengthy career, from what he labels as ‘snooker depression’ to a range of addictions. The 43-year-old has also had to fight serious anxiety which comes to the fore when he is playing tournaments, specifically when he is away from home a lot, which has led to his significantly reduced schedule in recent years.

For someone who many consider the best player of all time, it is hard to comprehend that he would have serious doubts about his own ability, but that is exactly what the five-time world champion has had to deal with while trying to perform in front of big crowds. ‘I likened it a little bit like when people go on stage and before they go out they freeze, because it’s all about the performance, and that’s exactly what it was like me with snooker,’ O’Sullivan told BBC’s Don’t Tell Me The Score podcast.

I could do brilliant performances but it was always about the next one, am I going to fall apart? Am I not going to be able to pot a ball? Am I going to embarrass myself out there? Are people going to start laughing at me and think I’m a fraud? I had all that going on.

‘If I don’t compete and don’t put myself in that situation with snooker that fear and anxiety disappeared.’ Simply not playing was not a realistic option for the Rocket, so he took steps to manage his anxiety that have allowed him to compete at the highest level and remain world number one at 43-years-old.

A big part of this career management has been competing in just a handful of tournaments per season in recent years, but also working with psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters. ‘Even though I’ve worked with Steve Peters and it’s helped me a lot, I still get moments,’ continued O’Sullivan. ‘It’s nowhere near as bad as it was but I still get moments when I really do doubt myself.

‘I think you’ve just got to manage it and I’ve realised since 2005 that I have to see it coming. I do a diary so I can look back on it and think ,”What did I do here?”

‘I hit a little bad period here, because I took too much on. Sometimes I don’t spend enough time at home cooking for myself, looking after myself, spending time with my partner, seeing my children.

‘Once I’ve done all those things it builds up a shield and I’m ready to now go into that two week battle and do some graft and win this tournament and compete against the best snooker players in the world.

‘If I try and do four or five weeks competing with the best in the world from hotel room to hotel room, country to country I start to neglect myself and start to question what it’s all about. This isn’t really making me happy, I might have won a couple of tournaments but really I just can’t wait to get home.

‘I’m like a racehorse, if you race him every day at some point he’s going to come last.’ O’Sullivan has not played since going out in the first round of the 2019 World Championship to James Cahill, but is expected to return to the table at the Shanghai Masters in September.

Ronnie O’Sullivan explains how rejecting Western philosophy has helped him battle addiction

Ronnie O’Sullivan has become one of the deep-thinkers, not only of snooker, but of British sport.

The world number one has gone through struggles on and off the table during his hugely successful career and has come up with various ways to overcome them.

The Rocket admits that he has had to battle his own addictive personality over the years, and continues to try and avoid temptations, which he believes are ingrained in Western philosophy.

‘I went through a lot of denial in the early stages, thinking I didn’t have an addiction problem,’ O’Sullivan told BBC’s Don’t Tell Me The Score podcast. ‘I’d get a month of training and eating well practicing, and I’d play a tournament and do really well and then the next two or three months I’d binge on food and drink and going to nightclubs. It was never me, but it was my addictive side.

‘I could never have one meal or one night out and get back to training the next day, I kept falling off the wagon.

‘It wasn’t until I started looking at addiction and how it’s not just about food, it can be about women, relationships, gambling, spending, working too hard. It covers so many different areas.’

O’Sullivan has now accepted the problem and learned to manage it, focusing his addictive personality on positive outlets like running.

The 43-year-old believes that addiction has become difficult to avoid in modern Western society and points at the contrast between boxing rivals Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather as an example to illustrate his point. ‘The Western world has become a world of addiction in many ways, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to sit down as a community and just do things together and do things together, support each other,

’ Ronnie continued. ‘We live a hectic, fast-paced life and everyone’s trying to get on top of each other, climb that ladder and do what they do. ‘I go to Thailand and it’s not like that, they have a different way to measure success.

‘You look at Manny Pacquiao and he wants to feed his village, it’s all about taking back to the Philippines and I think that’s a much better way to share your success.

Ronnie O’Sullivan explains how he stopped snooker success costing him relationships

Ronnie O’Sullivan has always had a difficult relationship with snooker and part of that is down to how the game has impacted his relationships off the table.

The five-time world champion has found a work-life balance that suits him now, but there have been times in his career at which snooker has taken over to an unhealthy level.

The Rocket has been developing how to manage his game on and off the table over a career that dates back to 1992 and has learned to put more importance on the things that matter away from winning titles. ‘

When I play snooker I go into a tunnel vision type of world. I don’t know I’m doing it but I block out everything and everyone around me,’ O’Sullivan told BBC’s Don’t Tell Me The Score podcast.

‘The people that care about me don’t get the best out of me, they take it for so long and eventually they go, “well I’m not putting up with this,” and you think, what have I done? ‘I’m out there grafting, I’m trying to be the best I can be, I’m pursuing my career, but they’re not getting their wants and needs.

‘So I want a balance in life. Snooker, winning titles is great, but if that’s all life is, if all my life is built on is being a success then at some point that’s going to go and what am I left with?

‘I think human relationships are very important, and probably more important than anything you’ll ever do because we need to interact with people. The healthier the relationships you have, the better your life will be.

‘So I have to draw in sometimes and think I have been a bit selfish. I have neglected certain things, and then when I reproach things, things get better again.’

‘When I’ve got in that tunnel vision I’ve probably trampled on so many people, not in a horrible way, but just in my pursuit to be the best. ‘You have to make tough decisions, and when I look back on them they were ruthless decisions, and I don’t class myself as a ruthless person.’

If you find it difficult to listen to the full interview, for whatever reason, those articles at least will give you a correct feedback on some important aspects of it. Unlike the very misleading title and introductory text that the BBC chose when the interview was initially published.

Shanghai Masters 2019 – Ronnie Interview

Ronne gave a nice, and rather long interview in the context of the 2019 Shanghai Masters Launch. He was also reunited with the kids to whom he had offered his trophies last season.

Here is the interview:

14.06.2019.: Shanghai Masters and National Amateur Snooker Masters press conference

It’s nearly one hour and a half long, but that’s also because the need for translation and the interactions with the fans.

There was also this article

“Rocket” Shanghai with “old friends”, interacting with the fans

Posted on 2019-06-14 19:28:23
Reading number: 9284

Last year, the champion of the Snooker Shanghai Masters, O’Sullivan, “airborne” Shanghai yesterday, for the 2019 World Snooker Shanghai Masters, which will be held on September 9-15 this year, and he will serve as a “mentor”. 2019 National Amateur Snooker Masters Tournament. Today, O’Sullivan has opened a new round of intimate interaction with fans to chat about his billiards story and Shanghai memories.

Shanhai Masters 2019 - Launch

        O’Sullivan, who has always performed well in the Shanghai Masters, has a large number of fans in China. Today he has a cordial exchange with some of the lucky winners who have been randomly selected through the official 2019 National Amateur Snooker Masters. Close contact with “Idol” has excited this group of lucky fans, and O’Sullivan is grateful to the Chinese fans who have always supported him.

        Many of these fans will compete in the 2019 National Amateur Snooker Masters – Shanghai Station on June 15th. This year’s competition is still divided into two stages: the trials and the national finals. The sea-selection sub-station will be increased from four stations last year to eight stations, and will be held in Shanghai, Wuxi, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Xi’an in June and August respectively.

Shanhai Masters 2019 Launch

        The top three players in each of the selection trials will advance to the national finals in Shanghai in September and will compete fiercely. In the end, the national finals champion and runner-up will win the 2019 World Snooker Shanghai Masters wild card seat, and compete with the snooker masters including O’Sullivan. At present, the 2019 National Amateur Snooker Masters is still in hot recruitment, and the registration method can be checked through the official WeChat public account (Snook Shanghai Masters).

Shanghai Masters 2019 Launch

        Fans and friends at the event also got the opportunity to ask questions to the Rockets face to face. O’Sullivan answered the questions of the fans seriously and also looked forward to this year’s war of defending. O’Sullivan said: “Shanghai Masters is always strong opponents gathered from various quarters, and at the beginning of the new season, everyone will come up with the best in the state, which is the cause of this race exceptionally people expect.” Meet On the other hand, the host also gave O’Sullivan a series of questions to test his understanding of Shanghai. O’Sullivan revealed that every time he came to Shanghai for many years, he felt the change of this vitality city. It combines the modern sense of modern city and the fireworks of the city life, so that he can enjoy the time in Shanghai.

Shanghai Masters 2019 Launch

        As the most successful and outstanding player in the history of snooker, O’Sullivan has played an important role in the promotion of snooker. His appearance has a special significance for the Shanghai Masters. “Rocket” has won the Shanghai Masters for two consecutive years. After winning the championship last year, he presented the championship trophy and the single-shot highest trophy to two children on the scene. The two lucky spectators were also invited to today’s fans. Meet the meeting. O’Sullivan, who was full of domineering and unruly on the court, showed a very gentle side when he saw these two “old friends”. Not only did they specially prepare gifts for them, but they also left precious photos with the small fans. “I was very happy after winning the championship last year. I want to give the trophy to the audience. I also hope to leave some good memories for them. I like to see the smiling faces of the children.” O’Sullivan said, “I think so, The trophy also has a better home, and I am more happy to make the fans happy.”

Shanghai Masters 2019 Launch

        The 2019 World Snooker Shanghai Masters will be held at the Regal International East Asia Hotel from September 9th to 15th. The competition will still be in the form of a 24-player tournament. The players invited to participate will be ranked by the top 16 players in the world, the top four Chinese players in the world (if the rankings in the top 16 are postponed), two from the China Billiards Association and two national amateur masters. . The event will continue to maintain a high level of lineup, attracting the world’s top snooker players to fight for the fight, for the championship glory and rich bonuses.

Shanghai Masters 2019 Launch

At present, the tickets for the competition have been officially opened for sale. Fans and friends can log on to the official ticketing website of the event, http://www.jusstickets.com or call 021-962123 for ticketing consultation. In September, let us join the Regal International East Asia Hotel to experience the infinite charm of this gentleman movement. Pay attention to the official WeChat and Weibo platform “Snook Shanghai Masters”, or visit the official website of the event: http://www.snookershanghai.com for more information.

Plus some more pictures shared on weibo …

and here is Ronnie’s message to the fans:

16.06.2019.: Shanghai Masters and National Amateur Snooker Masters press conference.

Enjoy!

Ronnie’s latest interview …

Ronnie gave this interview to Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph

And us, fans, won’t like this. However, let me remind you a few things. It’s not the first time that Ronnie wants to walk away from the sport, and one day of course he will. Maybe soon, maybe in years. When he said that he was retiring in 2012, he meant it. A few months later, he started missing it. His relationship with Worldsnooker has never been easy, the expectations and demands on him are extremely high, they have been for over 25 years. And the way this World Championship went hasn’t helped. The media making the biggest story of his defeat when he was clearly unwell hasn’t helped.

So this is how he feels for now. He’s not unhappy, he’s just out of love with the demands of professional snooker. For now at least it’s too much, he doesn’t want to have to cope with this. But he nevertheless said that he will play in Shanghai. My philosophy for now will be to enjoy him when he does play and just wait and see how things pan out from there.

The last sentence is the key to all this: Ronnie is all about the feelings, the emotions, and the moment. This is how he feels now. I a few weeks, or months? Who knows? He certainly does not.

Here is the interview:

Exclusive Ronnie O’Sullivan interview: ‘I don’t want to play in the World Championship next year, it’s overrated’

Ronnie&Rhiannon 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan is planning on cutting down the amount of snooker he plays
CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

It is whilst eating a salad lunch, which appropriately contains some rocket, that Ronnie O’Sullivan casually slips in an announcement that would be genuinely seismic for his sport.

“This year I played 11 tournaments; next year I’m only going to have to play three,” he declares. “I only want to play a few games to keep a bit of interest. I’m bored at home. Maybe three or four tournaments a year. Low key ones, where there is no media and no press. So I will miss the Masters, I will miss the World Championship and I will miss the UK [Championship].

“I don’t even want to play in the World Championship – all the press and media they want you to do. I’m not here for that. It’s alright for young kids who have never won the world title and it’s their dream. To me it’s overrated. It’s great when you win it – a week later it sinks in. I’ve won it five times mate. It ain’t worth the blood, sweat and tears to me now. That tournament? Probably not for me anymore.”

A few minutes earlier and O’Sullivan had also been delivering me the most genuine, heartfelt and yet sometimes hilariously blunt nutritional advice.

“I bet you wanted the fish and chips, didn’t you? Listen mate, two months with Rhiannon, you’d lose a stone and a half. No. Two stones. Guaranteed. And you won’t be hungry. And you eat all the time. Get on it. I always had an issue with weight; I was a fatty ever since I was a kid. I once went from 16 stone to 12 stone in three months. I’ve had to work at it.”

Rhiannon Lambert has been O’Sullivan’s nutritionist for almost two years and one of the key explanations behind a snooker renaissance that, even allowing for last month’s Crucible aberration, has included 10 tournament wins, passing Stephen Hendry for a record-breaking 19 ‘grand slams’ titles, an unprecedented 1,000 century breaks and returning to the top of the world rankings at the age of 43.

It is what made last month’s first round exit at the World Championships such a shock. And, for all the previous threats to quit completely, it is what makes the timing of this suggestion that we might never again see him on snooker’s greatest stage feel significant.

Ronnie - James Cahill - Telegraph 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan lost to amateur James Cahill at the World Snooker Championship last month CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

O’Sullivan is happy, has never felt healthier and the buzz both from playing and entertaining when he is in full flight is certainly still there. “There is no drug on the planet that makes me feel like that,” he says. And yet what has evidently withered to breaking point is his relationship with snooker’s authorities.

“It’s like a broken marriage,” he says. “They don’t like me, I don’t really like them. We are living under the same roof. Just for the kids’ sake, we’ll stay together until they are out of education. Then I’m done, you’re done. We can crack on and get a little flat each. But if they want to overstep that mark and make my life too unhappy I’m off. You are going to lose out because I am not going to come to your tournaments. I’m going to lose out because really I want to play. So we’re just trying to be nice to each other – trying to tolerate each other.”

O’Sullivan has specifically grown weary of the disciplinary threat that has followed his criticism of venues, referees or tournament schedules, but the biggest issue seems to be off-table media demands to ‘sell’ the sport.

“The easiest way to explain it is Kimi Raikonnen,” he says. “He likes to race but he doesn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to have to promote myself or the game. It’s not the reason I play. Me helping people in snooker is potting balls, having a 147. I don’t see it as necessary to stand there and talk about this opponent, that tournament, how I think the game went. I’m bored of that ****. I ain’t got nothing to say except let my snooker do the talking. I don’t want to work with people who just want to squeeze you and squeeze you until you break and you say, ‘I’m out’.”

Ronnie&Rhiannon 23.05.2019
“Listen mate, two months with Rhiannon, you’d lose a stone and a half.” CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

If that all sounds rather dramatic, some context is important. O’Sullivan has always been candid about his various addictions, the mental health challenges that he has faced and the sometimes torturous toll that snooker takes. And yet still, when he did not attend a press conference after beating David Gilbert in the first round of the 2016 World Championship, World Snooker’s disciplinary statement about “a formal warning” for “breach of contract” was immediate.

It later transpired that O’Sullivan had suffered a mental breakdown, smashed up his cue, punched a wall and was in tears. He would spend four nights in the Nightingale Hospital in central London, a mental health clinic.

Lambert describes the pressures and demands on O’Sullivan as “insane” and says that the professional footballers with whom she also works “get looked after a lot better”. It’s an interesting point. Participants in team sports share out media demands and those who are not feeling up to it simply opt out. Some never speak to the media. There are times when you have to wonder about duty of care and if everyone would benefit from rather more flexibility. As it is, O’Sullivan feels antagonised and exploited and we can end up with the sort of press appearances when he clearly does not want to be there and so pretends to be a robot or puts on an Australian accent.

He says that he is now “detached” from the competitive side of snooker and smiles when asked what happened against James Cahill in Sheffield last month. “At the time I didn’t know,” he says. “I couldn’t stand, my legs were gone and I had to do 19 frames with this kid loving every minute. I looked doped up or something.

“A week later my mate rang me up and said, ‘I was in bed for three days’. I was like ‘thank god, you got it as well, that’s what it was’. Me and him had done something. It was a schoolboy error. We both got sick. If I’d got through that match I’d have been alright. But it’s only a bloody game isn’t it? It’s a snooker tournament at the end of the day.”

O’Sullivan does not want to elaborate and is adamant that Judd Trump’s performance in ultimately winning with such style has not stirred his competitive urge. “I’ve had to fight off five generations of player – I’ve nothing to prove,” he says. “People like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were different animals. Ruthless. I’m ruthless in the competition with myself. Hendry and Davis were all about winning. For me it’s the competition with myself. I don’t have to play anyone.

“If anything this would be the perfect time to cash in and do other stuff. But I’m not cashing in, I’ll only do things I’m passionate about. You won’t catch me on Strictly Come Dancing, you won’t catch me in the jungle, or jumping off a building for fun. You will see me doing cooking, talking about nutrition, health and fitness. I think that can help people. It’s about spending time and working with people who share the same philosophy.”

Lambert is one such person and together they have brought out a book, Top of Your Game, that combines recipes and nutritional advice with O’Sullivan’s wider outlook on life. So has healthy eating given him an advantage over his competitors? He shrugs.

“Not intentionally. I want to get out of the game and I’ve gone back to [world] number one. There are a lot of people on the snooker circuit who have never really taken care of themselves. Eat whatever they eat on the road. Never seen a gym. For them, sitting on a couch at home, watching Jeremy Kyle or whatever they watch, they might as well be in China sitting on the couch watching CBS news and potting a few balls. They don’t give a monkeys.

“Me, I think, ‘Travel, jet-lag, that’s eight days when I could be in the forest having a run, in the gym, cooking my own food’. That’s my value-system. Take care of myself first and then the job second. I think I’ve had longevity because I’ve been picky and choosy about what I do.”

Ronnie&Rhiannon
O’Sullivan  has brought out a book with his nutritionist, Rhiannon Lambert CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

O’Sullivan was 15 stones when he met Lambert despite regularly running and working out, but was soon down near 13 stones even while cutting back on exercise. More importantly, he felt more content and could concentrate for longer.

“Food affects everything,” says Lambert. “You can see the difference in his skin. The stuff he was eating was not beneficial internally. Portion sizes through the roof. You might be able to run a long distance but are your organs feeling good? What about your mental health?”

It is now all about eating a balanced diet within three meals and two snacks a day. Moderation was the first big lesson for O’Sullivan, who would previously gorge on McDonalds, several curries a day and then, when he was trying to be healthy, avocados and olives.

“I was in Bulgaria with Stephen Hendry. He looked at me and said, ‘How many olives have you eaten?’ I said, ‘I don’t know mate, let’s have a count up’. It was 29. So I said, ‘I’ll have one more. Round number. 30’. I was eating three or four avocados a day and thinking that I was doing really well. Now I have a template. It took me three months to get it. The right amounts are vital.

“People see these big plates now and it’s like, ‘feed me!’ It’s hard to wean yourself off but, over a two-month period, your stomach adjusts.” O’Sullivan started measuring food and can now instinctively judge what he should eat. “When you are out and they bring you a massive, ridiculous dinner, I now go, ‘Three meals there. Wicked. Divvy it up. That’s my protein, that’s my carbs, done. Put the rest in a bag and I’ll eat it later’. Previously I would be, ‘Christ. I’m not leaving that, I’ll have some of that’ and looking to finish everyone else’s.”

And does he allow himself treats? “Oh yeah,” he says. “If I’m out I might share a desert. ‘You chose and I’ll have two mouthfuls’. One, two, bosh, done. Now and then I’ll think I have earned it. Maybe a week at snooker, stressed and I’ll be, ‘That cakes’s getting it’ and I’ll have the lot, but you are not going to put on two stones if you do that once in a while.” Lambert advised O’Sullivan to prioritise his diet over intense exercise while he was adjusting and, although remaining active was important, it is another key nugget of advice.

“Listen, save your money on a gym or a ****ing personal trainer,” says O’Sullivan. “Get a nutritionist, see her once a month. Done. It’s more important than training. I hate to admit that because my whole life I thought you’ve got to be fit and train but you can’t out-train a bad diet. A gym is two hours out of your day. You can prep your food in 40 minutes.

“Some of these mainstream gyms are not gyms anyway mate. They are social clubs where parents drop off their kids. I go in there and I’m so uninspired. I go down a boxing club to train. Love it there.”

Ronnie Tour Championship  Winner - Telegraph 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan insists he wasn’t simply born with his talent CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Talk of boxing prompts O’Sullivan to recall how he once met Roberto Duran and discovered that he was a massive snooker fan. He speaks with similar passion about other sporting heroes – Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Tiger Woods – but then looks almost embarrassed to have it pointed out that he actually transcends his sport in a comparable way. And that there are a fair few people who derive the exact same joy watching him that he clearly gets from these people.

“It’s a bit unfair to put it on me in a way but I have had 25 years of unbelievable support,” he says. “The rest of my career will be about the fans. I’ve got this resilience to come back but at some point it will be, ‘I can’t even do it for you now’. It scrapes a bit off each time and my sanity is more important. That’s why I’m enjoying doing this. Different vibe. I get more out of giving than taking.”

O’Sullivan then debunks the idea that he was simply born with outrageous talent. “To be good at anything you have got to have that obsessive nature,” he says. “I’ve seen people with more talent than me not make it. I’ve seen people with no talent win tournaments. Hard work always wins. Talent with hard work and you get your Lionel Messis. It doesn’t come easy to me but, when it does, it comes ridiculously easy: 30 per cent of the time it’s easy, 40 per cent is OK and the other 30 percent is like I’ve never played before. You have to keep working.

“And what I will always do is my exhibitions – 60 or 70 nights a year, any snooker fan who wants to can come and I promise I’ll be in practice and you will get a great performance. I wouldn’t want to spend my money and see someone do a **** performance. I’ll be a bit like Ken Dodd – on stage until the day he dies. He loved what he was doing. They loved what he did. He was not dealing anymore with ITV, BBC, corporate people saying, ‘You can’t do this or that’. When you perform really well you know there is a certain electricity in the air. You feed off that. They are giving it to you – I’m giving it to them. You get addicted. How do you say goodbye to that? How do you go, ‘I’ll just make a cup of tea and grow a few plants in the garden’. It’s only the highest level of performance that can give you that.

“There’s been games where I have not thought I have given punters value for money and the fans are, ‘Brilliant! Amazing!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Who has got it wrong here?’ That’s where Steve Peters (O’Sullivan’s psychiatrist) helps. He says, ‘Look at the facts, some great breaks and you won the tournament’.”

O’Sullivan then reaches for his phone. It is where he stores certain psychological reminders and sayings that help him. “I love this by Jade Johnson. ‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’. Brilliant.”

He then repeats it. “Facts don’t care about your feelings. It’s everything Steve Peters tries to teach me: ‘Look at the facts, five tournaments wins this season, two finals. The facts are the most important thing’.” And then O’Sullivan pauses before delivering perhaps the most perceptive observation of all. “But I’m going to get hurt all the time.” Why? “Because I’m ****ing all about the feelings.”

 

Food for health …

The new book by Ronnie and Rhiannon Lambert , “Top of your Game” is due to be published on May 16, 2019.

It didn’t happen for Ronnie in Sheffield, but 2018/19 still remains one of his most successful seasons, one during which he broke several records, and, maybe more importantly, one he enjoyed.

Ronnie spoke to The Times about the book, food and health

Ronnie O’Sullivan on the food regime that transformed his physical — and mental — health

He may have had his professional ups and downs, but armed with a new attitude to eating, the snooker ace’s life is in balance. He tells Lisa Markwell what he has learnt, and why health is always better than wealth

PORTRAIT BY ANDREW HAYES-WATKINS
The Sunday Times, 

Ronnie O’Sullivan is known as much for his mercurial temperament as for his stellar success as a snooker player. Recently, within a month, he was named world No 1 and crashed out of the World Snooker Championships in the first round, beaten by an amateur. It was one of the sport’s biggest upsets, but O’Sullivan seemed to take it in his stride.

Over the years, he has battled addictions and continues to suffer from crippling insomnia, but there’s one area in which he’s found a happy equilibrium — food — and he credits it with changing his entire approach to life.

“The penny’s dropped,” he says. “I used to eat two steaks, all the potatoes, my dessert and everyone else’s too. Now, I’ll still have dessert, but just one or two mouthfuls. It’s about moderation.” Perhaps inevitably, he’s written a food book about the changes to his diet that have transformed his physical — and mental — health.

What makes the book so interesting is that it’s not a get-fit-quick diet book, but a thought-provoking read, with half dedicated to his acceptance of his addictions, what he was doing wrong and the lessons he’s learnt.

For the rest of us, these lessons can be translated into a steady, manageable lifestyle that leads, if not to world domination, then certainly to feeling and looking better. As he writes in the introduction, “moderation, healthy living and self-care aren’t necessarily things that you would automatically associate with me. I’ve been very honest about my addictive personality in the past; depending on the year and what else was going on in my life, my addictions have included drink, drugs, food, Prozac and running. It’s taken me a while, but I can now accept that my addictive personality is just the way I am. It’s my nature and I’m finally OK with that.”

When one of his obsessive pursuits — running — reached a professional level, he cut out all carbs, saying, “I thought this was the way forward.” It wasn’t easy, being the son of a Sicilian mother and spending half his life travelling and working late into the night, filling up on whatever food he could grab. He laughs ruefully. “I’ve always been a big eater.” But with typical focus, he cut out carbohydrates altogether — and replaced them with vast amounts of avocados.

He couldn’t understand why he seemed so fit and yet was unable to concentrate during snooker matches. “A match can last seven hours and I need to try and stay alert during that time. Snooker is an endurance sport.”

O’Sullivan, 43, has battled insomnia for some time, but this was different. “I’d never felt so bad. I ended up at the doctors having blood tests because I thought there’s got to be something wrong with me. I was just exhausted and I had to go and do TV interviews. Honestly, it was embarrassing, because I felt people could see that I was not really concentrating on what they were saying. They thought maybe I was being a bit rude or a bit distant.”

It was when he was introduced to the nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert that he was told in no uncertain terms what needed to change. “I told her what I was doing and she said, ‘That explains why you were feeling like that. Carbs feed the brain.’” He followed her nutritional advice. “Since then,” he says, “I’ve never had a day where I’ve not felt how I’m supposed to feel.”

“It was a lightbulb moment,” he says now, comparing it to the time, several years earlier, when he started working with the psychiatrist Steve Peters. As a result of eating a regular, balanced diet, he has lost 1½ stone, has more energy and is generally playing brilliantly. Was it important to have regained that No 1 status? “Not really. Not that I’m not feeling good, I’m just not driven by it. When everyone was going, ‘You’re going to be No 1’, for a nanosecond I kind of thought, ‘Yeah, it would be nice,’ but then I realised, that’s not why I play the game.

“The thing I love, more important than snooker or anything, is my health and fitness,” he says emphatically. In a flash of that addictive personality, he says: “I still run three, four, five miles a day, but that’s what I call not running. That’s just fun.”

He talks about the “rat race” of competing with trademark candour. O’Sullivan has managed to break free of the exhausting routine of comparing himself to other players. Instead, he likens himself to a racehorse. “You don’t race it every day. You don’t overtrain the horse. You want it on the start line raring to go. You don’t want to leave its best form on the gallops. I used to do that. I’d practise six, seven hours a day. I was overplaying, just playing out of guilt, because you think, ‘If I do it more and more, I deserve to win — everyone else is doing more’.

“I don’t look at anybody else now. I go by how I feel, and I’m not worried about results so much, just about being ready, having longevity and feeling as good as I can for as long as I can.”

He shows me his diary on his phone, with notes on all of his performances, annotated with emojis. “I play 45 matches a season, maximum. In Shanghai, I played shit, but I felt good in myself. Smiley face. Smiley face. Smiley face. Smiley face. Smiley face… I’m not playing good in every tournament, but the smiley face measures what I felt. Was I happy, was my whole life balanced?

“You get one life, one body,” he continues. “It’s the most important thing we own, and I’d like to get the best out of it because I abused it for quite a while. I could have been kinder to myself maybe, done things differently. That doesn’t mean I have to carry on doing that.”

He lives in Chigwell, Essex, and has three children — a grown-up daughter (who has just had a child of her own) and a younger son and daughter, although he doesn’t live with them. He calls himself “a bit of a gypsy” and is never happier than on his boat. He proudly shows me pictures of a very smart houseboat, with a full kitchen for his regular cooking sessions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who skipped a season of competitive snooker to work on a farm, he’s fascinated by the idea of a “gap year” to train as a chef. “I was thinking about doing something like that,” he says. “Is it expensive? I’d have to move closer to the school. I’m definitely thinking about it.” For now, he enjoys planning each day’s meals and making packed lunches for when he is on the road.

Judging by the enthusiasm with which he talks about the recipes in the book, and the upbeat, natural Instagram stories and short videos in which he rustles up healthy dinners, this is no “famous person attaches their name to a ghost-written money-spinner”. He is taking this, like everything else in life, seriously.

“This book ain’t for everyone. It’s for someone that wants to make a shift, wants to have a go, wants to feel good about themselves. If they do, then this is something I’ve tried and tested. It’s not a diet book. It’s just about getting your portion size down and taking control.”

Meanwhile, he continues competing. After all, he’s been playing tournaments for 30 years. “I have plans. If one doesn’t work out, then I’ve got another one, and if that one doesn’t work out, I’ve got another. I’d rather be in control of my own destiny. I will probably still be playing in my mid-fifties, maybe sixties, as long as I’m fit and healthy.

“I think the key — if you can create some space and time for yourself — is to listen to the body. That’s all I do. That’s why I use the smiley faces, because sometimes you can forget how you felt and I go, ‘That smiley face tells me that I was on the right system for me. It worked for me.’” And with that he moves on to the next part of his day, armed with plastic boxes filled with snacks and meals.

RONNIE’S DAY ON A PLATE

Before Two eggs and an avocado; chocolate bar; mezze including hummus, falafel, rice, bread and chicken; crisps; two portions of curry; chocolate cake

After Porridge with berries and flaxseed; fruit and yoghurt; chicken, rice and salad; hummus, rye crispbreads and cottage cheese; fish, sweet potato and vegetables; fruit

MINDFUL EATING

  • Acknowledge colours, flavours, textures and smells
  • Chew food slowly and put down your knife and fork between bites to help slow down your eating
  • Lose the TV or mobile phone at mealtimes
  • Learn skills to cope with anxiety and guilt around food
  • Set realistic goals
  • Avoid eating directly from a packet, and always pre-portion food
  • Eat something hot within the first hour of waking
  • Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without eating anything

PORTION SIZES PER MEAL

  • 1 outstretched palm of protein — for example, chicken, fish or tofu
  • 1 handful of carbohydrates — oats, rice or starchy fruit and vegetables
  • 2 handfuls of non-starchy vegetables — broccoli, spinach or peppers
  • 1 thumb of healthy fats — olive oil, butter, coconut oil or nut butter

RONNIE’S GAME CHANGERS

  • Consistency is key, so stick to your plan
  • Premix your favourite spice blends in big batches to save time — you can then label and freeze them, either in big portions or in ice cube trays
  • Batch cook your main meals with extra portions and freeze some of them for another time
  • Write a weekly shopping list, planning your meals and snacks
  • Keep a food diary. If I eat too many biscuits, I make a note and put a sad face next to it, because that’s how I feel afterwards

GOOD SNACKS

  • 1 small pot of Greek yoghurt
  • Almonds and a piece of fruit
  • 125g edamame beans
  • 1 apple and 30g nut butter
  • 2 sausages (chicken or vegetarian)

GOOD CARBS

  • Wholegrain bread
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Oats

TOP OF YOUR GAME by Ronnie O’Sullivan and Rhiannon Lambert is published on May 16 (Lagom £15)

 

Crucible 2019 – last interviews before it starts

The World Championship starts in a few hours and Shamoon Hafez (BBC) has been interviewing some if the main contenders.

World Championship 2019: Ronnie O’Sullivan seeks sixth title at Crucible

It’s not great that Mark Williams is feeling this way, but I can understand why he does.

Indeed just have a look at the poster:

WC2019Poster

He’s completely in the background, whilst Mark Selby who has not done much at all this season in right in front. Mark Also wasn’t on the cover of the new game “Snooker 19” that Worldsnooker is promoting. That’s hard to understand unless Mark is indeed right.

In my opinion he’s been a great World Champion but that view may not be shared by everyone. There is a trend now to ask sportsperson to be “Mr/Mrs Perfect”. Well spending the whole year celebrating on social media with a lot of drinking involved, and getting in trouble in Dubai for being too explicitly flirty (with his own wife BTW) may not be what’s expected of Mr Perfect. But what Mark certainly has done, and I believe it’s much more important than being Mr Perfect, is being a champion to which the man and woman of the street can relate/identify. Because, we, real humans in real life, we are not “Perfect” and it’s hard to relate to an image that bears no “reality”.

 

Crucible 2019 – The Press Day

Traditionally the Friday before the World Championship is the Press Day. The top  16, the officials and the sponsor meet the members of the press.

Here are some images and videos that emerged today on social media

Meeting the press:

Ronnie remembers his best and worse Crucible moments with Eurosport

And he’s been talking to the sponsor…

As always, Ronnie sounds a bit low-key, but I honestly believe that this is part of trying to ease the weight of expectations a bit.

Meanwhile the fitters are getting the arena and practise room ready

Whilst Matt Huart has been working on a blog about the rankings (now there’s a surprise!)

Four to Fight for Season End Top Ranking

19th April 2019

Four players head to the Crucible from this Saturday looking not only to claim the Betfred World Snooker Championship title, but also to end the season as snooker’s world number one ranked player.

View the latest provisional end of season rankings

For the last seven successive seasons the honour has gone to three-time world champion Mark Selby, however having already been deposed as world number one by Ronnie O’Sullivan in recent weeks and with the prize money from his 2017 Crucible success due to fall from him ranking, there is a real possibility that this run will come to an end this year.

O’Sullivan favourite

Leading the race to finish the campaign ranked at number one for the first time since the end of the 2009/10 season is current top ranked player Ronnie O’Sullivan. The five-time world champion heads to Sheffield with a provisional total of £1,196,500 to his name, almost £200,000 clear of his closest rival.

Leading the chase is defending champion Mark Williams, who is the only player other than Ronnie whose prospects of claiming top spot remains in his own hands. This is because winning the tournament once again would guarantee that the Welshman would return to the top of the list, even if O’Sullivan were to reach the final.

Outside chance

The other two players who can still mathematically regain top spot are Neil Robertson and Mark Selby, however both would need some help by way of an early exit for O’Sullivan.

Both players would in fact need to win the tournament to stand any possible chance of leapfrogging the top two, with O’Sullivan also losing before the semi-final stage.

If O’Sullivan were to reach the last four, only Williams would be able to deny him a place at the top of the season-end rankings for what would be the sixth time in his career, while Williams is looking to finish there for a fifth time.

Also a £50000 prize has been announced for a 147 at the Crucible.

The prize for making a maximum break at the 2019 Betfred World Championship will be £50,000.

Snooker’s biggest tournament starts on Saturday and runs for 17 days, with 32 players battling for the title. And a 147 at the Crucible will be worth a £50,000 bonus.

Maximum breaks are usually rewarded from the rolling pot for 147s but with that pot down to £5,000 following Stuart Bingham’s maximum at the China Open, World Snooker and WPBSA have decided to boost the prize up to £50,000.

There is also a high break prize of £10,000.

147s at the Crucible

Cliff Thorburn 1983
Jimmy White 1992
Stephen Hendry 1995
Ronnie O’Sullivan 1997
Ronnie O’Sullivan 2003
Mark Williams 2005
Ronnie O’Sullivan 2008
Ali Carter 2008
Stephen Hendry 2009
Stephen Hendry 2012

147s this season

Michael Georgiou – 2018 Paul Hunter Classic
Jamie Jones – 2018 Paul Hunter Classic
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh – 2018 English Open
Ronnie O’Sullivan – 2018 English Open
Mark Selby – 2018 Champion of Champions
John Higgins – 2018 Scottish Open
Judd Trump – 2018 German Masters qualifiers
David Gilbert – 2019 Championship League
Neil Robertson – 2019 Welsh Open
Noppon Sanegkham – 2019 Welsh Open
Zhou Yuelong – 2019 Indian Open
Stuart Bingham – 2019 China Open

Yes, that’s 7 years ago. A maximum at the Crucible remains a rarity because a number of factors, notably the pressure because of the importance of the event and of course nobody will take unduly risks . With the big bonus gone, there wasn’t much incentive for the players to try to make one. They finally understood that it seems.

And everyone else has been doing previews. Here is mine.