The Olympics have been great. There’s no need to debate that, any more than we need to argue that Christmas is better than funerals or free bagels are favourable to your family pet having cancer.
Olympics > No Olympics. It’s a given.
But what’s really getting on my nerves is the burgeoning assertion that Olympic athletes are such fantastic role models, so much better than EVERYONE ELSE WE’VE EVER SEEN OR HEARD OF.
We’ve all loved watching them doing the runnies and jumpies and receiving medals and petrol station flowers – provided they’re British or, if foreign, at least have the decency to possess a backstory of X Factor-scale tragedy; the rest of them can fuck off home and stop stealing our medals – but isn’t lauding them as saviours of the universe* a bit much?
(*During the opening ceremony there was actually an individual whose official title was ‘Champion of the Earth’. What did he do to earn that title? Was there a group stage? Heats and a semi-final, perhaps? I’d have watched that over BMX in a second but, sadly, the all-powerful red button for once failed to deliver.)
...perhaps the athletes aren’t the perfect ripped-abs role models that Adidas bus posters would have us believe
In that quintessentially British way of never being able to just say something is good without comparing it to something less good, the media (by which I mean EVERYONE) has been quick to use the admirable performances of athletes to once more pour scorn on the inmates of faux-reality shitfests like TOWIE, Made In Chelsea, Geordie Shore, THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE KATIE PRICE LIVES IN, and most famous people who aren’t athletes, really.
If I had a medal for every time I’ve heard, “It’s nice for young people to have decent role models to look up to for a change, instead of girls who are just famous for wearing short skirts in Sugar Hut”, I’d be looking down at the USA and laughing.
Instead of just being appreciated for what they are, why do good things have to be paraded over things that are comparatively bad, consequently highlighting the bad thing again?
“Ooh the Olympics are great, aren’t they? So much better than the riots.”
“Ooh, doesn’t that Adam Gemili seem like a thoroughly nice chap? The Bachelor can go fuck himself, whoever he is.”
It’s easy to attack the talentless morons of ITV2 and the like as bad role models; they have neither the intelligence to defend themselves nor the ability to run an arbitrary distance really fast, but perhaps the athletes aren’t the perfect ripped-abs role models that Adidas bus posters would have us believe.
Starving your loved ones of your time and affection is a pretty big move
They’re lauded for their “dedication” and “desire”, their willingness to “sacrifice literally everything” – literally everything? Like, even water and oxygen and cogent thought and Nandos and stuff? – in pursuit of their dream. Through short breaths and gold-plated tears, they tell us how tough they’ve had it: “I haven’t seen my family for five months, I missed Christmas because I was living in an oxygen tent on top of a mountain surrounded by asthmatics strategically placed to wheeze up all the air, I even had to listen to The Black Eyed Peas while training – you wouldn’t believe the horror,” and we sit back, full of admiration, casting a guilty eye over the Cadbury wrappers and empty Coke bottles surrounding us. It’s OLYMPIC rubbish, though, so it’s okay.
Whilst I would never contemplate belittling the severity of their sacrifice, I would question its merit. Starving your loved ones of your time and affection is a pretty big move, but justifiable if done for a cause of universe-altering magnitude – like when Bruce Willis saved us all by drilling down into that meteor that was going to wipe us all out, for instance. If it’s so you can sick up an extra four percent of your body fat to enable you to run a bit faster than someone from another country, your loved ones might be getting a raw deal.
Oh right, you can throw that metal Frisbee a meter further than that guy from Mongolia, can you? Cooooool. That’ll come in handy when… oh, actually, NEVER.
What if their ‘dream’ was something deemed objectively less worthy? What if, instead of rowing himself silly for 30 years, a 12-year-old (not then Sir) Steve Redgrave had decided his life ambition was to teach his cat to say “wang” or to teach himself to recite every episode of Last of the Summer Wine backwards – would that have earned him a knighthood, provided he’d had the same dedication and made the same sacrifices?
Guys, no one needs to jump over that high jump bar. If you all just looked at it and said “god yeah, it is pretty bloody high, isn’t it? Let’s not try to jump over it, eh? Let’s just get the blighter down and use it for something useful, like poking Jeremy Kyle from a safe distance”, would we be any worse off?
But let’s not pretend that the athletes are perfect.
Ultimately, yes, we would. As we agreed at the outset, the Olympics have been great. They’ve been entertaining, touching and inspirational. Those athletes running around, jumping over stuff and throwing things about the place have motivated the rest of us – young and old – to do stuff. And that’s good. But let’s not pretend that the athletes are perfect. They decided to dedicate their lives to this for their own reasons, not out of some selfless desire to lift the mood of the nation. I’m fairly certain that a teenage Greg Rutherford didn’t foresee the recession and the riots, glance at a spot on the sand quite far away from him and think, “I know what I’ve got to do”.
While the members of Team GeeBee are at their next far-flung training camp, their main focus will be improving their physical capability above others in order to outperform and, ultimately, beat. Meanwhile, Charlotte from Geordie Shore’s main focus will be her friends and loved ones (if ‘loved ones’ means people she’s banged, WHICH IT DOES). Sure, she’ll be saying and doing lots of stupid things and causing parental dismay as MTV gradually gnaws away at their offspring’s intellect, attention span and barometer of decency, but at least she’ll be right on hand when her pal is crying because “fit Craig with the big dong won’t finger-blast her”. Where’s Jessica Ennis then, eh?
Charlotte from Geordie Shore is clearly not a perfect role model, but no one’s saying she is. Jess Ennis and co might not be perfect role models, either, but a lot of people are saying they are, which is stupid.
Britain’s new princess – step aside, Cheryl Cole and Kate Middleton, with your catchy beats and nice dresses and complete lack of hurdling ability – specialises in an event specially designed to not allow you to specialise in anything. The heptathlon comprises seven events, each of equal importance. It’s no good being fantastic at shot put if you run like QWOP and accidentally pierce your own ear every time you go near a javelin. It’s about being quite good – or at least the best you can be – at everything.
Surely that’s a better notion for role models? After all, it’s no good always being there for your friends if you can’t be trusted to manage your own excretion system, but nor is it much value being able to jump really high if all you can see when you do is an expanse of loneliness where your long-ignored loved ones should be. I’m not saying that Jess Ennis is a bad person or that she’s neglected anyone – I’ve no doubt she’s absolutely lovely and treats her loved ones brilliantly – I just think we shouldn’t be so quick to class anyone as a perfect role model solely because they’ve succeeded in a single aspect of life. Some of them might have cats at home repeatedly meowing “wang”, for all we know.
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