Is television guilty of taking away the romance of the Olympics by turning our sporting icons into people just like us?
How much do you know about Jesse Owens? Do you know that he won four Olympic gold medals in Berlin under the slightly apprehensive gaze of Adolf Hitler? You’ve seen the grainy black and white footage of him achieving legendary status, haven’t you? Coupled with Hitler’s ashen face? Do you want to know more about Owens? How about what his favourite colour is?
Jesse Owens is an Olympic legend. His achievements have been mythologised, but that’s what happens when you’re universally acknowledged by everyone (apart from Hitler) as one of the true sporting greats. His life away from the Olympics is a mystery to most people, but perhaps most people prefer it that way. The more you know about somebody, the less you may like them. The less you know, the more iconic they become.
What talk shows do is put great Olympians, such as Mo Farah, in front of us and asks them to engage vapidly with the hosts
Television talk shows allow us to know more about people than we ever thought possible – or perhaps ever wanted. What talk shows do is put great Olympians, such as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, in front of us and asks them to engage vapidly with the host(s) in conversation. It suddenly transpires that these Olympic greats have little-to-no personality; all of a sudden they seem bland and vacuous – they seem just like somebody you would meet in the fruit and veg section of Tesco and have a quick chat with about the football. Away from their natural, sporting domain, these Olympians are exposed as being decidedly run-of-the-mill people. It seems somewhat cruel for television executives to allow this to happen, but when did executives care for anything but ratings?
Major sport events, from the historical Olympic games to the World Cup, are filled with as much drama and tension as a film. There are protagonists (the ones you’re rooting for) and there are antagonists (the ones out to defeat the ones you’re rooting for), and nobody knows how the events will unfold. Sports stars, when they’re competing, are different to us. We are drawn to them because they are not like us; they become, instead, almost superhuman, as they defy the odds and achieve glory. They are blessed with genius and watching them is pure escapism. They do things which are beyond us.
In their sporting domain, sports stars, especially Olympians, should not be viewed any differently from our favourite movie characters. When we watch Terminator 2, for example, we are drawn to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s depiction of The Terminator because of how unlike us he is – we are fascinated by this superhuman cyborg because it seems that it can do anything. But would we feel the same about the Terminator if we saw it on This Morning talking about its gym routine and saying “hasta la vista” to please a fawning crowd? It would become a television executive’s toy – it would become pitiful.
Mo Farah, since winning gold at London 2012, has appeared on This Morning three times, as well as making appearances on The One Show, The Jonathan Ross Show and various other light entertainment television programmes. Jessica Ennis has trod a similar path. Farah often includes in his television appearances a nauseating rendition of his customised celebration – The Mobot – and these appearances have only served to dull the memory of his achievements at London 2012.
When a great sporting star is exposed as being ordinary, we don’t view them the same. The aura of mystery is gone
Jessica Ennis has gone a step further and is now trying to sell us a bank account during Loose Women’s ad breaks. It has completely demeaned what she did at London 2012 – it has taken away the aura of mystery surrounding her and killed off any chance she had of becoming an icon. Farah, too, will now struggle to be an untouchable sporting icon who we are privileged to see intermittently at great sporting events. He is now Mo, the casually dressed geezer who talks to One Show presenter Matt Baker about this and that, telling us he wants to watch Iron Man 3, whilst we have our dinner. We know too much about him.
Television is guilty of taking away the romance and demeaning the Olympics and our Olympians. It has leached off the feel-good factor stemming from London 2012 and our adoration of the Olympians and turned these sporting icons into people just like us. And this is a dangerous thing – it is precisely because sports stars are not like us that we watch them and look at them the way the Romans used to look at the gladiators.
Muhammad Ali appeared, infamously, on Parkinson at the height of his fame, but he brought with him charisma and a free mind. He refused to bow to anybody and argued, vehemently, with Michael Parkinson about everything, from issues of race to his integrity. The same cannot be said about Farah and Ennis. Instead, their incessant television appearances have shown us how ordinary they are and how willing they are to subordinate themselves to a television executive’s wishes. And when a great sporting star is exposed as being ordinary, we don’t view them the same anymore. The iconic status that came so beautifully on a few adrenaline charged summer nights in 2012 suddenly seems flimsy. It seems almost like a sham.
Our Olympics stars are seemingly only one step away from an appearance on I’m A Celebrity
Television has diluted the sheer exuberance and exhilaration of our Olympians’ feats at the Olympics. It has paraded them on crass television shows, with the stars seemingly one step away from an appearance on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. This is not to mention diver Tom Daley’s embarrassing television show, Splash. Of course, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah could be seeking a little self-promotion, and who doesn’t want a bit of self-promotion?
But do gold medal winners really need it? If self-promotion was the reason, why is Jenson Button, a Formula One world champion, also advertising bank accounts? Television gave us uncut, awe-inspiring footage of the Olympics, and for that we are forever grateful; it brought us in touch with great sporting moments. But it is also in danger of undoing all its good work and scarring the memory of some of our greatest athletes.
Featured image: Jon Connell (via Flickr)
Inset images: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport; ITV