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Being the face of an Olympic Games

Being the face of an Olympic Games

Image Courtesy of mattyk4, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of mattyk4, flickr.com

Being the face of an Olympic Games can bring about the chance to be a national hero. It can generate widespread media coverage, not to mention lucrative sponsorship opportunities. But it can also, of course, bring about unbridled pressure for the chosen individual.
So, with less than 500 days to go until the Rio Olympics, The PHA Group’s Sport & Leisure department thought it timely to look back at the mixed fortunes of the ‘chosen ones’ over the last 20 years.

1996 – Michael Johnson
The first truly global athletics superstar, Johnson shifted the goalposts for his sport both on and off the track. A double world record holder, marketability and the ability to take athletics to the mainstream, Johnson’s skill set positioned him perfectly to become the face of the Games in Atlanta 1996. He was the clear favourite for both the 200m and 400m and wasn’t just expected to claim gold in both, but he was tipped to do it with a swagger(!)
Competing in his home country, the pressure was heavily on Johnson’s shoulders. But never did that burden appear on the face of the Dallas born athlete. In typically brazen gold Nike running spikes, Johnson did not disappoint. He blitzed the field in both events, sauntering to golds and also broke the Olympic record in both disciplines, breaking new ground by doing so.

 

2000 – Cathy Freeman
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 is still regarded as one of the best the world has seen. And in the build-up, you could not escape the image of Cathy Freeman. She kicked off the games by lighting the torch and was the heavy favourite to claim 400m gold.
Being of aboriginal heritage, Freeman was a symbol of far more than her athletic ability. Not before or since has a single athlete been under so much pressure to deliver and Freeman’s face encapsulated this when she crossed the line first; it was the picture of sheer relief, rather than joy. Her poignant act of carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags during her lap of honour is an image which is long to be remembered in Olympic history.

2004 – Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou
Being the face of the Olympics doesn’t always have a galvanising effect, however; it can lead some to relative insanity. Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were the darlings of Greek athletics having both surprisingly claimed medals at the 2000 Olympics – Kenteris 200m gold, Thanou 100m silver.
These individuals put Greek athletics on the map and the Games in Athens were seen as their homecoming. It ended in utter controversy, though, as the pair staged a motorcycle accident in order to miss a drugs test as well as encouraging medical staff to issue false certificates on their alleged injuries from the accident. The pair were eventually found guilty of perjury in 2011. Not the kind of ‘face’ any region would like for their Olympic Games.

Image Courtesy of Qatar Olympic Committee, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Qatar Olympic Committee, flickr.com

2008 – Liu Xiang
Liu Xiang also felt the pressure of a nation, ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and was ultimately a victim of his own success. He had won gold in the 110m hurdles in Athens, which was China’s first in a men’s track and field event. This led to him being an absolute cultural icon in the country and resulted in him carrying the nation’s hope on his shoulders once again, four years later.
Xiang was the favourite to win gold in the 110-metre hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, but had endured an injury-hit season. The lure of performing in front of his home fans though pushed him to the starting blocks but he withdrew in the heats with injury, all of which had not been revealed to the Chinese public and media. A real blow to all concerned.

 

Image Courtesy of Sarah Peters, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Sarah Peters, flickr.com

2012 – Jessica Ennis-Hill
Ennis-Hill (then Ennis) became the face of the London 2012 Olympics and with it the nation’s sweetheart thanks to the strong possibility or her claiming heptathlon gold, not to mention her looks and warm personality.
She was under severe pressure to produce the goods in the lead up to the Games. But the British athlete was largely faultless during her two days of events and she gave the British public exactly what they wanted. Ennis was one-third of ‘Super Saturday’ along with Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford but her marketability has meant she has remained in the nation’s thoughts as she bids for success in Rio. Ennis is just the kind of role model any nation would surely be thankful for, and someone we hope to see continue to be used in such a positive way, moving forward.

Rugby’s bumpy road to Rio

rio-2016-expo-019

From the moment the International Olympic Committee Session voted in favour of the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, after a successful case was presented by the IRB’s bid team in 2009, the road to Rio for the Sevens game was mapped out.

For many years Rugby Sevens has been bubbling under the surface, enjoying a gradual increase in popularity as fans all over the world become accustomed to the energy, fast pace and camaraderie that emanates from the Sevens experience. Now, for the first time since 1924, Sevens is to be part of the Olympic lineup, a move that will undoubtedly see interest in the sport rocket, the profiles of players rise and a greater number of regions invest in rugby for the first time.

But as the countdown to Rio begins, it quickly becomes clear that there are a number of challenges, which need to be addressed before Team GB can consider the prospect of adding another medal to its tally.

Qualification and collaboration

Achieving the right combination of players from the home nations will not be a simple task. Ben Ryan and Russell Earnshaw, England Sevens coaches, have been widely commended for bringing the English game into the position it finds itself in today, third in the World Series this year and with the top two try-scoring players in the world series, in the form of Mat Turner and Dan Norton, in its midst. Add to this the fact that the RFU is the only union to fund a full-time Sevens programme and the case for a dominant English presence in the Team GB lineup is strengthened still.

But the talent amongst the Scottish and Welsh Sevens squads is not to be underestimated. The WRU, in particular, has produced and developed a great deal of talent on the Sevens circuit over the past few years, albeit much of which has since digressed into the fifteens game, but nonetheless, the talent and backroom set up is there.

The long-standing British Lions format should also serve as a source of optimism to suggest that home nations collaboration is achievable. The Lions deep-rooted history in the fifteens game should help to pave the way for the creation of a Team GB squad represented in some way by each of the British nations.

The Northern Ireland dilemma

Should Northern Ireland create and prepare an independent squad for Rio? More to the point, does it boast a wide enough pool of players from which to produce a side capable of competing against some of the most established Sevens sides in the world? We have heard Ulster winger Tommy Bowe’s name thrown around continually since this debate was first raised but, born in County Monaghan, Bowe is not of Northern Irish origin and so (should he elect to make the leap over from the fifteens game) it would seem Team GB would be his target.

Superstars v Super Sevens

There is a clear argument for introducing a select number of fifteen players into the Team GB Sevens side.

London 2012 has created a new generation of British sporting heroes. The success of athletes like Ennis, Farah, Higgins and Hoy has helped to establish and drive lucrative sponsorships deals, introduce new disciplines to wider audiences and populate the international central news agenda. Continuing this legacy away from London will be a challenge, but handing players (who are virtually unknown to the general public) the task of sparking national interest in a new sport, could be an even greater one. High profile, headline-hitting international fifteens players, however, would seem better placed to create a level of interest to rival that which we have seen across each of the Olympic venues this year.

But Rugby Sevens has already grown into a hugely popular spectator sport, with the best players in the world attracting sell-out crowds in major venues worldwide. This magnet has existed for some time now and the notion that Britain needs to call upon ‘big name’ fifteens players, simply because the Sevens game is being taken to the Olympic platform, is an uncomfortable one. We have an impressive list of Sevens players who have already proven that they have just what it takes to turn their sport into one which is recognised far and wide, and they did so without the help of any fifteens superstars.

Transferability

Danny Care (England), Tom Croft (England), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Dave Denton (Scotland), Ben Foden (England), Dave Strettle (England), Lloyd Williams (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)….the list of players whose routes involve exposure to the Sevens game goes on and on. But today, the game of Sevens is worlds apart from that of fifteens. Players themselves are recognising that the two games are moving further and further away from each other and while regulations have been put in place to permit players to be released for Team GB duties, it seems unlikely that many will make the move.

For those international players who do elect to move over to Sevens, their availability to prepare for Rio would not begin until October after the World Cup 2015. Add to this the challenge of switching to what can now be described as an entirely different ball game, and the likelihood of players jumping ship to enjoy Olympic status is even lower.

What it all comes down to…

Rugby Sevens embodies the Olympic ideal: energy, excitement and team spirit. The goal here should be to create a Team GB which upholds these core values. In order to achieve this, we should be reviewing the potential of players from each of our home nations but, more importantly, we should be allowing existing Sevens players, without invasion from their fifteens counterparts, to do what they do best – play the game that they have introduced us to, and play it well.

Rugby's bumpy road to Rio

rio-2016-expo-019

From the moment the International Olympic Committee Session voted in favour of the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, after a successful case was presented by the IRB’s bid team in 2009, the road to Rio for the Sevens game was mapped out.

For many years Rugby Sevens has been bubbling under the surface, enjoying a gradual increase in popularity as fans all over the world become accustomed to the energy, fast pace and camaraderie that emanates from the Sevens experience. Now, for the first time since 1924, Sevens is to be part of the Olympic lineup, a move that will undoubtedly see interest in the sport rocket, the profiles of players rise and a greater number of regions invest in rugby for the first time.

But as the countdown to Rio begins, it quickly becomes clear that there are a number of challenges, which need to be addressed before Team GB can consider the prospect of adding another medal to its tally.

Qualification and collaboration

Achieving the right combination of players from the home nations will not be a simple task. Ben Ryan and Russell Earnshaw, England Sevens coaches, have been widely commended for bringing the English game into the position it finds itself in today, third in the World Series this year and with the top two try-scoring players in the world series, in the form of Mat Turner and Dan Norton, in its midst. Add to this the fact that the RFU is the only union to fund a full-time Sevens programme and the case for a dominant English presence in the Team GB lineup is strengthened still.

But the talent amongst the Scottish and Welsh Sevens squads is not to be underestimated. The WRU in particular has produced and developed a great deal of talent on the Sevens circuit over the past few years, albeit much of which has since digressed into the fifteens game, but nonetheless the talent and backroom set up is there.

The long standing British Lions format should also serve as a source of optimism to suggest that home nations collaboration is achievable. The Lions deep routed history in the fifteens game should help to pave the way for the creation of a Team GB squad represented in some way by each of the British nations.

The Northern Ireland dilemma

Should Northern Ireland create and prepare an independent squad for Rio? More to the point, does it boast a wide enough pool of players from which to produce a side capable of competing against some of the most established Sevens sides in the world? We have heard Ulster winger Tommy Bowe’s name thrown around continually since this debate was first raised but, born in County Monaghan, Bowe is not of Northern Irish origin and so (should he elect to make the leap over from the fifteens game) it would seem Team GB would be his target.

Superstars v Super Sevens

There is a clear argument for introducing a select number of fifteen players into the Team GB Sevens side.

London 2012 has created a new generation of British sporting heroes. The success of athletes like Ennis, Farah, Higgins and Hoy has helped to establish and drive lucrative sponsorships deals, introduce new disciplines to wider audiences and populate the international central news agenda. Continuing this legacy away from London will be a challenge, but handing players (who are virtually unknown to the general public) the task of sparking national interest in a new sport, could be an even greater one. High profile, headline-hitting international fifteens players, however, would seem better placed to create a level of interest to rival that which we have seen across each of the Olympic venues this year.

But Rugby Sevens has already grown into a hugely popular spectator sport, with the best players in the world attracting sell out crowds in major venues worldwide. This magnet has existed for some time now and the notion that Britain needs to call upon ‘big name’ fifteens players, simply because the Sevens game is being taken to the Olympic platform, is an uncomfortable one. We have an impressive list of Sevens players who have already proven that they have just what it takes to turn their sport into one which is recognised far and wide, and they did so without the help of any fifteens superstars.

Transferability

Danny Care (England), Tom Croft (England), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Dave Denton (Scotland), Ben Foden (England), Dave Strettle (England), Lloyd Williams (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)….the list of players whose routes involve exposure to the Sevens game goes on and on. But today, the game of Sevens is worlds apart from that of fifteens. Players themselves are recognising that the two games are moving further and further away from each other and while regulations have been put in place to permit players to be released for Team GB duties, it seems unlikely that many will make the move.

For those international players who do elect to move over to Sevens, their availability to prepare for Rio would not begin until October after the World Cup 2015. Add to this the challenge of switching to what can now be described as an entirely different ball game, and the likelihood of players jumping ship to enjoy Olympic status is even lower.

What it all comes down to…

Rugby sevens embodies the Olympic ideal: energy, excitement and team spirit. The goal here should be to create a Team GB which upholds these core values. In order to achieve this, we should be reviewing the potential of players from each of our home nations but, more importantly, we should be allowing existing Sevens players, without invasion from their fifteens counterparts, to do what they do best – play the game that they have introduced us to, and play it well.