Before we leave the Olympic Games behind, I must get something off my chest. I found myself aghast at the number of athletes who, when interviewed after their triumph – or failure – spoke of the “journey” they had been on. This journey was usually described as either amazing or incredible, or both. It is a similar, or identical, journey to the one apparently undertaken by just about anybody who appears in any kind of televised contest, be it a “talent” show or one of those weird programmes where they lock people up in a house for a few weeks. Somewhat terrifyingly, it is also the title of Tony Blair’s memoir.
What we are supposed to understand from all this guff is that the speaker has been on a journey of self-discovery. As John Lydon put it in Public Image, “I’m not the same as when I began”. No doubt this is true, if not for brain-dead television show contestants, certainly for Olympic athletes. What is profoundly depressing is that they all reach for precisely the same metaphor, automatically. It is not that I expect profundity, exactly, especially when the athlete is quizzed while still puffing and panting fresh from the running track or swimming pool. But there were times when I thought the BBC might have used a generic puffing-and-panting cardboard cutout for all the interviews, because they all said exactly the same thing. The questions were pretty witless, but why did they all – unprompted – blather about their incredible/amazing “journey”?
Our medallists would do well to listen, as I have done, to an old tape-recording of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol. It was made in the days before television, of course, and before round-the-clock news and mass media attention. The interviewer was a hack from a local newspaper, and the race fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol had just won was the second heat of a qualifier for the quarter finals of the Blister Lane Bypass Amateur Athletics Reserves Jamboree ten mile dash. You will note that nowhere does the fictional champ mention a “journey”.
Hack – Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol, you’ve just won the second heat qualifier for the quarter finals of the Blister Lane Bypass Amateur Athletics Reserves Jamboree ten mile dash. Congratulations!
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – Puff. Pant.
Hack – It was a tremendous race. How do you feel, having won it?
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – Puffed out and faintly nauseous.
Hack – For a moment there on the sixteenth lap when your laces came undone things looked decidedly calamitous.
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – I would agree. But this was an occurrence I had been through with my coach, the all too real Old Halob. He drummed into me the need to stop, kneel down, retie my laces, give them a little tug to ensure they were sufficiently tight, and then stand up and start running again, but faster than I had been running before the calamity.
Hack – A lesson it seems you learned well.
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – Indeed so. As I say, we went through it time and time again during my rigorous training sprints, usually before dawn, across the moors, pursued by packs of wolves and other savage and speedy creatures Old Halob keeps caged and half-starved and then releases to chase me across the moors before dawn with chunks of raw meat tied to my heels as part of my rigorous training sprints in preparation for races such as this one which I have just won.
Hack – What are the other savage and speedy creatures, other than wolves?
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – It depends on what Old Halob can procure from the local menagerie. Yapping dogs, gazelles, stoats . . .
Hack – And which cuts of meat are tied to your heels?
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – That is between Old Halob and his favourite butcher.
Hack – I am sure the readers of the Blister Lane Bypass Amateur Athletics Reserves Jamboree Annual Newsletter And Recipe Leaflet would be fascinated to know who that butcher is.
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – Old Halob would probably tell you if you paid him a stipend.
Hack – I might just do that. Where can I find him?
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – As I crossed the finishing line in front of the other runners – sorry, I mean runner – I think I saw him trudging off towards that kiosk over there to buy a carton of cigarettes. If you run a bit faster than I was running just now you might catch up with him before he heads off to the owl sanctuary to indulge in his usual post-race activity of communing with owls while smoking heavily.
Hack – Righty-ho! Well done again, fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol!
Fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol – Thank you, hack. Now I must do several laps of honour before sprinting off across the moors pursued by packs of wolves and other savage and speedy creatures with chunks of raw meat tied to my heels as part of my rigorous training regime.
What strikes us about this scratchy and hissy old magnetic tape-recording is the complete absence of the words amazing and incredible and, indeed, journey. It is worth noting, too, that as far as we can tell fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol sheds no tears, and indeed does not even seem to be welling up. It is of course possible that he began sobbing as soon as the hack set off in pursuit of Old Halob, but spectacularly unlikely.
The tape continues, and we hear the hack hailing Old Halob somewhere between the cigarette kiosk and the owl sanctuary. His hailing is followed by a series of thumps, which acoustic analysis suggests are the sound of a catarrh-racked irascible athletics coach’s fist repeatedly meeting the jaw of a hack employed by the Blister Lane Bypass Amateur Athletics Reserves Jamboree Annual Newsletter And Recipe Leaflet. There is then the sound of various owls hooting.