Sure, we live in a secular world. But we still bow to demigods. No more so than in this Olympic year when London will become a kind of Acropolis for our shimmering-skinned heroes to stride around in. Every stadium will be a temple to Athena Nike.
It is fair to say that here in Cultural Insight a few of us were latecomers to sport. However, for those of us that spent their school years scared of the sports ground, we are now joining our sportier colleagues in seeking opportunities to ape our heroes in this health-minded world. Between us we’ve got aspirations to run (more) marathons, cycle up and down mountains, swim the channel and more such mythmaking activities. We’ve become fascinated by the challenge and achievement of sport. We reckon this is due more than in part to the vision of athletes and sport that is presented to us in the media.
Athletes are not just hollow kinetic sculptures of strength, but more than ever they are heroes with fatal flaws. Twitter, and other sources of rolling news and gossip, have meant that we don’t just see our heroes when they achieve, or when they hold press conferences but we hear them complain, suffer and misspeak.
The recent Nike campaign shown here invited athletes to scrawl their message over these unusually composed photographs. In each they are shown clearly to suffer for their ambition, and in each they look straight down the camera. They are as vulnerable as they are powerful.
Sport is not just for sport fans – speaking about the Olympics in the office recently we all admitted our enthusiasm for aspects of sport, but none of us spoke of national pride or competition per se. Our society has become enamoured with sport for more than fitness. Whether it is the running writer Murakami, or David Millar’s thoughtful and intellectual take on cycling.
We could go on about the melodrama of Boxing, the steely epic of Formula One, the sprawling soap of Football. We could even cite the hipsterisation of American Football amongst scrawny white boys in East London, not to mention the obsession with cycling. Suffice to say, sport is a source of heroes, and today as we get unprecedented access to the athletes we admire they become ever more fascinating, and not just for those of us who wore our school kits with pride – but for the grown up versions of the children that never skipped maths but always skived off gym.