The fickle fingers of Olympic fame and fortune are waving, but which way round?


Attracted by the ever-lovely Sarah Webb on the cover, I picked up a copy of Observer Sports Monthly last Sunday and found myself reading about the various inglorious fates that have befallen our now-forgotten Olympic heroes. Less than a year after being lionised for bringing an all too unfamiliar lump of pride to the nation’s collective throat, Dr Tim Brabant, gold medallist in the K1 kayak, is back in A&E in Nottingham clearing up after less heroic endeavours. Pedal as she might, Victoria Pendleton, double gold medal-winning cyclist, has so far failed to make it into the limelight, despite a memorable naked photoshoot for FHM (for which she wasn’t paid).

Pendleton believes that the British psyche has room for only two heroes per Olympics and this time it was (Sir) Chris Hoy and Rebecca Adlington. To these two victors, the spoils of riches and renown. To the other victors, an interesting photo album, a couple of T shirts and the prospect of another three gruelling years of training to get ready for London 2012.

Even with a home Olympics to set their sights on, not everyone can raise themselves again. With the Yngling ejected from the London games, Webb has just retired, retrained and started broadcasting for Radio 5 Live. A pretty radio voice and a ready vocabulary no doubt helped enormously, but what of our other less gifted heroes, ones on whom their sport has turned its back? One unnamed medallist bemoaned the job prospects of someone whose CV lists a paper round and an Olympic gold. It’s a fair point.

Not everyone’s in the same boat though. For some, the distinction between amateur and professional is academic because the mental challenge of one begets big bucks in the other. Age means wisdom, not retirement. Ben Ainslie has tiptoed to three golds and one silver so stealthily, so single-mindedly, that he didn’t even merit a mention in this litany of Olympic extremes. Ben Ainslie wins gold. That’s what he does, and all his competitors know that. Because he wins gold, rich people with expensive yachts will pay him handsomely to make sure he does the same for them. And because he’s a sailing legend hanging out with high rollers, companies are begging him to endorse their product, like Henri Lloyd in this instance. He must be raking it in, and good luck to him. Unlike all the other heroes, forgotten or not, he is indeed sitting pretty.