Stripping off for gold: How our super-fit Olympic hopefuls just can't keep their kit on
Victoria Pendleton is the golden girl of British cycling. When the Olympics get under way this summer, she is one of Team GB’s brightest medal hopes. The 31-year-old from Bedfordshire says she feels in control, confident and fit.
Her prospects in the individual sprint and the team sprint are excellent. She is a world-class athlete and a dedicated sportswoman. She is someone of whom we can all be proud.
Yet to anyone who has flicked through one or two glossy magazines over the past few years, she may seem more glamour girl than sporting heroine.
Basque-ing in the limelight: Cyclist Victoria Pendleton (left) and water polo player Francesca Snell
If there is a gold medal for the gratuitous baring of flesh and Olympic-strength pouting, then pin it on this woman right now. Instead of putting her kit on to go training, Victoria rarely resists an opportunity to get her kit off.
She appeared scantily clad on the cover of lads’ magazine FHM in 2009, she has smouldered in a basque and knickers, she has popped on a tiny black dress to wave a spanner around suggestively then bend over and tinker with her bike. As you do.
Elsewhere, she has her hair dyed and styled at the whim of the haircare company who sponsor her. She has dressed up like Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s to promote Hovis bread — another of her sponsors.
Of course, athletes like Pendleton have to do what they can to earn a crust, everyone understands that. Yet does it really have to be so undignified, so depressingly sex obsessed, so remorselessly predictable, so downright vulgar
Sitting carefully: Cyclist Rebecca Romero
In this, Pendleton is not the only culprit. Half of Team GB carry on as if they were members of a girl band, not part of a national sporting elite.
And the boys are almost as bad. Last autumn, three British Olympians stripped to the buff to take part in a ‘saucy’ ad campaign to promote an energy drink. Swimmer Gregor Tait and triple jumper Phillips Idowu — along with cyclist Rebecca Romero — were photographed as naked as peeled eggs.
If there was a good reason — or indeed any reason — for doing this, it has escaped me. Romero is depicted hunched over her bike, her big, powerful, drumstick-shaped, turbo-pumped cycling thighs oiled and gleaming in the spotlights. She’s amazing, but I wish she didn’t feel the need to pose in such a way to promote herself. (Although the wince-inducing photo does serve as a warning — hey people, don’t cycle in the nude. It doesn’t look much fun. Ouch.)
Jangling her bangles: Marathon swimmer Keri-Anne Payne
Golden dreams: Track and field athlete Jessica Ennis
Meanwhile, synchronised swimmer Jenna Randall, triathlete Hollie Avil, canoeist Jess Walker and water polo players Vicki Hawkins and Francesca Snell are among those who stripped down to their undies to pose saucily for a 2012 charity calendar.
They spread themselves across sundry items of furniture, in those dispiritingly customary ‘Yes master, I’m ready now’ poses. Of course, it’s for a good cause, but is this the message Team GB really wants to send to young sporting fans
Look at track and field athlete Jessica Ennis. Here she is, lying down in a sandpit wearing gold leggings and a frock; as if she was ready to be served up in some weird Aztec sex sacrifice.
Last month, Ennis featured in Marie Claire in a swimming cossie, clambering over a hurdle while being sprayed with water. ‘She’s gone from humble heptathelete to poster girl,’ shrieked the glossy mag. This seemed to suggest that being an Olympic sportswoman was a rather lowly position, next to the incomparable glam of being a pin-up.
Patriotic poses: Synchronised swimmer Jenna Randall and equestrian Laura Bechtolsheimer
Elsewhere, British equestrian Laura Bechtolsheimer wears opulent jewels and a metallic mini as she poses in a field with her mount. Is it just me who thinks this is weird It looks like she is taking Horsey out on a date.
Marathon swimmer Keri-Anne Payne emerges dripping from a lake, her arm a-jangle with the bangles she wears in her role as ambassador for the jewellery company Links of London.
It’s all sell, sell, sell. And it is all getting rather ridiculous.
Calendar girl: Triathlete Hollie Avil
Diver Tom Daley poses in his trunks and a wet shirt, a la Mr Darcy. In this case, he is sexualised by putting clothes on, not by taking them off. Recently, Daley and fellow diver Pete Waterfield stunned fans by finishing a poor seventh in the Diving World Cup. Unluckily for him, it came only weeks after he made a spoof video of the pop group LMFAO’s hit, I’m Sexy And I Know It — then posted it on You Tube.
Slumber party: Canoeist Jess Walker
It was just a bit of fun — and no one could be more dedicated than Daley. But it should serve as a warning to Victoria Pendleton and everyone else all too ready to skip about in knicks and knacks to promote themselves rather than their sport. It might come back to haunt you.
There remains something rather undignified about so many Team GB athletes succumbing to the kind of promotional behaviour you might expect from a reality show starlet. It makes you wonder what kind of legacy many of them will leave behind — a rich sporting legacy or a cheap glamour one
There is still a nobility about sport, especially at a level like this, where it showcases the ultimate in national pride, human endeavour and iron-hard discipline. Let’s hope these ancient ideals are not too tarnished when the 2012 Olympics finally begin.