OK, so this isn’t about fashion as in clothing – athletics vests will probably be next year’s thing – but people can be fashionable, too. Also unfashionable. Time was when a golfer, Tiger Woods, was the coolest sports person on the planet. During that period there was a joke which went something like ‘Who’d ever have thought we’d get to a point when the world’s best golfer was black, the world’s best rapper [Eminem] was white, [land-locked] Switzerland held the America’s Cup and Germany doesn’t want to go to war with anyone [I think it stayed out of some conflict in the Middle East].’
Tiger Woods won 14 major championships between 1997-2008, he was by far the best player in the game, he looked likely to establish himself as the best golfer in history. In 2009, however, he drove his car into a fire hydrant after a row with his wife and news emerged, in rapidly escalating…er, fashion, that he had made an intimate acquaintance of several young women who were not his wife. After the crash, the fall. Among the characteristics of that was the fact there was no great regret on the part of the public over what had occurred, this being in part likely because Woods had never shown any interest in them and humility was not a word with which he had ever been familiar.
Something occurred this weekend which brought this to my mind: the retirement of Usain Bolt after the IAAF World Championships in London. The BBC, which I think does not always do these things well (too often too mawkish), ran a tribute narrated by Michael Johnson, a TV analyst now but formerly a great runner before the world had come to terms with just how great a runner Bolt was.
Over one segment, showing Bolt happily enjoying a rapport with his legion of fans, Johnson said: “He took us with him.” And for me that, right there, said it all. Bolt did do that. He celebrated his celebrity and welcomed his fans. We were part of his story and he wanted it to be that way. And Tiger? For him ‘selfie’ was just an abbreviated form of ‘selfish’. These past World Championships didn’t go the way Bolt wanted but, in the bigger picture ( a large selfie?), it doesn’t matter. Part of his legacy is the love he had for his sport and his fans, and they for him. Woods? He’s the guy meandering down a road at some unearthly hour of the night because the police have picked him up for suspected drunk driving.
Time will tell, but in some way I think Usain Bolt will continue to be perceived as cool. We will remember the extraordinary races he ran and won and the ready smile, like a beacon, which was invariably part of his make-up. He loved people. I can hardly comprehend that Tiger will ever again be perceived as ‘cool’. We will remember him as the perpetrator of the most extraordinary golf many of us have ever seen but because he didn’t want anyone else near him, and certainly not the public who had helped to make him as rich as Croesus, we equally remember the cocktail waitresses and the cop-cam. He may not like it but they are part of his legacy, too. Unlike Usain, he didn’t take us with him.