‘The illusion of effortlessness’: Why athlete Femke Bol could be the sublime star of the Paris Olympics

<div><p>Such is the grace and talent of the Dutch hurdler and sprinter that she appears to have the ability to bend time to her will - as well as a rare beauty in her technique</p><p>In the lead-up to every Olympics a handful of athletes become the focus of expectant attention. From this handful one emerges or is selected as the “face” of the Games. In London in 2012 it was Jessica Ennis, who as a heptathlete embodied all-round Olympian excellence. This visibility is not solely a question of athletic ability; Ennis fulfilled the host nation’s hopes by winning gold and by being incredibly nice, all the time. Usain Bolt’s face and long limbs dominated multiple championships because he was the fastest, one of the most likable and – as a result – the most heavily sponsored track athlete in the world. Every time his image appeared somewhere – ie everywhere – it promoted an associative bundle comprising his running shoes (Puma), Visa, Gatorade, Jamaica, the Olympic ideal and, by a kind of meta extension, the value of sponsorship itself.</p><p>But whereas 90% of the footballers at this year’s Euros will already be familiar to most people watching them on TV, in athletics this figure is probably reversed. The best-known athletes to emerge from a given championship might be people the majority of viewers had scarcely even heard of before. This would be true of Josh Kerr – identified, paradoxically, by his identity-obscuring Oakley shades – who surged to fame by <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2023/aug/23/britain-josh-kerr-stuns-jakob-ingebrigtsen-to-win-world-athletics-championship-1500m-gold">beating Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m</a> at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, only to fade back into (temporary) obscurity when, outrageously, he was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2023/dec/14/josh-kerr-massively-disappointed-by-bbc-sports-personality-of-the-year-snub">not even shortlisted</a> for the BBC’s increasingly irrelevant Sports Personality of the Year.</p> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/article/2024/jun/09/geoff-dyer-femke-bol-hurdles-paris-olympics-400m">Continue reading...</a></div>

Such is the grace and talent of the Dutch hurdler and sprinter that she appears to have the ability to bend time to her will – as well as a rare beauty in her technique

In the lead-up to every Olympics a handful of athletes become the focus of expectant attention. From this handful one emerges or is selected as the “face” of the Games. In London in 2012 it was Jessica Ennis, who as a heptathlete embodied all-round Olympian excellence. This visibility is not solely a question of athletic ability; Ennis fulfilled the host nation’s hopes by winning gold and by being incredibly nice, all the time. Usain Bolt’s face and long limbs dominated multiple championships because he was the fastest, one of the most likable and – as a result – the most heavily sponsored track athlete in the world. Every time his image appeared somewhere – ie everywhere – it promoted an associative bundle comprising his running shoes (Puma), Visa, Gatorade, Jamaica, the Olympic ideal and, by a kind of meta extension, the value of sponsorship itself.

But whereas 90% of the footballers at this year’s Euros will already be familiar to most people watching them on TV, in athletics this figure is probably reversed. The best-known athletes to emerge from a given championship might be people the majority of viewers had scarcely even heard of before. This would be true of Josh Kerr – identified, paradoxically, by his identity-obscuring Oakley shades – who surged to fame by beating Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, only to fade back into (temporary) obscurity when, outrageously, he was not even shortlisted for the BBC’s increasingly irrelevant Sports Personality of the Year.

Continue reading…

beating Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, only to fade back into (temporary) obscurity when, outrageously, he was not even shortlisted for the BBC’s increasingly irrelevant Sports Personality of the Year.

Continue reading…

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Such is the grace and talent of the Dutch hurdler and sprinter that she appears to have the ability to bend time to her will – as well as a rare beauty in her technique

In the lead-up to every Olympics a handful of athletes become the focus of expectant attention. From this handful one emerges or is selected as the “face” of the Games. In London in 2012 it was Jessica Ennis, who as a heptathlete embodied all-round Olympian excellence. This visibility is not solely a question of athletic ability; Ennis fulfilled the host nation’s hopes by winning gold and by being incredibly nice, all the time. Usain Bolt’s face and long limbs dominated multiple championships because he was the fastest, one of the most likable and – as a result – the most heavily sponsored track athlete in the world. Every time his image appeared somewhere – ie everywhere – it promoted an associative bundle comprising his running shoes (Puma), Visa, Gatorade, Jamaica, the Olympic ideal and, by a kind of meta extension, the value of sponsorship itself.

But whereas 90% of the footballers at this year’s Euros will already be familiar to most people watching them on TV, in athletics this figure is probably reversed. The best-known athletes to emerge from a given championship might be people the majority of viewers had scarcely even heard of before. This would be true of Josh Kerr – identified, paradoxically, by his identity-obscuring Oakley shades – who surged to fame by beating Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year, only to fade back into (temporary) obscurity when, outrageously, he was not even shortlisted for the BBC’s increasingly irrelevant Sports Personality of the Year.

Continue reading…


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Author: Geoff Dyer

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