Friday, 8 November 2013

Superhumans with Human Needs

"Oh no, he's done it again!" the girl next to me says. That's the fifth time and we're not even half way through the first set.

I'm sitting in London's O2 arena, the centre-piece of last year’s Olympics and the world’s busiest venue, literally and physically on the edge of my seat as two of the world's titans of tennis battle it out on court in what is arguable one of the highest caliber tournaments of the sporting calendar.

A few seats along Boris Becker is ensconced in a gaggle of society ladies and the adrenaline-fuelled air is buzzing with glamour and money but most of all sporting excellence.

I'm fascinated, my eyes darting from one B-list celebrity to the next, but even though I'm desperately trying to keep my mind on the score, all I can hear is the girl next to me declaring that Rafael Nadal has picked at his underwear in the most unbecoming manner for the sixth time in the last twelve minutes.

"Hasn't his girlfriend taught him anything about manners?"

Thankfully it took just a little over 70 minutes for the fiery Spaniard to beat his country man David Ferrer in two solid sets. Not because I was getting bored of the match - quite the opposite in fact - but because if it had lasted any longer, I may have given into a terrible urge to turn around to my co-spectator, pour a glass of Moet Chandon over her dainty head in one swift movement and scoff at her: "He's only human you know".


Nothing escapes the watchful eye of the ever-critical public, and unfortunately, it seems that there will always be a preconception that sporting stars should be supernatural creatures with not a single fault or flaw and none of the natural needs that us mere mortals have to endure.

Cast your mind back to the London Marathon in 2007. Remember when Paula Radcliffe responded to the call of nature by squatting on the side of the course and relieving herself? Remember the uproar in the papers the following day? “Easy Peesy for Paula” was just one red top's biting headline.

Equally abrasive but perhaps even more absurd are the comments in the media about the Williams sisters. Is that cellulite on Serena's thigh? And the headlines borne out of Wayne Rooney's hair transplant. If he has lots of money and no hair, can you really blame him for using the former to fix the latter?


Perhaps there's a simple explanation as to why we like gnawing around on strange or embarrassing behavioural patterns of others; especially if they happen to be rich, beautiful and famous.

Perhaps we like to mock and ridicule Nadal's pant-picking or Paula's public potty stop because it reminds us that these people are just as human as you and me - and therefore no better.

Granted they are stars of court, track and field but by painting them to be a little weird, a little embarrassing, a little crude – god forbid, even a little bit human - we might feel that little bit better about ourselves and our own uncouth habits: our inconvenient need to “go”,  our protruding post-Christmas belly and our got-up-late-and-forgot-to-shave-in-the-shower legs.

See it as you may, in the aftermath of that London Marathon, it became that little bit more acceptable for us to veer onto the side of the track and squat down shamelessly, if the port-a-loos are blocked, crowded or just one too many miles away. 

If we subsequently pull up our pants, rejoin the flow and cross the line with our heads held high, then where’s the shame?

Of course it also helps a little if you happen to be the fastest female marathon runner on earth and three-time winner of the London Marathon and New York Marathon. But still.

(Image courtesy

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