Letters From London

The Olympic stadium

Toff Of The World

Britain’s Olympic champions are too upper class, says an actual Lord.

By Ellie Gibson • August 8, 2012

Many of us on the Gameological crew like the Olympics. Eurogamer’s Ellie Gibson, on the other hand, does not care for them (or so she claims). Naturally, then, we’ve invited her to be the site’s sole correspondent for the London 2012 Olympics. She does live there, after all. During the two weeks of competition, Ellie will be providing periodic updates to her running diary of the Games, in a feature we’re calling Letters From London.

Tuesday, August 7—Men’s 10,000 meters; men’s 100 meter sprint

Well, thank goodness for that. Britain’s moment of Olympic madness seems to have passed. The opening ceremony may have been good, the transport network may be holding out, Team GB may be winning loads of medals, but we’ve still managed to find something to complain about.

It’s all thanks to British Olympic Association chief Lord Moynihan. He’s been pointing out that more than half the British competitors who took to the podium at the Beijing Olympics went to private school. That means 50 percent of our medals were won by 7 percent of the population. In short, the people winning are too posh, according to Moynihan—or to give him his actual full title, The Lord Colin Berkeley Moynihan, 4th Baron.

The implication that Britain is still operating according to some archaic class system of hereditary privilege and wealthy advantage is, of course, ridiculous—as I thought to myself while watching an interview with Prince William, a man who will one day inherit the right to become Britain’s unelected head of state, and whose wedding I paid for. During the interview, William revealed that his brother Harry has a share in a racehorse called Usain Colt. I might have actually enjoyed this rather witty joke, had I not been busy clutching my sides while remembering that hilarious time he dressed up as a Nazi.

Aside from the odd outburst of uncontrollable republican rage, I am enjoying the Olympics more than ever. This is mainly down to the BBC’s brilliant decision to show the reaction of the pundits in the commentary box. Normally they are only ever seen calm and composed, dispensing insightful truths about giving it 110 percent while nodding sagely at each other. But after Team GB’s Mo Farrah won the 10,000 meters, the BBC let viewers peek behind the curtain. There they were, champion heptathlete Denise Lewis, legendary hurdler Colin Jackson, and four-time gold medal winner Michael Johnson, punching the air and jumping around like, well, everyone else in Britain.

Even better, however, was their reaction to the result of the men’s 100-meter sprint. Jackson got so over-excited he forgot the name of a man who ranks among the most famous athletes in the world, initially substituting “whatsisname” before settling on “the big man.” Lewis performed an amazing mime in the direction of Johnson that was clearly designed to politely and subtly convey the message “IN YOUR FACE,” several dozen times. John Inverdale did a high-five. He is 54 years old.

Michael Johnson ignored them all. He sat there stony faced, and then pretended to have something really important to write on his clipboard. Perhaps he was drawing a line through a few names on his Christmas card list.

What’s great about these pieces of footage, apart from the fact they’re hilarious, is that they capture what the Olympics is all about—excitement, enthusiasm, and shouting friendly abuse at foreigners. That’s something the whole country can get behind. Now we just need something else to moan about.

(Olympic flame photo: The UK Department For Culture, Media, And Sport)

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  • HobbesMkii

    Here in America, we have a classless society, and I’ll bet the number of Olympians with a secondary school education costing in the hundreds of thousands (USD) is pretty comparable to the UK, once you take out the sports that no one outside of the US ever plays, like basketball and baseball. So maybe tell ol’ Baron Lord Whatchamacallit not to sweat it. Those designer track shoes don’t come cheap. 

    • Ghostfucker

      “Here in America, we have a classless society…”
      I never! Your harebrained assertion betrays the feeble mind of someone raised on their own mother’s milk. You’ll forgive me, as in my rage I’ve shattered the vermouth tumbler on which I was to break my fast. My topcoat is likely ruined, and I’ll have to be redressed by my manservant Champagne. I bid you good day.

      • HobbesMkii

        On paper, on paper! In practice, all we do is talk about the middle-class, the upper-middle-class, the upper-class, the super-rich, the working class, and, of course, “people on welfare” (which is apparently less ugly than saying “the extremely poor”).  

        • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

          Which is why we can hopefully agree that the idea that we have a classless society is utter bullshit.  It’s something we tell ourselves to ease our guilt over unearned privilege.

        • HobbesMkii

           @trilobiter:disqus Yes and no…I agree with the concept that there are discrete classes, but traditionally, class has meant a stature by birth. In the US, class is based on wealth, which is semi-malleable (it’s a lot more codified than we tell ourselves, but it’s literally the only barrier to entry into the “upper class”), making us “classless” in Old World terms.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          But considering that the US has the lowest social mobility of any developed nation, class at birth is almost always class at adulthood. The US may not have an Old World class structure, but it has a pretty rigid class structure nonetheless, if not in spirit, then at least in practice.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       As Reginald Hunter, an African-American ex-pat comedian living in the UK, joked, England’s class system facilitates discrimination against people that look like you, which is somewhat more sophisticated than the type of discrimination we have in the US, which still hinges a lot on what you look like (especially your race).

      Which is probably why our less telegenic Olympians wallow in poverty.

      More seriously, while I’m not a sports person at all, I’m kind of fascinated by Olympians in less glamorous sports that don’t yield endorsement deals, or from countries that have less money and resources (or less jingoistic patriotism) to pour into training. To use a horrible, horrible word, there’s a kind of “indy” zeal there, in that dedication to their artform/vocation that supercedes any sort of desire for money or fame, that’s really interesting, and analogous to the types of-often unsung-artists/musicians/game designers who toil away in obscurity out of a sort of implacable drive or love.

      • stakkalee

        I’m with you in being fascinated by these athletes.  Most people have an inherent ability to empathize with others, and getting to watch a talented, world-class athlete compete at something they’ve (presumably) trained their whole life for allows you to vicariously share in that exhiliration.  It’s no different than the thrill you get watching a virtuoso violinist, or some dude getting a 200-hit combo in Arkham City.  Well, no different in kind, but maybe different in degree.

      • Effigy_Power

         I was far more excited seeing a room full of scientists and engineers fret away for 7 minutes as their 2.5 billion dollar Tonka truck hurdled towards Mars without having any influence whatsoever on its fortunes.
        I guess that makes me some sort of groupie for science.
        Mind you, takes all sorts:

        Imagine here the clip of the political groupies from Monty Python’s Flying Circus… I couldn’t find it.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Well, in full disclosure, I haven’t watched any of the Olympics OR the mars landing, and have only experienced both second-hand through other people’s Facebook posts and write-ups like this one. And actually watching the Olympics actually sounds boring (I think I tried back in 4th grade once…). But in the abstract, I find the dedication of the more obscure athletes fascinating.

        • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

          There’s no reason you can’t admire both.  It’s putting your whole effort into something that makes it amazing.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Nowhere was this more visible than the Japanese men’s gymnastics team, especially (arguably) the greatest male gymnast ever, being sponsored by Konami, who is getting utterly desperate as a company despite putting out amazing games.

        http://www.konamisportsandlife.co.jp/en/news/topics/2012/08/02

        Some chain-smoking hermit designer who works 55 hours a week is presumably paying a bit of Uchimura’s salary.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samuel-Moss/712117488 Samuel Moss

        Good point, and it was very telling that our professional (and vastly over paid) football team got beaten very early on. This was the first year the professional were allowed to compete, and as they weren’t being paid extortionate amounts of money most decided not to compete! Compare that to some of the third world athletes and it was very telling about what these people care about!

        • TreeRol

          Professionals have been allowed in Olympic football since 1984. Since 1992 it has been an under-23 competition.

          I am guessing you’re from the UK, in which case your football team participated in the Olympics for the first time since 1974. So if you meant “this is the first time our professionals were allowed to compete,” I suppose that’s correct.

          As for whether your team didn’t try because of all the money they make, I’d note that every player on the gold medal winning Mexico side is on a professional club as well. I’d be interested to do a salary comparison, but that requires more work than I’m willing to put in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samuel-Moss/712117488 Samuel Moss

    no, in america you do not have a classless society – but if thinking that makes you feel better, well good for you. Here in the u.k we have always had a society based on ‘class’ and sadly in the past decade the most important thing (social mobility) has shrunk. There are no true meritocracies in the world but we make do, and occasionally (and rightly) people turn a light on it – as happened here. Find this weeks newsnight on iplayer – they’ve been running a series on questions raised by the games. (including this very question.)