Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

The new gold standard for girls

Role models: Jessica Ennis with Zara Phillips

A few months back we were complaining of being Titanic-ed out. Now we’re Olympic-ed out. Or are we?

Coldplayed out, maybe. Macca-ed off. But those massive, exuberant crowds lining the streets of London earlier this week to cheer on the athletic elite would suggest that the Olympics and the Paralympics have touched something enduring within the nation’s heart. Something of worth. Something inspirational and uplifting.

Time will tell if the fallout from the Games does indeed prompt a generation to get out there and get active. (The boost in beer, pizza and crisp sales would suggest that sports participation for most of us is centred still on the armchair arena.) And it would be good to hope too that the Herculean achievements of the Paralympians will influence how in future, we all treat the “disabled”.

But there’s another area of life you’d really love to think it might impact upon. Popular culture. Television in particular.

TV chiefs have surely already learned lessons from the last few, magical weeks. They’ve learnt that viewers are captivated by skill and ability and competition and heroism.

They’ve surely also copped that viewers are sick of the endless parade of Tango-skinned, neon-toothed nonentities and their navel-gazing reality. We are bored of the famous for being famous. We have had it up to here with emotional rollercoasters, back stories and journeys.

We are tired of manufactured reality. We want the real thing.

And we want commentators who can be judged by the breadth of their knowledge and not by the expanse of their cleavage.

The Olympics have given everyone — and young women in particular — a whole host of new stars. Not celebs. But real stars to admire and emulate.

Clare Balding. Jessica Ennis. Ellie Simmonds. Victoria Pendleton. Sarah Storey. Zara Phillips. Katie Taylor and our own Bethany Firth — to name just a handful.

The only way isn’t Essex any more. So would it be too much to hope that television chiefs in recognising this new mood, seize the flaming torch they’re being handed? And run with it.

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