The Cult: Rebecca Adlington
Rebecca Adlington wanted to be a great swimmer, not a celebrity. She achieved the first through hard work, but that meant having the latter thrust upon her.
Illustration by Dan Evans
This week The Cult welcomes a woman who set out to be a great swimmer and achieved that goal, but was then thrust into a world of celebrity and Twitter trolls. You can read previous entries here.
Cult Grade: The Fish
By the informal standards designed to judge the quality of modern athletes, Rebecca Adlington isn't that good-looking. You may recall these same standards being applied to Luka Modric, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Ledley King, and all of the above's manager in 2011, Harry Redknapp. I jest. Modric and pals are boy athletes, and no-one seriously cares whether boy athletes are good-looking or not, because... well, the logic becomes a little fuzzy at this point.
So the 21st century has lost its mind, in a pretty unpleasant way. If there existed a bookies where I could place such a bet, I'd wager a reasonable amount that in the not-too-distant future, our current obsession with taking pictures of ourselves and thinking it one of the most important part of any activity will probably not be remembered in the most favourable light.
And what does anyone who apparently struggles to do much but place themselves in the most favourable light, and then take a picture of it, think about a lot? Right, themselves. And where, dear reader, do such people, in the year of our Lord 2015, like to congregate so that they can think about themselves in weirdly concealed full view? Twitter, of course. Where they picked, among other people, Rebecca Adlington to share in their agony at an inability to take the perfect picture.
I doubt there's ever been a time where so many people have felt such a private strain of hatred for what is required for them to live in what's deemed the correct fashion. You know the look. The right look. The righter it is, the more likes you'll get; the more little flashing notifications, emptily raising your pulse like so many jellytots.
Rebecca Adlington appeared to share that hatred, in her most famous moment outside a swimming pool. What the YouTube caption charmingly called 'sudden explosive reality happened'. In other words, when she revealed herself not to be a compilation of various social media accounts, but a human experiencing our equivalent of an animal being forced down a livestock run by guys jabbing electrified prods. Justifiably, she cracked and started crying in some godforsaken patch of Australian jungle. Where an elderly woman from Eastenders comforted her.
If you type the words 'girl cries selfie' into Google, the top link is to a Tumblr feed called 'Crying Selfie' where the first three hashtags listed are #me #mine #crying. Also, for the record, #mascara #dirty #suicide, which is not as sexy as it sounds. Go to that page and witness all these people gazing at themselves, gazing at you, gazing at them. But don't pretend that climate change – the coming end of the world as we know it, and all the destruction it will involve – isn't a kind of freedom. Freedom to move into a new world where tortured self-absorption is just a hallmark of a silly past, and where being absolutely magical at swimming will quite possibly become the be-all and end-all of what you're judged upon.
Point of Entry: Low
Not for her, obviously. She's the most successful British swimmer in more than a hundred years thanks to the two Olympic golds won in Beijing – and if you factor in the two bronzes won in London, they make her joint-equal most successful British female Olympian of all time. When you look at her, you're looking at the woman most fit for purpose this country has ever produced.
She's low because of what she says about where we are now. Not simply the wearying abuse she receives from people seeking solace from their image-agony on social media, but also because of how keenly she was shepherded through 'the fame look'. She herself said: "Obviously, being a swimmer, you never think you're going to get any sort of profile, so I didn't know what fame was."
Fortunately, there's now a dedicated 'appearances' section on her Wikipedia page to detail what, if not she, then at least someone thinks fame is. All Star Family Fortunes. A League Of Their Own. Celebrity Come Dine With Me. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The Chase: Celebrity Special. When will it end?
The answer, my friend, is soon. Look upon all this – some seedy gumshoe from Elite Sports Management sat in the crowd at her second (of course not the first) race in Beijing, nursing a hard-on at all the transferrable patriotic cache she was building up with each sashay of her arms, ready to spank it like a lout across every shitty demeaning light-entertainment show he could think, drag the fish out of water and into the limelight – and be happy: it's just a phase.
The Moment – London 2012
A glance at what's going on elsewhere, a more compelling strangeness found at this juncture in humanity. Know who beat Rebecca Adlington down to bronze in the 800m Freestyle? A 15-year old. The most successful female swimmer at those Games was Missy Franklin, who is 17.
What?! Teenagers make the best swimmers? The best at technique and timing and muscle-propulsion? How? Rebecca Adlington had this to say about the likelihood of her impending retirement AT TWENTY-THREE: "I can't recover as quickly as I used to. I used to do hard session after hard session. I can't do that so much now I'm 23."
What strange devilries lie within those innocent, aquatic depths if there's something, anything on this planet that a 23-year old can be too old for? Can you imagine a TWENTY-THREE-year-old saying to you, 'Oh my aching bones, my joints – perhaps it's time I called it a day?'
This is a strange world indeed.
Last Words On Member #16
The resplendent, glowing Amazonian, she of the water, to Jimmy Carr, discussing The Great British Bake Off on 8 out of 10 Cats:
Rebecca: I make the cake. Oh well not that cake, I don't make the windmill, or whatever.
Jimmy Carr: Which cakes have you made this year? What did you go with?
Rebecca: The sweet, for the final. Me and my husband made a chocolate banana loaf.
Jimmy Carr: A chocolate banana loaf?