Some people, if they had a tendency to go around claiming to have been "born special", would come over like messianic lunatics. Colin Jackson, the gently attractive former hurdler, clearly held this belief about himself out of a charming modesty. He could not take all the credit for his achievement in holding the world record in his chosen sport for 11 years, when really, shucks, he was just "made that way". Bless.
Still, Jackson was curious enough about discovering as much as possible the exact combination of qualities that made him such an outstanding human to sign up with some enthusiasm as one subject in the documentary series The Making of Me. In pursuit of self-knowledge, he succumbed to all sorts of experiments and all sorts of tests. In doing so, he provided a great deal of clarity about what factors are needed in the creation of a champion.
Thus far in his life, Jackson had clung hard to the belief that his success was "75 per cent nature". This seemed a bit hard on his parents, who, it was obvious from their appearance on telly for just a few minutes, had provided him with an exceptionally stable, loving and supportive childhood. The fact that his sister's face was spookily familiar because – it eventually dawned – Sue Jackson is also the actress Suzanne Packer, did nothing to dispel the idea that maybe he was attaching rather too little significance to family and background.
The unscientific way of nudging Jackson to think a little more about childhood influences was to persuade him to have a little chat with his fellow athlete Kriss Akabusi. The latter said he won his first major medal at the ripe old age of 32, while Jackson's first one came at 21. The reason? Akabusi explained that he was brought up in a care home, and wasn't nurtured until he joined the army and was talent-spotted by the Army athletics officer. Once someone had spotted his potential, Akabusi didn't look back. But Jackson had been training with a top-level coach from the age of 15.
The more scientific way was to get Jackson to place flags on a map, charting where the top 20 sprinters in the world had their ethnic origins. This turned out to be Jamaica, where his parents had come from. A DNA test confirmed that he had the same power-sprinting gene that is possessed by 98 per cent of Jamaicans.
Yet while this might have seemed like a prima facie argument in favour of nature, not nurture, it wasn't that simple. Eighty per cent of Europeans have the sprint gene too. The real differentiating factor in Jamaica, it was suggested, was the huge infrastructural and cultural support of athletics on the island. Armed with this insight, Jackson dredged his own memory, and came up with an image of his parents yelling their support of Don Quarrie as he took the 200 metres Olympic Gold back in 1976. He looked on with them and remembered thinking: "I want to be like him."
Further tests showed other remarkable qualities in Jackson. His ability to focus was measured and found to be in the top two per cent of the population. His ability to cope with failure was tested and it was found that he was unique among people tested in his ability to respond positively to triggers that most humans find morbid and depressing. Finally, in a biopsy of his leg muscles, it was found that the muscle fibres in his leg were utterly exceptional. Leg muscles are mainly made up of "slow twitch", "fast twitch" and "hybrid twitch". Not only was three quarters of his muscle fast-twitch – 50 per cent more than normal – but 25 per cent of that was "super-fast twitch", a type of muscle fibre so rare that no more than two per cent had ever been found in any other athletes similarly tested.
Jackson was suitably astounded to discover that he had been "blessed' in so very many different ways. "I was pretty lucky, wasn't I?" he asked. "But I took my environment for granted. It's been a hard poke in the chest." Almost comically, though, his hunger for greatness was only reawakened by the experience. "It could have helped me in my training to have known all this," he said wistfully. Which only affirms that the guy has a winner's mentality.
Such mentalities were not on display in Rogue Restaurants, a new series that revels in sending undercover workers into restaurants known by local environmental-health officials to be dodgy, and then showing the repulsive footage to a food- hygiene expert, and to us. Like the Dispatches show earlier in the week, about sandwiches, it mainly served to illustrate that the people who prepare our food cannot be trusted, and nor can the people charged with regulating them. Rogue Restaurants may not be particularly entertaining, but its name-and-shame techniques have the potential to do more to drive up food-preparation standards than any legislation.Reuse content