The Last Word: Is it any wonder bionic sports stars gravitate towards one another?

Among all celebrities, it is the athlete who requires the shortest conceptual leap from stags measuring their prowess before the herd

As every tiger knows, it’s a jungle out there. You only have to change TV channels to see that.

One minute you’re watching a couple of stags tangle antlers on some frozen steppe, wondering what the camera crew do with their luncheon vouchers. Flick the remote, and you are nearly guaranteed a variation of the same ritual, as adapted by our own species – whether it’s some superannuated pop star eating grubs, University Challenge, or Match of the Day.

In token of our status, as higher than the animals, our alpha males ostensibly undergo more sophisticated tests for natural selection. Instead of assaulting each other – though obviously this remains a default option in many – they kick, throw and hit balls. Instead of preening peacock feathers, they exhibit homo sapiens at the apogee of his evolution: they sing or dance or make movies or give lectures or run for office. They win us over with charisma, with a selfless determination to make the world a better place. And then they get laid.

To your average male, of course – and, when you get down to it, alpha ones are just extra-average – there is no more efficient way of making the world a better place. As in so many other respects, however, the headlong pace of human “development” is bound to create painful dislocation within those we identify as pack leaders. And that’s why Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn deserve something they haven’t had, since formally acknowledging their relationship this week: compassion.

On the one hand, we won’t let Woods just be a great golfer. Our disproportionate esteem must be matched not only by material rewards, but also by impertinent expectations. That’s where Darwinian process has taken us: the survival of the fatuous. Yet we cannot, as a species, shed overnight the priorities learned in ageless experience.

Among all celebrities, it is the athlete who requires the shortest conceptual leap from stags measuring their prowess before the herd. Woods would hardly be the first to allow admiration to go to his head, and sundry parts else. Somewhere along the line, however, he discovered that fame and glamour were double-edged. Now, too late perhaps, he wants to be treated as a normal human being again. He seems unlikely to be indulged, judging from the sanctimony and malice infecting the media this week. Woods finds himself condemned as cynical and manipulative; in the same breath, he is asked how he could be so artless as to pick another blonde.

A very different view commends itself, however, to those of us who have followed Vonn’s career more closely than we ever did that of her new companion. There have been times when Vonn has herself been so superior in her own field that she should, so to speak, really have started from a back tee. Indeed, it was only a few months ago that her request to contest a men’s downhill was declined. But she never won greater admiration than in admitting a history of depression – this bulletproof superwoman, whose daily hurtles along the margin of an abyss are so terrifying that a wheelchair waits at the bottom.

In midwinter, Vonn disappeared from the tour with an intestinal illness. She returned in time to find her feet again before the World Championships at Schladming. The first race, the Super-G, was staged in fading light after prolonged fog delays. Vonn was right on top of the fastest splits when she wiped out. She was airlifted to hospital, with ripped knee ligaments and a fractured tibia.

Consider the balance struck between motivation and risk by this woman, who has been treated for a disease that so annihilates the human spirit. You can only respect Vonn the champion if you also respect Vonn the woman, complex and human and vulnerable. Who could presume to deny her privacy and dignity, in making her own decisions in her own life?

There is more than one way to be a fallen idol. In the end, perhaps that’s why these bionic couples gravitate towards each other – Woods and Vonn, McIlroy and Wozniacki, Graf and Agassi. In Nascar, they’ve even got a pair as liable to kill each other on the track as kiss off it, in Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Like Vonn, in demanding to race against men, Patrick rebukes the bovine delusions of the 21st century male, alpha or otherwise. But where they find true parity, these putative paragons, is in our ludicrous expectations. They have to find sanctuary in each other, because the rest of us could only ever be disappointed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments