Amol Rajan: Being media-trained can turn winners into losers

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One of the world's finest athletes achieved a historic feat on Sunday, in a first for his country in his chosen sport. Hashim Amla became the first South African to score a triple century in Test cricket. At the end of the day's play, he was interviewed by Channel 5's Mark Nicholas. It was one of the most tedious sequences any camera has ever captured.

Asked how it felt to enter the pantheon of greats, Amla produced a series of platitudes. Except he did so in short, cliché-ridden answers, reminding me of the Fast Show sketch in which footballers, interviewed post-victory, finish every answer with: "Yeah, the boys are thrilled with the three points and we're just looking forward to the next game."

Now, I can quite understand how, after scoring a triple century at the Oval, a television interview is low on the priority list. It always seems cruel, for instance, how tennis players who have just been dumped out of a Grand Slam are required to answer idiotic questions about how they feel, and reflect on where it went wrong, 30 seconds after leaving the court. But Amla's answers were hopelessly incongruous with the scale of his achievement.

He is yet another victim of that modern curse: media training. Indeed, the mediocrity of his media "skills" were exposed by another small sporting achievement earlier that day. Elsewhere, a Paul Weller fan from Kilburn with silly sideburns became the first Briton to win the Tour de France.

"To be great is great, but to be first – well, that's something else," wrote my esteemed colleague Simon O'Hagan yesterday. And to be first and so utterly authentic is yet something else. From atop the podium, Bradley Wiggins took the mic, looked upon his nearby mum and told her she had a son who had won the Tour; then said to his adoring fans: "Don't get too drunk."

And with that, he was done.

The scale of Wiggins' physical and sporting achievement is almost beyond measure, of course; but who can doubt his immunity from media training adds infinitely to his charm? This hero, who swears on camera, who slowed down in Stage 14 after a cretin covered the course in tacks, who speaks perfect French and who says: "I've got other things in my life that mean much more to me [than cycling]," is a living legend largely because he is so honest and therefore knowable.

Other sporting greats, who conceal their views in cliché and cant, would do well to fire their media trainers and, like Wiggins, speak from the heart instead of the head.

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