In sport, personalities take a running jump

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The Independent Online
See who won the British Sports Personality of the Year award, then?

Frank Bruno, wasn't it?

No.

Oh. Who was it?

Jonathan Edwards.

Who's Jonathan Edwards?

British Sports Personality of the Year.

Good! And who was he before that?

He was plain old Jonathan Edwards.

And what sort of a personality does he have?

He has the sort of personality that makes you want to run down a track, then hop, skip and jump. Well, it makes him want to do it anyway.

And that's what he does?

That's what he does. Further than anyone else in the world.

Great. What else does he do?

Nothing else.

Nothing?

Well, nothing out of the ordinary. Eating, drinking, reading a few books. Sends Christmas cards, I expect.

And he's a great personality, is he?

Sure. He's British Sports Personality of the Year, after all.

What do you have to do to be a personality in sport?

You have to be the best at your sport.

Being best at the hop, skip and jump?

They like to call it the triple jump.

But it's really the hop, skip and jump?

Yes.

And nobody in Britain gave a damn about it before, because we weren't very good at it, and if you asked anyone who was the previous world record- holder they wouldn't know, would they?

No.

But now Jonathan Edwards is world champion we're very interested in the sport?

No. We are still totally uninterested in it. But we are interested in Jonathan Edwards now.

Because of his personality?

No.

Are there any people in sport with interesting personalities?

Yes. They are called commentators.

They have interesting personalities?

Compared with many sportsmen.

Are there any sportsmen with interesting personalities?

Not until they retire. Magically, many so-called sports personalities have no discernible personality at all, until they leave the sport and go on TV and radio, when they blossom.

Good heavens. Like who?

Ian Botham, Bill Beaumont, Henry Cooper, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen ...

Is Alan Hansen that roguishly good-looking man with the Scots twang on 'Match of the Day'?

That's him.

Good heavens. Was he a footballer in a previous life?

Certainly was. The point is that all these guys developed personalities after they left the game. Having a personality while you're still in the game does nothing for you at all, except make you easier to imitate.

Pardon?

I was thinking of Chris Eubank, who cleverly manufactured his own personality while still in boxing, with monocle and all, whereas Nigel Benn didn't. You might say that Benn was the better boxer; on the other hand, if an impressionist did an impression of Nigel Benn, nobody knew who it was meant to be. So Chris wins on points.

Well, if personality has nothing to do with it, why is it called the British Sports Personality of the Year Award?

Because sport desperately wants to be part of showbiz and knows it can't be. All competitions that are genuinely in the entertainment and personality world, like the comedy, pop and drama awards, don't have the word personality in the title. That's because the winners all have personality guaranteed. So why mention it? You don't call Hugh Grant the Acting Personality of the Year. You don't give prizes for being Political Personality of the Year. You assume that the Parliamentarian of the Year already has a personality. In sport you can assume no such thing, so you build it into the title.

I see ... Everyone thought that Frank Bruno was going to win, didn't they?

Yes.

Does he have a personality?

Oh, yes. He's nice, he smiles a lot and he used to say "Harry" a lot.

Does that count as a personality?

In sport it does.

So why didn't he win?

He already had a job in panto. He didn't need it.

Will Jonathan Edwards get a part in panto?

Sure. He's now playing Puss in Boots at Wimbledon. He wears the magic three-league boots. He comes on one side, jumps and clears the entire stage and vanishes the other side.

Is that true?

No, but who would be surprised if it were? That's what British sport is all about.

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