Paul Lewis: Deals for 'Lyin' Ryan' not likely to come flooding in

United States' Ryan Lochte checks his time after a men' 4x200-meter freestyle relay heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Photo / AP
United States' Ryan Lochte checks his time after a men' 4x200-meter freestyle relay heat during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Photo / AP

Let's tell the story of Torii Hunter to make poor, old Ryan Lochte feel better - and to make a bit of a point about New Zealand sportspeople.

Lochte is the US swimmer who made up a story he and others were robbed at gunpoint at the Rio Olympics by assailants posing as police officers, apparently not noticing lie detectors spontaneously combusting all over Rio.

Brazilian investigators found video and witness evidence Lochte's account was false. Police said the swimmers had vandalised a service station bathroom and then been confronted by security guards.

You may think, even with a good measure of drunkenness in mitigation, Lochte may not be about to win Mastermind any time soon. The fact he dyes his hair grey doesn't mean he's stupid. No, for stupid, let's bring in Hunter.

A Major League Baseball star who retired only last year after a career of about US$140 million worth of contracts, Hunter was entranced with a business opportunity brought to him by a man who was spruiking ...

flood furniture.

If you don't know what flood furniture is, it's a line of chairs, sofas and other living room comfortables, which have an inflatable raft installed underneath them. When flood waters come, homeowners could inflate the raft and float to safety, sitting in their favourite chair.

Somehow Hunter agreed to pump US$70,000 ($96,000) into this concept and only scrambled to safety when the flood furniture guy came back after discovering he needed another $500,000 from Hunter to make the idea, er, float.

I mention all this in order to be a bit smug about New Zealand's performance at the Olympics - not so much regarding our medal success but about the way our athletes handle it. The problem with the likes of Lochte, Hunter and Co is the cult of celebrity.

It is the new religion; kids worship at the altar of celebrity, wanting to be famous for being famous, just like Kim Kardashian - a woman known for having a big bum and taking selfies of it. I mean, I ask you ...

Big business buys into celebrity. Lochte's misfortune is to be one of the world's top swimmers during the Phelps era. Michael Phelps, 28 Olympic medals (23 of them gold), outpoints Lochte even though he has more Olympic medals (12, six gold) than even Mark Spitz and more than anyone not called Phelps.

So Lochte, desperate to unlock the door that led Phelps into an estimated US$44 million net worth, has gone more Kardashian. Phelps equals performance; Lochte equals performer. Naturally more outgoing than Phelps, Lochte adopted a more fun-loving, party boy, devil-may-care persona.

He is photographed wearing a grille, a sort of bejeweled mouthguard, which you flash when you grin, so all the world knows you are wealthy enough (and crass enough) to wear jewellery on your teeth.

We can't say the cult of celebrity doesn't affect Kiwis but, if you look at our medal winners, you can see the advantages of coming from a small country, where fans are also your peers and where most of our sportspeople have a firm grip on real reality, not the TV kind.

Look at the compelling personalities of the "odd couple" - Eric Murray and Hamish Bond; there'll be no $44 million stash waiting for them when their rowing career is finished. Look at Mahe Drysdale, perhaps the nicest guy in sport, and Tom Walsh's shy pleasure in his bronze.

Perhaps the essence of Kiwis at the Olympics is the 2016 women - including Luuka Jones' delight at her silver, Eliza McCartney's calm maturity and Val Adams' transparent struggle between disappointment at her silver and her open-hearted conclusion that "it's just sport". Indeed it is, Val.

But the face of our 2016 Olympics must be the 1.68m, 53kg powerhouse Lisa Carrington - the only Kiwi to win more than one medal at Rio. She'll never deliver the outrageous statement or gesture, a la Lochte. She has inherited from her parents, Pat and Glynis, common sense, humility and a bottomless well of determination. The Sky commentator, during her bronze medal race, said when she trailed the field: "Surely Carrington's given up the ghost". Did she, hell?

Long may we Kiwis keep her qualities of reserved delight we sometimes criticise ourselves for; it separates us from the Lochtes of the world. Carrington is now talking about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and there must be a chance that she could well join Sir Mark Todd, Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald as the only New Zealanders to win five Olympic medals.

If she does, she'll be the same imperturbable, grounded Kiwi. 'Lyin' Ryan' will probably still be trying to escape his new nickname.

- Herald on Sunday

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