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Rio Olympics 2016: Usain Bolt's party antics only adds to his pulling power

By Daniel Johnson

Usain Bolt of Jamaica arrives for a press conference. Photo / AP
Usain Bolt of Jamaica arrives for a press conference. Photo / AP

Online news and picture desks have never had it so good. "Usain showed me his lightning Bolt - and I couldn't resist!" one headline quipped.

As one of a catalogue of pieces on the exploits of the world's fastest man, another shouted: "Usain Bolt parties until 5am on FOURTH night of wild celebrations as he invites a bevy of girls back to his London hotel." We also saw Bolt pictured with "another mystery woman", and had a comment piece on why millennial women everywhere would relate to Bolt's 'one-night stand' photograph.

This has all been too much for the moral sensibilities of some columnists. Bolt's "taste for the trashy" did not, one wrote, represent the "exemplary behaviour" expected of him. "He's meant to inspire the next generation, not sire it," the writer scoffed.

This raises a question more important than which girl's heart the greatest athlete of all time has broken today.

If you were to design a sportsman to "inspire the next generation", how would they look? Would they be in bed by 9pm every night? Would chicken nuggets be shunned in place of a salmon quinoa salad? And would they be as sexually active as a panda?

These are all questions that public relations specialists should obviously consider when marketing their given athlete.

The evidence would suggest - and it is not a hard and fast rule, no Bolt-related pun intended - that actually the sportsmen and women who capture the imagination are those with more than a hint of personality and an occasional attraction to controversy.

The public do not revile Bolt for his partying and exuberant personality; they love him for it. People do not want just to run like the Jamaican, they want to be like him.

When you go through a host of sports, you quickly realise that those who tend to inspire are often the people who take the most flak for how they live their life.

The late Muhammad Ali was one of the most controversial athletes of his day but has inspired millions in all sorts of ways. Sir Bradley Wiggins - tongue out during the national anthem and all, exactly the sort of thing some could sneer at - still has a far more devoted following than Chris Froome (which is not meant as a criticism of the three-time Tour de France winner).

Novak Djokovic is one of the most astonishing sportsmen in history but still struggles to galvanise youngsters to pick up a racket.

In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton faces the weary accusation that he has "lost focus" every time he takes a selfie in a nightclub, but his profile is streets ahead of Sebastian Vettel or his squeaky clean team-mate, Nico Rosberg.

Perhaps my favourite sportsman in Britain today, Ronnie O'Sullivan, has done many things people like the aforementioned columnist would find abhorrent, from walking out of a match midway through, to multiple visits to rehab and keeping to only an intermittent training regime. But, as even Stephen Hendry would concede, he has prompted far fewer people to pick up a cue.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. Jessica Ennis-Hill is a model professional who inspires people everywhere, not just women and mothers.

Since Roger Federer abandoned the tantrums of his early career, he has become one of the greatest sportsmen of his generation without being associated with even a whiff of controversy.

But there are many more who confound the prescription for how an athlete should behave. Those obsessed with fitting sports stars in a particular box forget that what people actually yearn for is authenticity, without flaws and foibles being hidden beneath a mass of straight-laced messaging.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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