Nicola Chew gets up to speed with the Lewis Hamilton story, and asks: is he a true champion?
On October 26th, Lewis Hamilton braved the torrential Texan showers at the USA Grand Prix to emerge as a newly-crowned three-time Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he joined an elite list of triple F1 champions including the likes of Ayrton Senna, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher. Such a title catapults him into the ranks of the greats – but is there more to his name?
Racing aside, Hamilton is known for his reputation as an established socialite. With frequent appearances at the world’s most coveted celebrity events and a string of closely watched romantic dalliances, there is much to Hamilton beyond the track. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has cited Hamilton as F1’s best champion for his “box office” presence, global visibility and rising superstardom. Factor in his frequent quarrels with teammate Nico Rosberg and the public interest soars yet higher. When compared to the notoriously private Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton’s appeal is clear – he is the poster-boy of Formula 1. His multi-faceted image is an integral part of what makes him a greatWorld Champion. He’s good for business, a polarising figure, and Bernie Ecclestone loves him for it.
As Formula 1’s resident tycoon, Ecclestone’s viewpoint is (somewhat) understandable. But in general terms he is just one fan among millions around the world, who will inevitably have a differing opinion about what attributes makes a sportsman a champion.
How big a role does image and attitude play in distinguishing an average athlete from someone worthy of that title? I asked around the university to find out what students feel being a champion encompasses. To some, it is the achievement that matters, and it is nothing about the image that they project to the public. “Obviously they’ve put the work into obtaining the achievement, but it matters what they’ve done for themselves in terms of the sport rather than what they’re building for themselves outside,” says Kuganiga Kuganeswaran, who studies Philosophy and Economics.
Is it just about talent, skill and a lot of hard work? Some people seem to think it goes beyond what is written on the scoreboard. “A champion is a class act,” sums up East European History student Simon Cerf. “They’re the best but they’re really modest. You’re not really a champion if you’re just some talented prick. To earn the title of champion, people have to be happy that you have those talents.”
Philosophy student Pun Tsz Wai echoed Simon’s thoughts, stating a champion should be relatable and appeal to the hearts of the spectator population. One only has to look to the enduring appeal of Roger Federer to understand this viewpoint.
On another vein, medical student Nik Theologis feels that creating an image requires a strategic approach to making full use of publicity and the media. He used Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho as an example: “in the public sphere, he often says or does quite controversial things that brings the focus onto him and takes the pressure off his players, allowing them to relax and play more comfortably, even though it makes him look bad.”
Even the world’s best athletes are ordinary humans. But the few who the world looks to as champions, the few who define their respective sports, the few who command veneration from legions of fans worldwide – go a step further in portraying an image that garners respect and loyalty in and outside of the sporting arena, whether the image is carefully constructed or a genuine manifestation of character. That is the true difference between a champion and someone who just wins a championship – the ball is in their court, and they know how to play it.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons