Where do you go from achieving your biggest dreams, on sport’s greatest stage, and in front of your home crowd? Now that the euphoria of London 2012 has begun to ebb away, the British team’s unexpectedly successful stars have been grappling with how to fill the void.
“It’s like the world’s going to end. You don’t know what to do with yourself after you’ve worked so hard for one thing,” British pentathlon gold-medalist Jessica Ennis told the Independent newspaper.
As the country’s star athletes begin to create new, post-gold lives for themselves their every move has been chronicled in the nation’s tabloid newspapers. The Brits can’t get enough of their Olympic heroes.
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Take Mo Farah. His remarkable backstory and endearing charm has turned him into a household name across Britain. The sometimes xenophobic British tabloid press fell for him heavily when, asked by a journalist after his win in the 10,000 meters if he would have wanted to run for Somalia, his country of birth, he said: “Look mate, this is my country.”
Farah more than understands how to build on this success. Rather than indulging in fast food and partying until the early hours of the morning in London nightclubs like some of his fellow Olympians, he has instead been dabbling in international policy-making. Less than 24 hours after his second gold-medal triumph in the 5,000 meters on Saturday evening, Farah attended the Hunger Summit at Downing Street. Part of the U.K. government’s legacy initiative for London 2012, the aim of the summit was to reduce the number of children affected by malnourishment worldwide by 25 million in time for Rio 2016.
Farah, whose charity the Mo Farah Foundation provides aid to people facing starvation in the Horn of Africa, has said that the issue of child hunger has “touched his heart.” Standing alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron and other sporting legends such as Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, he received a huge cheer from the crowds outside the prime minister’s residence, Number 10 Downing Street, grinning as he raised his arms over his head, forming the letter “M”—his trademark victory sign, which has been termed the “Mobot.”
Politics aside, Farah is focusing on his wife, who is nine months pregnant with twin girls. He also plans to run the Great North Run half-marathon in Newcastle on September 16 and has spoken of his desire to transition to marathon running in the future.
Cutting a different figure is the enigmatic cycling hero, Bradley Wiggins. Known to many Brits simply as Wiggo, the past week has given him an opportunity to finally let his now-famous sideburns down and party.
Speaking to journalists after winning his gold medal, the Tour de France winner said: “I’m not a celebrity. I will never be a celebrity and I don’t consider myself a celebrity.” His insistence though that he is a normal guy contrasted somewhat with his newfound celebrity friends. He was photographed, drink in hand, attending an exclusive Stone Roses concert in London with British rock stars Paul Weller, Mick Jones and Jimmy Page.
Wiggins will have to put his well-deserved drink down soon though–he has a race coming up with fellow Brits in Team Sky, the British professional cycling team, at Denmark’s equivalent of the Tour de France, the Post Danmark Rundt, on August 22.
Also spotted at the exclusive Stone Roses show was Britain’s face of the games, Ennis, who is more used to spending long, punishing and lonely hours training than hobnobbing with celebrities. Next year she plans to wed her long-term partner Andy Hill, and has also spoken of her desire to settle down and have children. She’s also fond of spending time with her chocolate Labrador Myla; last Wednesday she tweeted a picture of the dog wearing her gold medal.
Despite her air of normality, Ennis’s profile as the face of the Games has made her the most marketable of all her British team counterparts. Her annual off-track earnings are estimated to be $5.5 million.
Ennis has not cast aside track and field though. She has spoken of her desire to break the 7,000 point barrier in heptathlon that would make her one of the legends in the sport, and she has said she wants to take back the World Championship crown in 2013 and win gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
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Ennis’s refusal to just sit back and cash in on her newfound fame and success is perhaps wise. In time, the British people will likely begin to lose interest in photographs of their heroes standing next to pop stars. As Rio 2016 approaches, Britain will no doubt begin to ask for more of the very thing that made stars of Ennis, Farah, Wiggins and the other British Olympians: Gold, please.