Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Why stories turn sports stars into idols

As Chris Froome fought his way to victory around the two thousand odd miles of the 100th edition of the Tour de France we began to hear more and more of his personal story.

Stories are what make people interesting and inspirational. Stories are a catalyst for ordinary people watching at home to support or even idolise that person.

Froome does have an interesting story - unique in some regards - for a winner of the most famous bicycle race in the world. During the 21 days of racing we heard how he was born in Nairobi, began cycling on dirt roads and then moved to South Africa. Froome himself spoke of his "incredible journey" others that he is an inspiration to Africans.

The story was given extra sparkle with the revelation that Froome had begun cycling with a group of black Kenyans who didn't have the comfortable upbringing he had in the better suburbs of Nairobi. Froome says his inspiration is David Kinjah, a youth charity worker, who would allow Froome to sleep on the floor of his hut before heading into the hills on their mountain bikes. It is as far removed as possible from the boutiques and cafes of the Champs Elysee where Froome's victory was finalised.

Then there is the additional element - overcoming adversity - which makes a story truly compelling. For Froome this is his fight to rid his body of bilharzia, a parasitic, blood-eating, disease he had caught in Africa. If he hadn't won this battle his career as a cyclist would have been over.

Last year, as Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, he was almost disbelieving of his achievement frequently repeating that "kids from Kilburn don't win the Tour de France". Wiggins' story is also compelling and includes the crucial element of overcoming adversity: growing up on a council estate, an estranged father, Mum struggling to keep the family together. It all made us love 'Wiggo' just a little bit more.

Froome is a very different character to Wiggins but they share two things. They are Tour de France winners and they have great back stories. Winning the Tour de France makes them attractive to us and the media but it is the back stories which turn them into idols.

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