The branding of Amy Williams

Amy Williams.jpgEven for those who have not been following the current Winter Olympics in Vancouver closely, it is unlikely you will not be aware that Britain won it’s first individual Gold medal for three decades.

Amy Williams the 27 year old slider from Bath in the west country, became a national hero by twice breaking the track record at the Whistler track on her way to becoming Olympic champion in the terrifying skeleton competition.

She was travelling at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour perched precariously on a tiny contraption of plastic and metal, and won the title with a huge gap (for this sport) of 0.56 seconds over the silver medal winner.

As an aside, I can’t quite get over the fact that such a dangerous and terrifying sport (a competitor from Georgia was killed on the first day of the competition) has such a silly name. All of the competitors, ranging from the skeleton to the four man bobsleigh, are called sliders. Even worse, the competition takes place in a slider centre. Whenever I hear the word, I think of ten year olds egging each other on, to see who can slide the furthest on an icy or slippery patch of pavement. In my view the sport really needs someone to come up with a new name which more effectively captures the excitement and skill. Even something as basic as ice racing would be better than sliding.

Which leads me neatly into the point of this post. I was initially impressed by how calm Amy Williams appeared after her first two runs, putting her into the lead in the competition. The next morning prior to her crucial final two runs, she said she had slept well after a nerveless night’s sleep. This was confirmed by her calmness and consistency over those two runs which gave her the gold medal. I was more surprised by her comments during her first interview on the BBC within minutes of realising she was the champion. She said winning the medal would not change her, and how she was looking forward to getting back home to her friends and family in Bath. The interviewer unsuccessfully attempted to get across her view that Amy was now a celebrity and would be the focus of media attention from now on.

A newspaper article a couple of days later was headlined ‘Amy: I’m not a celebrity’, and had plenty of quotes to reinforce this view:

‘I don’t know when I’ll get my life back, but I can’t wait to go horse riding again and do the things I stopped because I had to concentrate so hard this past year. I can’ wait to do so-called normal things again.’

‘I never thought I’d win an Olympic medal, and it’s not going to change me.’

‘I’m just happiest watching a film with my friends and that’s what’s important to me. I’ll never lose sight of my normal life.’

‘My friends have all got their own achievements which are just as good as mine, but in their own worlds. I don’t see myself as being any different.’

Whilst I am impressed by these noble sentiments I will be amazed if the intensity of media attention will not change her. In recent years sport has become the leader in the celebrity stakes, eclipsing Hollywood and business leaders. Just look at the kinds of income those at the top of their sport, from motor racing to golf can earn.

Even for the relatively unknown sport of skeleton sliding you can be sure that now Amy is a Gold medal holder she will attract millions of pounds of sponsors money.

I watched with interest as Kelly Holmes (the winner of two gold medals during the Athens Olympics of 2004, gradually went from a shy and awkward performer in front of the media glare to delivering polished celebrity standard performances in adverts and news interviews, and picking up a Damehood on the way.

I would be very surprised, and to be honest, very impressed if Amy Williams is somehow able to resist the enormous pressures from the media and big business to become ‘brand Amy’ and instead maintain a normal life.

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