Alan White's Olympics diary: The 2012 Olympics alternative awards

Yes, it’s the laziest of all journalistic tropes. But still, what would any sporting event be without an alternative set of awards?

The Gerald Ratner Garland for Brand Promotion Failure:

As the games have rolled on, these stories have died down, but there haven’t half been some crackers. For all the joy, one needs to remember that this is a deeply corporate event: the organisers were so desperate to snuff out un-Olympic sponsors they even taped over the handryers in the toilets. Even better, an official investigation was even launched into the athletes’ use of illicit condoms.

In this febrile atmosphere, kudos to this press release from RealStaffing recruitment agency: “If you are looking for the next Bradley Wiggins (of financial accounting) or Philips Idowu (of Project Accounting) to see your team over the finish line this summer then get in touch...”

But the winner is easily McDonald’s, with the bizarre stand-off over chip sales in the Olympic Park. According to business information group Precise, the company has generated net negative sentiment across social media over the course of the Olympics. Well done to all involved.

The “Hello, Harvey Weinstein? Have I Got An Option For You” Trophy for Inspirational Stories:

There are too many here, most involving women. Gemma Gibbons won silver from 42nd in the world, thanking her recently-deceased mother who had ferried her on public transport to every class. For Taekwondo medallist, Jade Jones, the people of the small Welsh town of Flint helped her raise funding.  Another competitor, Sarah Stevenson, lost both parents in the space of three months and suffered a devastating knee injury, yet still managed to compete. Boxer Nicola Adams – so skilful, so damn cool – worked as a painter and decorator and as an extra on Coronation Street  to finance her dreams. I also think this guy has to be in with a shout, just for managing to play on. Christ.

But anyway, the winner is diver Chris Mears. He was never going to get a medal. But in 2009, after rupturing his spleen and losing five pints of blood just before the Youth Olympics in Sydney, his parents were told their son had a 5 per cent chance of surviving the operation. You’ll pardon me for saying it’s not the winning that matters...

The “Damn, If Only Andy Coulson Wasn’t Busy” Plaque for Misfiring Political Involvement

There have been a number of successes which, in any other country, would be an almighty failure. Most people found Jeremy Hunt’s unfortunate bellend incident endearing and somehow managed to overlook his meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the pool. They did the same for Boris Johnson, and likewise giggled as he found himself suspended from a zip wire. Aidan Burley MP, it’s fair to say, hasn’t come out of the games quite so unscathed, but given he’d previously been known as the guy who went on a stag do where people dressed as Nazis, some would say merely being perceived as crass is a result.
But the overwhelming winner has to be David Cameron. It started with “The Curse of Cameron”, as the Prime Minister gamely sped around the events in the hope of spotting a Gold, ruining the dreams of scores of British athletes (apparently). It got worse when a photo was released of him watching the games at home. Cue a thousand people firing up photoshop for giggles. Then he said some stupid things about Indian Dancing in schools. And then someone found footage from prior to the games of him playing table tennis with Barack Obama. Boy, does he suck.

The Daily Mail Newsdesk Ribbon for Totally Missing the Point

Too many. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by columnists and online about how the Olympics tells us something New and Profound about footballers, as if every footballer is John Terry. Huge amounts of crap being spoken by the right on the death of competitive sport and on the left about how PE teachers are mean. The Daily Mail railing against mixed race marriages and papping the athletes. On the latter, the Guardian joining in. French protests against British cycling’s “Magic Wheels” (GB cycling performance director: “They’re very round”).  

The runner up? Piers Morgan. Complains about the national anthem not being sung by various athletes, is righteously slapped down, and to save face complains about a faked picture (you may recall why he left the Mirror).

The overwhelming winner: Surrey police, who arrested a 54-year-old spectator for a “public order offence”, saying he failed to smile or seem to enjoy the men’s cycling road race. He has Parkinson’s disease.

Other awards:
The Official New Statesman Shield for Olympic Spirit

In a field containing the British Men’s Eight going for gold and getting bronze rather than a likely silver, the classy Kirani James ignoring the faux-controversy and swapping bibs with Oscar Pistorius, and the various hugs, cuddles and kisses between competitors that followed every event, it takes something special to win. So (sob) I’m giving it to the thousands of Games Makers. Thank you, all.

The Instagram Hipster Rosette for Photography

So many here. Something dodgy in the water. Something else dodgy in the water. Usain Bolt’s photos after his win. Also, another photo involving Usain Bolt. X-rated action in the water polo. Team Rwanda at a bus stop. Ruben Limardo on the tube.

But I’m going to go with this picture of runners shimmering behind the Olympic Flame.

The Archimedes Presentation Salver for A Good Idea

Gary Naylor suggests that we should see gold, silver and bronze plaques on the walls of every medal-winners school.

The Fowler’s Modern Dictionary Bowl for Services to Language

Turns out “medal” as a verb dates actually back to Byron, but well done to the Guardian style guide for hoping this is the first occasion where people use “brink” correctly, rather than “cusp”, wrongly.

The Bert le Clos Silver Tankard for Heartwarming Parenting

Fending off stern competition from Aly Raisman’s parents and Chris Hoy’s mother, this goes to Bert le Clos. Let’s watch him again shall we?

That’s it: we’re done. I’d just like to thank my coaches, family, friends and...sorry, it’s all too much. Enjoy the Closing Ceremony everyone....

Want more? Jumbo Odds and Ends

The official London 2012 auction: everything must go.

The man with the wooden leg who won six gold medals.

Nice Vanity Fair feature on Olympic athletes of the past: where are they now?

Another great Olympic story: “The Flying Housewife”, from the 1948 Olympics.

Dr David Wright volunteered in 1948, and in 2012.

Is lactic acid to blame for Olympic pain?

Brilliant Ed Caesar piece on the Irish priest who trains Kenyan Olympians.

Nicola Adams’s dog watches her claim gold.

Best. Hashtag. Ever.

How would the ancient empires be doing today?

The BBC’s “20 things you may not have spotted” feature was excellent; so too its follow-up.

The physics of diving.

And the physics of cycling.

Steeplechase competitor’s awesome medal dance.

A love letter to the BBC.

How far do athletes travel?

Anyone else remember when high jump gold medal winner Ivan Ukhov competed drunk? (via 22 words).

Incredible Facebook album of 1948 Olympians.

The scariest British fan of them all.

Young athlete explains how he ran away from trouble last August.
 

The Olympic flame. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Beautiful and the damned: a spellbinding oral history of Hollywood

West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein follows a specific tribe of people: the beautiful.

One day in LA, the showbiz tycoon David Geffen drove by the house that had belonged to Jack Warner, the co-founder of Warner Brothers. The gates were open, so he went in. “It was so grand and so Hollywood . . . It was an homage to an idea about the way people lived in Hollywood. I got caught up in the whole gestalt and I bought it.” Geffen then marvels that he paid $47m for the homage, while Jack had sold his whole studio for just $38m in 1956. You have to have a sense of irony.

From around 1920 there was a tribe in southern California, sometimes known as “the beautiful people”. In many cases, they were technical beauties (they appeared in dreamlets known as movies or had their photographs in magazines made of heavy, perfumed pages). Yet the true beauty talked about was a spiritual aspiration – a quest for romantic nobility, fragile elegance, or serene madness – that might offset the inner derangement, selfishness and comic vulgarity that so threatened their longing for godless class, or inscrutability. They lived within the frantic church known as Hollywood, a fierce cult or early form of terrorism (it hired intimidators, all of them called Oscar) that cherished the hopeless grail of beauty and sacrificed many lives in its pursuit.

Jean Stein is one of them; she admits as much in West of Eden, which seems to me the best book ever done on the terrifying social dysfunction of the beautiful people. Ms Stein is now 81. She is the daughter of Dr Jules Stein (1896-1981), the son of Lithuanian Jews, who became a celebrity ophthalmologist yet so loved music and show business that he founded the MCA agency – Music Corporation of America.

The marriage of medicine and ten-percenting is important to this book, and Jean Stein – who is clear-eyed, and knows where the bodies are buried – has the innate touch and scalpel smile of an expert autopsist. She does not quite write, but she composes absorbing, novelistic oral histories. In 1982 she did one on Edie Sedgwick, the Sixties model, junkie, sexpot and icon, a ghost long before her death. Now Stein delivers a calm Götterdämmerung that can be read as the fearsome annals of a haunted Hollywood, as well as an adroit response to John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952), earlier proof of California’s soft spot for fallen angels.

West of Eden is selective and yet, by the end of its 334 pages, you feel that the light and the shadow have fallen on nearly every­one. There are just five subjects. First: Edward L Doheny, the oil tycoon who established the architecture of Los Angeles, and helped inspire There Will Be Blood. Then there are the Warners, but chiefly Jack, the youngest of four who outlived and betrayed his brothers, and who abandoned a nice Jewish wife for an adventuress and ended up being painted by Salvador Dalí and dreaded as “a character”. There is also Jane Garland, a schizophrenic child of great wealth who drifted around with various unofficial nurses and uncertain friends. Next is the teeming casebook called Jennifer Jones; and then the Steins themselves, which means Jules and Jean, and her two daughters by William vanden Heuvel, one of whom now publishes the weekly magazine the Nation.

In shaping these five windows, Stein has interviewed numerous tribe members, many of whom have memories, wounds and nightmares for which they are in therapy (or script development – the two forms are very alike). Her tone and manner are matter-of-fact, but she knows how wary those close to Eden are about trusting stories. Life is a competing set of fantasies, and given that lies have always been allowed in LA, falsehood itself, as a moral handicap, has come to mean little. Though all “true”, this book reads like a dream.

A short review cannot cover all five windows in detail, so let me fix on the one I know best: the glass or screen in which Jennifer Jones existed like a butterfly. Born in 1919 (Gore Vidal once told me she was three years older; gossip devours fact), she was the daughter of an Oklahoma showman who thought she would act – on screen, of course, but also always and everywhere. She married a young actor, Robert Walker, and they had two sons. Then in 1941 she was seen by the mogul David Selznick: he was moved by her and she was drawn upwards by her chance of stardom. Each abandoned a spouse and two sons. They became archetypes of misjudgement, though her mediocre acting never matched the skill or glow of other Selznick employees (such as Ingrid Bergman). They had a daughter, Mary Jennifer, who lived in rivalry with her mother and loathed her, and finally killed herself.

Jennifer, as Lauren Bacall reports, could be a little nutty. She and Selznick gave lavish Sunday parties: “Jennifer was busy doing her make-up and combing her hair and changing her outfit. She was kind of playing her part. She was always trying to be noticed, to have people really care about her and be there for her.”

This is not pretty stuff; maybe that is why these people were so desperate to be beautiful. Indulgence and neglect formed a damaging mixture that left bodies lining the roadside west of Eden. Lawyers and doctors catered to the stricken beauties. Shrinks played an especially devious role, though “shrink” was the wrong word; those hired to soothe mania in fact inflated their clients’ egos and dramatised their self-pity, the movie in which we all take part.

Hard to credit, often hard to stomach, this is a spellbinding record of that ancien régime. Whatever happened to the tribe? The members may be thinner on the ground now in southern California, but their ignoble nobility is everywhere.

David Thomson’s books include “Showman: the Life of David O Selznick” (André Deutsch) and “How to Watch a Movie” (Profile Books)

West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein is published by Jonathan Cape (334pp, £20)

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war