With their breathtaking historic victories and great looks, it’s no wonder that NBC has so heavily pumped Olympic Stars promos with Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Shani Davis and Apolo Anton Ohno.
Speaking of White, Vonn and Davis and their wins, Dr. Johnny Benjamin’s opinion piece this week in The Huffington Post claimed that there are differences in Gold Medals, noting, “…The sad reality is that 2 of the 3 amazing Olympians will be afforded many opportunities to parlay their glory into millions of dollars and one will fade back into obscurity and a 9 to 5. And, sadder still … we all know which unfortunate person that is.”
The implication being that Davis will be forgotten because he’s African-American.
We must point out that if Davis heads into obscurity, it’ll be at least in part because he has spent years rigorously rebuffing the media — as well as any public attention that veered off what he does on the ice in the slightest — including choosing not to be included in the U.S. Speedskating media guide.
Now that he’s opened up some, he’s put his talented skate-clad foot in it with the recent wince-worthy moment when he called Stephen Colbert “a jerk” at a press conference for criticizing Canada. Davis was clearly not aware that Colbert (a real-life supporter of speed skating), was doing his character shtick as a pompous windbag. Not a good sign. But hey, Davis-watchers say he’s better than he used to be, so we’ll see.
The point is, the alchemy that turns some Olympic golden ones into celebrities while others remain unknowns requires a blend of ingredients, including, first and foremost, that said Olympian is okay with becoming a celebrity.
Charisma is required. A gift of gab. Then — sorry, but it’s true — attractive looks. You need not be classically beautiful or handsome. Quirky can work. But the camera must like you.
There’ve been plenty of Olympic heroes whose brilliance as athletes just didn’t transfer into other realms, of course. Seven-Gold-Medal-winning Mark Spitz comes to mind. Watching a comedy sketch with Bob Hope in which Spitz played a dentist was the TV answer to having your teeth drilled. Awfully. Darned. Uncomfortable.
Whereas, we know already that Ohno is eminently watchable. He comes off smooth and likeable, as “Dancing With the Stars” fans are aware. He has “It” factor. He’s a star.
Olympic snowboarding competitor and “Dancing With the Stars” alumnus Louie Vito has what it takes, charisma-wise, for ongoing fame, too — as teenage girls we checked in with verified unanimously — and the 21-year-old Cute Boy didn’t even win a medal. He’s still a comer, though.
Then there’s beautiful blond snowboard cross champ Lindsey Jacobellis, who advertisers were primed to make into an Olympic Golden Girl until she failed in her second bid at Olympic glory with a stunning disqualification — which sucked the air out of her fame balloon.
Snowboarding king Shaun White’s already proven his celebrit-ability. His latest achievements simply amplify it. He’s got that great red hair and that laid-back surfer charm mojo working for him, big-time, though in real life he’s enroute to becoming a one-dude conglomerate. We’re going to Target right now to buy some of his 2-fer Tees.
Flamboyant skating star Johnny Weir already has his Sundance Channel show, “Be Good Johnny Weir.” It’s a safe bet this character is going to be around for awhile.
Will Lindsey Vonn’s gorgeousness and dynamic performance on the slopes help her retain her It Girl status into the summer and beyond? Perhaps a “Dancing With the Stars” stint should be in her future. It kept Golden Girl Shawn Johnson in the spotlight while she was making up her mind to go back into training for 2012.
Olympians have fared far less well with acting than with other sorts of public appearances. “Tarzan” Johnny Weissmuller and ice skating movie sweetheart Sonja Henie are the two biggest movie names that began with Olympic glory — and it’s been a long, long time since their respective heydays.
Tara Lipinski has put lots of effort into her acting career, but she remains most easily identified as the Gold Medal-winning figure skater.
Cathy Rigby retired from gymnastics in 1972, did her first turn in “Peter Pan” in ’74 , appeared on Broadway and has spent much of her time over the past thirty-odd years doing stage work from “Annie Get Your Gun” to “Meet Me in St. Louis.” She’s 57 now. And, she’s still being called a gymnast.
Reality TV is a much more welcoming sphere, luckily for today’s Olympians. Case in point: Decathlon Champ Bruce Jenner’s movie career is exemplified by the awful big-screen bomb “Can’t Stop the Music” — and still, he reigns as a reality TV patriarch.
Now why wouldn’t Shani Davis want to end up like that?