In the spirit of the Olympics (or at least in the spirit of events such as synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics), it seems only appropriate to rank some of the world’s elite competitors according to flagrantly subjective and hopeless arbitrary criteria.
Here then is my assessment of the 10 most adorable Olympians at London 2012. Keep in mind, this is most adorable, not most attractive. I”m not trying to objectify anyone — just patronise them.
10. Hiroshi Hoketsu, Japan, Equestrian
First of all, let me just say (with apologies to Ann Romney) that I don’t think equestrian events should be included in the Olympics, and least of all the event known as dressage.
But it’s there and there’s little we can do about it. So I would be remiss if I did not include this Olympiad’s oldest competitor, Hiroshi Hoketsu. He is 71 years old and has been competing in the Olympics since Tokyo 1964. He is also utterly adorable.
He has said that this will be his last Olympics, due to age. Not his age, mind you, but that of his horse, Whisper.
Oh Hiroshi! What a dapper chap!
9. Katie Ledecky, USA, Swimming
Missy Franklin, who is 17 and has won 4 gold medals at this Olympics, has gotten a lot of attention, and much of it has focused on her youthfulness. But Missy is an old codger compared to Ms. Ledecky. The fearless 15-year old went into the 800-metre freestyle swim against world record-holder (not to mention hometown hero) Rebecca Adlington and quickly left Adlington and everyone else behind on her way to the gold.
But why does she make this “most adorable” list?
Somehow Katie still seems like a kid — in her interviews, in her post-race reaction, and just generally in the way she carries herself. While Missy and the whole host of gymnasts have quickly taken on personas that make them seem like teenage stars, Katie still looked like a teenager who suddenly found herself winning in the Olympics.
Oh Katie! You remind me so much of myself when I was 15!
8. Lizzie Armistead, Great Britain, Cycling
Lizzie won the silver medal in the women’s cycling road race, which opened Britain’s account in the medal table for London 2012. Armitstead’s performance was quite impressive, given that this is her Olympic debut.
But since she’s new to the big stage, Lizzie didn’t know that, no matter what you’re asked in post-race interviews and press conferences, you should stick to traditional boilerplate and talk about how happy you are that you won and thank the people who supported you and say how you were feeling during the race and blah blah blah. So instead, dear Lizzie addressed the issue of sexism in professional cycling and sport more generally.
Oh Lizzie! Look at what zany adventures you’ve sent the chattering classes on now!
7. Tüvshinbayar Naidan, Mongolia, Judo
If we’re to be completely honest, the outfits in Judo make all competitors look ridiculous and/or adorable. And if we’re to be even more brutally honest, Mongolian names tend to sound adorable and/or ridiculous.
The mighty Tüvshinbayar won Mongolia’s first ever Olympic gold medal in 2008 in Beijing, but could only manage a silver this time around. But he was adorable, even in defeat, as he lost the final in the men’s -100kg to Tagir Khaibulaev of Russia.
6. Reese Hoffa, USA, Athletics
“Can a shot putter be adorable?” you ask. Absolutely, and shame on you for asking. Everything about Reese Hoffa, the American who took bronze in his event, screams “teddy bear.” Which is odd because Hoffa himself doesn’t seem to shout with the same visceral exclamation common in throwing events.
If you have a high tolerance for adorableness, check out the picture of Hoffa and his wife in this slideshow of displays of affection at London 2012.
Oh Reese! You big chug-a-lug, you!
5. John Orozco, USA, Gymnastics
I don’t know about you, but I found the whole helicopter-parent routine with Cuban-American gymnast Danell Leyva and his omnipresent father a bit exhausting. Conversely, I couldn’t get enough of the other American gymnast in the men’s all around: John Orozco.
This Puerto Rican kid (he’s 19) from the Bronx seemed like the sweetest guy you could hope to meet, and unfortunately, his most dramatic moment was an adorable catastrophe — his leotard pants got caught on the pommel horse and all but doomed his medal chances.
Oh John! Why must you sheath your legs with those silly tights anyway!?
4. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica, Athletics
Folks, she’s no longer the Shelly-Ann Fraser we saw wearing braces while winning the 100-metres in Beijing in 2008. She’s now Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a married woman whose dental development is presumably complete. But Shelly-Ann still managed to look adorable (in a very juvenile sort of way) as she won the 100 metres again yesterday (Although I really would have thought that those ribbons in her hair would create drag while running).
But what really catapulted Shelly-Ann up this ranking was NBC’s feature on her before they aired the 100m final. She couldn’t help but laugh as she told a light-hearted story about how her mother once threatened to cut up a neighbour boy with a long knife.
Oh Shelly-Ann! You and your grim sense of humour!
3. Gabby Douglas, USA, Gymnastics
Many of my American readers probably thought this whole list was just building up toward yet another first-place finish for Gabby. Well, were this just a ranking of the adorableness of American Olympians, it would be a no-contest!
The Flying Squirrel, as Douglas has so aptly been nicknamed, was just as adorable during her routines as she was when feverishly nodding along to coaches’ and teammates’ exhortations on the sidelines. All successful athletes acknowledge the influence and support of their families, and that’s especially true for competitors as young as Douglas (16). Fittingly, Gabby’s family was also quite adorable when she won gold.
Oh Gabby! Don’t ever grow old!
2. Jessica Ennis, Great Britain, Athletics
It would not be a stretch to say Jessica Ennis was the face of these Olympics before she even performed. In fact, it wouldn’t even be all that metaphorical to say she was the face of the Games: British fans wore masks of “Our Jess” in Olympic Park, and her face is on billboards all over London. She was Britain’s great hope and was the favourite to win the Pentathlon.
Needless to say, the pressure on Jess was enormous, and she delivered.
But somehow, despite having the weight of her country’s collective expectations on her shoulders, she was always sporting her whimsical smile, and her delightful Yorkshire accent maintained its musical lilt in all her interviews throughout the Heptathlon.
Oh Jess! You could make even a basset hound stop being so gloomy.
1. Mo Farah, Great Britain, Athletics
First of all, there is something inherently adorable about watching a man the width of a chihuahua flying along at speeds unattainable by the average human and then seeing his eyes practically bugging out of his skull as he wins a gold medal.
The final of the Men’s 10,000 metres was probably the most exciting distance race I’ve ever seen at the Olympics, and if you didn’t see it, you at least owe it to yourself to watch the highlights of the race. Equally important to watch, though, is Farah’s tracksideinterview with BBC following the race. The whole thing is adorable, but the most adorable bit starts here.
Because this list is so America-heavy and transparently unscientific, feel free to offer your rebuttals or amendments.