I'm quite lucky in my work as I get to interview top athletes occasionally. It used to be movie stars, producers, directors and writers, but when I (quickly) realised they are mostly staggeringly insecure, that lost its polish pretty fast**.
But athletes? A different entity entirely. They generally fit into two camps, for my money. There's the athlete that has always been an athlete and knows nothing else, and so is desperately boring – Michael Phelps is a brilliant example of this. Great athlete, boring as all fuck. Want to talk training, eating and sleeping? He's your man. Anything else, you might as well talk to a crab. Chrissie Wellington is the opposite - she had a life and a job before becoming a full time triathlete, and it really shows. It was one of my favourite interviews ever because of her holistic approach to the whole of life, and that she's very articulate which doesn't hurt when you're interviewing. And what an athlete; how is this woman not a household name in England? I have no idea. The media hides from endurance athletes, and I don't know why. This woman could be the greatest role model (along with Dame Kelly Holmes) for young women today in the UK, and yet I didn't see her Iron Man world-record-breaking event in any news here. Get this: third coming out of the water, took the lead on the bike, then BEAT EVERYBODY INCLUDING ALL THE MEN in the marathon to post a 2:52*. She's never lost a full Iron Man. All this, and international development is her great passion. Wow.
Dean Karnazes, who I interviewed yesterday, is similar in that he has had a life before becoming an athlete. It really shows. He understand how to engage people (and may be the most gifted person I have encountered at that very thing) and to speak to folks from every walk - and run - of life. I made a very conscious effort to come up with a wide range of questions that I didn't think he had been asked before, and the end result was a great interview with a really great guy. He's just… A really good person. It radiates from him, and not in an annoying way at all.
I first looked him up after reading Born To Run, in which the author basically disses Karnazes as a publicity hound. I bought Ultramarathon Man, and enjoyed it a lot. Then I bought 50/50 and it was very good. His new one, 26.2 is even better because he goes into lots of detail about his cock-ups, races that went really really badly – and as I said to him yesterday, that's more interesting for runners because we understand that you don't learn anything by getting it right.
I think the dissing of Dean in Born To Run (still my favourite running book) is fairly out of order - he's doing something very different to most ultra runners out there. He's getting people up, getting them active, and it's working. He's getting off his arse and engaging the world, and saying "Come with me, it's fun, really!" I think that's a great thing to do, and something I try to do myself on a (much) smaller level. He's raised his profile, and is now using it to do good things for a lot of people. I think dissing someone that does that is… Well, I don't agree with it. Doesn't mean I love Born To Run any less - I don't run barefoot either, still love the book.
I'm rambling. The interview went really well, it was a pleasure to do, and I might post some excerpts from it on here depending on what happens with it. One magazine wants a thousand words of it, but there's a lot more than that so I've asked another magazine if they want a Q&A. Fingers crossed.
*Sorry if I go on about this. She rocks.
**My favourite interviews ever are however with film people. Best one ever, Jerry Weintraub, no question. Second favourite, the wonderful Bruce Campbell. Third, Meir Zarchi - as far as I know, I'm still the only person that's ever interviewed him. Overall, though, I think the interview with Dean might top them all. Mind you, the Weintraub one was excellent...