Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua – two prodigious sportsmen at the top of their game fresh on the back of important career victories. Hamilton has clinched his fourth world title in Mexico and Joshua knocked out Carlos Takam to retain IBF and WBA heavyweight titles. In boxing, the combative personality of Joshua seems to be more accepted than that of Hamilton. The formula one driver has been a more controversial figure – at times to the detriment of potential sponsorship deals. The reality, though, is that world champions like these two must be accepted for what they are – compulsive winners totally committed to their art.
Usain Bolt, for example, oozes confidence and, as such, is one of the most popular global sporting superstars, earning sponsorship contracts with Virgin, Gatorade and Hublot. Forbes estimate these deals earn Bolt over $30m a year. Crucially alongside this, though, he has total self-effacement in training. Cristiano Ronaldo, another created in the same mould, once asserted “everyone can improve in training”. To be the best in a respective sport, these characteristics are absolutely necessary; a willingness to believe you can always improve in training, but total self-assurance in the defining moments. Which brings us back to two of the most hotly discussed sportsmen in Britain at the moment; Anthony Joshua and Lewis Hamilton.
Boxing is a sport which thrives on showmanship and bravado, viewers identify with a boxer who can demonstrate these attributes – just look at how Muhammed Ali is revered as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time. The Anthony Joshua StubHub advert, in which this concept of self-sacrifice is explored, demonstrates how potential sponsors can take advantage of the sport in this way. Joshua’s ferocious training regime is depicted as the key to his success, and therefore the audience can accept a degree of arrogance in Joshua’s manner.
For Hamilton in F1, this is not the case. He’s a winner and an obsessive, but the majority of the public cannot identify with Hamilton’s self-sacrifice in the same way they do with Joshua’s. The arrogant persona is less accepted, because all Hamilton does is drive a fast car right? Add in his rich boy life hanging out with Hollywood stars, flying on private jets and faux American accent – it all creates a fairly unsavoury cocktail for us as viewers. Is it any surprise therefore that Hamilton does not attract the same level public enthusiasm that Joshua does?
After his victory in Mexico, Hamilton is statistically the most successful British driver in the history of the sport. Hamilton’s first response afterwards – “I want number five.” In his sport, this makes him come across as smug – but the reality is he is demonstrating an insatiable appetite for more success. Compare this to the comparatively popular figure of Anthony Joshua. Immediately after battering Carlos Takam, Joshua’s eye was on who to fight next: “it’s Anthony Joshua versus the world right now”, he said assuredly. These could just as easily be the words of Hamilton. In boxing, this kind of mentality thrives, and as such Joshua has lucrative deals with Beats, Apple, Lucozade, Sky Sports and Under Armour. Hamilton too has his lucrative deals, but his brands lack the cultural relevance of Joshua’s.
The reality is that Joshua and Hamilton are cut from the same cloth – they are champions. To be the best you need to be a slightly weird, isolated yet outstandingly self-confident character. You have to be willing to do the tedious, and often peculiar, training regime when everyone else is out having fun. It is well-known Hamilton was utterly obsessed with driving since he was a child – he was willing to spend that extra hour training when his friends were out playing. Sir Don Bradman, one of the greatest Test Batsmen of all time who had an average more than 50% higher than his nearest competitor, was a similar character. As a child he used to spend an hour everyday consistently using a cricket stump to hit a golf ball against a water tank.
To be magnanimous goes against the nature of these individuals, and we as a public should not rush to criticise them so quickly for displaying hubris. It is in their character to be so, and were it not they would not be the champions they are.