Team GB's track and field stars have a lot going for them, as well as commitment, talent and success. They're also a likeable lot.
I was fortunate enough to be a sports writer for more than 10 years ("You don't look old enough." "I am." "Really?" "Yes." "Please continue." "I will."), and often singled out athletes as the nicest group of sportspeople to interview. It's a sweeping generalisation, granted, but time and again it proved correct. From Mo Farah to Jess Ennis, Marlon Devonish to Kelly Sotherton and beyond, they were down-to-earth, accessible, articulate and interesting.
Whether it was because they were pursuing a dream for relatively little money, they hadn't been media-trained to within an inch of their lives, they spent so much time on their own and were glad of the conversation or because many of them were educated, they invariably made for good copy. Granted, the media spotlight is nowhere near as intense as it is for footballers, which allowed them to be more candid, yet so likeable were athletes that you wished you could have granted them more column inches. You couldn't, however, because of the F-word. In Britain, football is the public's first love. It's a strained relationship, granted, but the bond remains.
Surely it would be good if that could change. Even just a little bit. Given how bloated football has become, it is hoped that Britain's athletes can turn their latest love affair with the public into something more meaningful than a quadrennial fling. After all, you could make a case that athletics is the sport we should settle down and have children with, but the reality is that we'll be back in football's abusive arms within two weeks. Another new kit? Ticket prices are how much? Does he really need to roll about like that? Should this punditry not be better? Ssshhh... just grin and bear it. It's football. You like football. One reason that football is the nation's No1 is because it's tribal: my town is better than your town. It's a tradition that has gone on for generations and, as a result, football is woven into the nation's DNA. You're not going to get 30,000 Birchfield Harriers fans jumping on a train every other week.
One advantage UK Athletics has over football, however, is the popularity, quality and likeability of
its stars. For too long Britain has idolised average footballers. Why? Because it's all we had. In Jess, Mo and the gang, however, we have the real deal: they're winning in every sense. Marketing these amiable individuals is crucial, starting with the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham on 26 August.
Of course, much also rests in the hands of the athletes themselves; if athletics is to remain in the hearts and minds of the public beyond the Olympics, the stars of track & field must not repeat mistakes made in other sports.
England winning the rugby union World Cup in 2003 was a wonderful achievement, but several top rugby writers subsequently claimed that the victory soured their relationship with the game's top stars forever. They became more aloof and less accessible. Complacency also crept in. Yes, they reached the final four years later, but, in truth, England have never been the same side since. The England cricket team took their eye off the ball following the Ashes win in 2005, suffering a humiliating whitewash in Australia in 2007. The good times did return, thanks largely to Andy Flower's steady hand on the tiller.
And then there is the England football team, who repeatedly prove that hosting and winning a major event is no guarantee of future success (how the FA must wince every time they see that medal table and compare it to their own embarrassing tally of one major final). Time and again England let us down; time and again we, the public, take them back, convincing ourselves things will be all right next time. "There, there. It's the World Cup in two years."
Athletics is different. We love them and they love us back. It feels right. Indeed, as long as funding continues, the only thing standing in the way of athletics - and indeed cycling and rowing - being elevated above the status of a once-every-four-years love-in is that great British disease: smugness. Britons make wonderful losers, but often terrible winners. Team GB doesn't want to be clinging to 2012 in the same way England desperately still cling to 1966. Beijing 2008 was brilliant; London 2012 even better. Let's try top it at Rio 2016.
2012 has long been cited as the end of the world - let's hope that for UK Athletics, and indeed Team GB, that it's merely the beginning.
Follow James Gill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamesgillcomedy