January 4, 2013 6:07 pm

A year in a word: Mobot

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A daft ritual that defined the games

(noun) sign made by putting both hands on top of the head to form an M shape, popularised by the double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah

It used to be enough for sportsmen to go about their business and allow their performances to illuminate their personalities. By 2012, with sport and showbiz merging into one giant entity, that was no longer enough. Footballers had to have their own personal goal celebrations. Darts players and even cricketers stepped into the limelight to their own choice of music.

Track and field athletes found it hard to keep up with this new world. Barring drugs scandals, athletics gets little attention for the non-Olympic three years and 50 weeks of any four-year cycle. Then, at Beijing in 2008, the sprinter Usain Bolt became a superstar by not just dominating the games but by also unveiling his “lightning bolt” gesture.

Almost four years later, a mobot was still a term for a mobile robot. And the abbreviation for the Missouri Botanical Garden. Then Mo Farah, an athlete of much promise but little profile, appeared on a sports quiz on one of Rupert Murdoch’s British satellite channels.

James Corden, the host, said Farah needed his own gesture to mark his victory “when” he won at the London Olympics. Another guest, Clare Balding, suggested the M, as delivered during the Village People’s “YMCA”. Corden christened it. Another Murdoch outlet, The Sun, reported the story. Balding went on to anchor the BBC’s Olympic coverage. Media incest or what?

Farah then track-tested the gesture at the British Olympic trials. He did it in a heat, not the final, and before winning the race. “Disrespectful,” said one of his toiling rivals. But when he unleashed the mobot on the mass market, his timing was perfect: after victory in the 10,000 metres in front of a packed stadium of very temporarily hyped-up Britons. The mobot, said The Telegraph, was “a daft bonce-slapping ritual”. But the media soon stopped being disrespectful. A week later, when Farah won a second gold in the 5,000 metres, The Telegraph claimed all 80,000 spectators had joined in – not quite my recollection.

Farah’s celebrity had resonance beyond sport. It was an unprecedented triumph for Britain’s least-understood ethnic bloc, the Somalis. Here, it seemed, was the perfect role model for 21st-century Britain. And yet, a week ago, when knighthoods were handed out in the New Year’s Honours, Farah surprisingly missed out. Did the mysterious committee, a bastion of the old values, decide the mobot was rather de trop, a bit infra dig? I think it might have done.

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