An Olympic or Paralympic Mixed Zone is not a place for the faint-hearted, whether you are an interviewer, an athlete or someone whose job it is to somehow manage the series of post-competition interviews that happen there.
The Mixed Zone often looks like little more than a series of fences or unprepossessing barriers, usually located directly next to the field of play. It is often the first place an athlete goes within seconds of the biggest moments of their career.
There, as they cope with the emotional, physical and mental aftermath of competition, sports people are introduced to a line of broadcasters and then written press. They conduct a series of interviews, each of which is timed at roughly a minute to 90 seconds. Short, sharp, raw and full of feeling, these ‘flash’ interviews can showcase athletes at their best and their worst.
Both Faye and I have been lucky enough to have spent most of this past summer in Mixed Zones at various events and witnessed first-hand many of London 2012’s most accomplished performers giving their post-event interviews. It has been fascinating to watch those who used those magical 90 seconds to enhance their reputation, engage with the global audience and grab a place in the public consciousness - and those who did not.
Double Olympic Gold medallist Laura Trott is a good example of someone who made the most of her moment in the Velodrome Mixed Zone. Given her engaging, smiling performances in those brief but important moments post- race, it’s no surprise to see Trott emerge from London 2012 as one of the country’s favourite new sports stars. Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis began the Olympics with very high profiles, but their media performances post-event certainly increased the impact of their impressive achievements on the field of play.
Others used their Mixed Zone moments less wisely. Every athlete that marched through without stopping (often, sadly, on the basis of poor advice from team members, coaches and even press attaches) missed an opportunity to connect with fans and potential sponsors. As they return to the real post-London 2012 world of reduced sports funding and the ever-more difficult search for sponsorship, they may regret rushing to chat to their family or coach when they could have spared a few moments en route to get some invaluable media exposure for themselves and their sport.
Oscar Pistorious came into the Paralympics as a much- loved and hugely respected athlete but he may regret denting his reputation with comments made in the Mixed Zone after he suffered a shock to defeat to Brazil’s Alain Oliviera in the T44 200-metre sprint. At the time, Pistorious possibly felt entirely justified in suggesting that Oliviera’s blades were of an unfair length (though the International Paralympic Committee refuted his claim) but he felt moved to apologise afterwards. Apology or not, those comments, made while he was still catching his breath and digesting defeat, could follow Pistorious for years to come.
As anyone familiar with The Emilia Group’s work will know, we are big advocates of preparing athletes for every different media scenario they might expect to face. Using our experiences from this summer and other major events we have worked, we are now putting together a series of workshops designed to help sportspeople understand how a Mixed Zone works and how to make the most of those important 90-second snatches of air-time. Elite sport - and you don’t get much more elite than the Olympics and Paralympics - is all about taking opportunities and for smart athletes, the Mixed Zone is full of those.