Suck in that tummy! You ain’t no Olympian

We’ve all been there before.

Walking down the street or shopping for a shirt when we find

ourselves chest-to-belt buckle with some impossibly tall, muscled

platinum member of the human race whose inescapable physical

perfection reminds us that it’s been a few days – er, weeks – uh,

months – since we hit the gym.

At glittering Westfield Mall on the edge of Olympic Park,

uncomfortable encounters between muscle and mush are remarkably

frequent. At least here the Adonises wear team uniforms, so there’s

no mistaking them for regular people who are simply much more fit

than you.

These are Olympians. No wonder they look better than the rest of


Still, it’s hard to hold back feelings of inferiority, whether

you are a girthful Londoner, a pasty journalist or one of the

multitudes of candy apple-shaped tourists who have come from around

the world to witness the games.

Flabbiness knows no borders.

”It’s intimidating,” said Richard Perry, a Londoner buying a

soft, sugared concoction at the mall’s Mr. Pretzel concession stand

Saturday as two mammoth Australian Olympians strutted past. ”It’s

like they are from a different planet.”

Over there are some telegenic water polo players buying coffee

and posing with fans. And wait a second: Isn’t that chiseled

Belgian judo fighter Daniel Fernandes, chatting with a portly

security guard? And here comes a 6-foot-4-inch Russian woman in a

national team tracksuit, window-shopping but refusing questions

with a withering ”nyet.”

Hopefully, when more competitions get under way in the coming

days, these Masters of the Universe will be too busy to shop, and

will remain locked away in the athletes village, where mortals are

not allowed to tread and we are protected from their awesomeness by

a tall metal fence.

It’s not that we resent them. After all, we are here to

celebrate them.

But it’s one thing to watch them throw a javelin and entirely

another to stand waiting behind their hulking presence to buy a

pair of sunglasses, nervously pretending to read something on your


Indeed, the superhuman bodies of many of the men and women

competing in the games are a stark reminder of how far the rest of

us have fallen.

The host country may be expecting a record haul of gold medals

from its world-class athletes, but its people really pack on the

British pounds. This is the fattest country in Europe, with a

quarter of the population officially obese.

A 2009 study found one in six Britons were too lazy to get up to

change the channel if they couldn’t find the remote, and would

instead continue watching a program they were not interested


Americans are even more overweight: More than a third of adults

are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention. And they are sedentary. The average American logs four

hours a day in front of the television, not to mention time spent

online or texting friends.

Perry, the pretzel purchaser, said he was cautiously optimistic

that the Olympic Games would inspire him to shed his modest

middle-aged paunch. Others were unmoved, despite the example set by

the world’s finest athletes.

”They look great,” gushed Lucy Harley, a young Apple Store

employee at the mall who insisted she was comfortable with her

average level of fitness – and realistic about her laziness.

”If I wanted to look like that, I would dedicate more time to

sport,” she shrugged, making it clear she wasn’t about to.

Elsewhere at the $2.75 billion shopper’s paradise,

ticket-holders gorged themselves on dark-chocolate ice-cream pops

and rich cupcakes as big as a basketball player’s fist.

Belt-busting English beer flowed. American-style pizza was served

in all its gooey greatness.

The throngs of diners at the spacious ground-floor McDonald’s

were at least as large and enthusiastic as the crowds that turned

out to watch an Olympic cycling race through the heart of


Some athletes who were window-shopping as they waited for events

to begin were happy to share advice – and words of comfort – with

the mushy multitudes.

”In some sports, like weightlifting, we even have fat

athletes,” offered Marouane M’rabet, a lean Tunisian volleyballer

who was sampling some massage cream that a vivacious sales clerk

was enthusiastically rubbing onto his forearm.

He said anybody who wanted to get in shape should work out for

half an hour a day, and insisted they would notice a difference in

their physique very quickly.

Just don’t expect to look like an Olympian.

”For an athlete? No. Thirty minutes is not enough,” he

laughed. ”This is nothing.”

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