The politics of totemic sporting heroes and the conquest of Everest


  • Paul Gilchrist University of Brighton


sporting hero, masculinity, British imperialism, Everest, mountaineering


This article prepares the conceptual ground for understanding the sporting hero. It focuses upon the totemic logic of the sporting hero; the social, cultural and political conditions that bring the hero into being. This position is elaborated through a review of an interdisciplinary literature and a discussion of the British sporting hero. In particular, the essay focuses upon ideas and legacies of the heroic that have emerged through attempts to conquer Everest, as a heightened symbolic site for the continued generation of British imperial aspirations and heroic masculinities. It culminates with an examination of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who in 1953 ascended Everest, but whose case is illustrative of the powerful associations suggested by the totemic approach. However, Norgay’s example is also used as a reminder of the assumed relationships and associations between the hero and society. It cautions that we balance continuities and complexities in future studies of the sporting hero, and that we remain sensitive to the constructedness of the sporting hero, experienced through history and by collectives and individuals.