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What can you learn from an Olympian’s tattoos?

Tattoos are way past the point of being rebellious, but they always give you a clue to their owner’s mentality. James Ellington, who ran in the 200m heats, has tattoos all over his arms and upper torso. They read “Vittorioso” (victorious) and Victory Loves Preparation, while another refers to the finishing line via the game of chess: “After the game the king and the pawn go into the same box.” It seems appropriate that Ellington’s entire upper body is a canvas for his devotion to running given that, so desperate was he to secure funding to train full-time, he once opened sponsorship bids up on eBay. Sadly, Ellington came sixth in the heats, though you suspect it would take more than this to stop him.

Swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are among the athletes who sport the five Olympic rings as a permanent reminder of their excellence, which shows not only a commitment to the cause but also a disappointing lack of imagination. In contrast, the cycling star Victoria Pendleton once told an interviewer she hated racing and almost quit the sport two years ago. You get the impression toeing the party line doesn’t suit Pendleton’s mentality. Inked on her wrist are the words: “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known,” a line from the Smashing Pumpkins’ song Today, though its follow-up line, “can’t wait for tomorrow, I might not have that long”, seems even more prescient given that the cyclist plans to retire after London 2012.

It’s not just athletes who opt for a permanent marker of the Games. Jerri Peterson decided to honour her time as a torchbearer by getting her arm inked. Unfortunately, her tattoo artist forgot to spellcheck and Peterson has ended up with “Oylmpic torchbearer” forever etched into her skin. In the spirit of the Games, Peterson put a positive spin on it, telling the BBC: “It’s the Oy-limpics – it’s as unique as I am.”

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