nicknames353

Bok Choy and the Missile.

You have to wonder whether James Magnussen's underwhelming performance at the 'Lympics so far wasn't sealed the moment he was dubbed the "Missile" and the universe decided to punish him for crimes against originality.

Ian Thorpe got away with "Thorpedo" because it was clever and, as Time magazine noted, "so apt, so obvious, that it would be absurd not to acknowledge" it. He also won more gold medals than Henschke's Hill of Grace shiraz but, in the end, he too could have been accused of derivation.

Soviet sprint swimmer Alexander Popov got the moniker the "Russian Rocket" during his career in the 90s (four Olympic gold, five silver) and Aussie legend Murray Rose (four Olympic gold, one silver, one bronze) copped the "Seaweed Streak" during his domination in the 50s because of his vegetarian (including seaweed) diet.

Speed, it seems, requires superlatives, often martial - see Michael Phelps aka the "Baltimore Bullet" and Jesse Owens, the "Buckeye Bullet" - or, a place name so we lay-people know from which direction said athlete has hurtled; thus our Marjorie Jackson was known as the "Lithgow Flash" and Eric "Chariots of Fire" Liddell, the "Flying Scotsman".

Like all good nicknames, I reckon the owners of these had little say in their bestowal, which is what you want.

The best nicknames, by and large, come from family, friends or, better still, enemies - because they know you well and their shrewdness and brutality leads to gems like my mate "Wagon", known forever thus because he was uncircumcised (i.e. he had a covered wagon).

This is what is lacking with many media-generated nicknames - they often hold little insight.

While some, like those above, can hit the mark and be apt as well as intimidating - Greg Norman's "Great White Shark" also springs to mind, as well as Australia's 1980 Olympic gold-medal winning men's 4x100m medley relay team "The Mean Machine" - they can also breed unrealistic expectations.

We all know of the new kid who turned up at high school half way through Year 10 and told us his nickname was "Love Daddy" and ended up being called "Buzzer" cos he's got his hand on it.

A bad nickname can ruin you.

How many guys do you know who've had their sex lives cruelled for a decade by monikers like "Rash", "Fishstick", "Boof", "Drongo" or "Damper ... cos he's half-bred".

This is why I almost kinda sorta feel sorry for the "Missile".

Though his nickname is nowhere near as bad as current Olympic shockers like "Dolphin face" or "Baby Horse", I can't help wonder if Magnussen would have been better served by something a little smaller calibre, perhaps "BB" or even "Magnum" - just until, you know, he'd won something.

He probably had little say in the fashioning of his nickname and now he has to live (at least for four more years) with a million different versions of the "missile fails to launch" joke.

Eamon Sullivan, Magnussen's team mate in the 4x100m freestyle squad, the so-called "Weapons of Mass Destruction", was well aware of the mock that had been placed on them, tweeting before their ill-fated final: "Who came up with 'weapons of mass destruction' for the name of our relay team?! Wasn't us! Anyone have any better names?"

For low-key inspiration, Sullivan needed only look to the man who out-touched "The Missile" in the individual 100m freestyle by 1/100th of a second, American Nathan Adrian.

His nickname? 

Bok Choy.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.