Normally it takes years, if not decades to train to be an Olympic athlete. However, the celebrity contestants on ITV’s The Games have just five weeks to prepare to compete across 10 track and field sports before going head-to-head on live TV to win the gold medal.
The 12 super-fit celebrities will battle it out over a week of live programming from May 9, competing in events including diving, cycling, running and weightlifting, each trying to rack up enough points to get them to the top of the medals table and crowned Champion of The Games 2022.
“To do a show like this, you need to have real commitment and drive,” explains The Games presenter Holly Willoughby, 41.
“They’re a really fantastic bunch. There are 12 of them, there are 10 events they’re going to be competing in, so there’s a lot for them to do. But ultimately, one of them will be crowned the champion.”
Preparing to hit the athletics track, dive into the swimming pool and climb onto the bike saddle are ex-Love Islanders Wes Nelson and Olivia Attwood, Emmerdale actor Rebecca Sarker, former Coronation Street star Ryan Thomas, Harry Potter actor Josh Herdman, model and autism ambassador Christine McGuinness, The Wanted star Max George, footballer and singer-songwriter Chelcee Grimes, ex-Strictly pro Kevin Clifton, Corrie actor Colson Smith, ITV newsreader Lucrezia Millarini, and influencer, model and daughter of Spice Girl Mel B, Phoenix Brown.
Joining Willoughby as a live host is former international cricketer Freddie Flintoff, while ex-England footballer and TV presenter Alex Scott will be trackside reporter, getting all the action as it happens, and former footballer Chris Kamara will commentate.
They’ll be joined by YouTube star and sports fan Yung Filly, Olympic commentator Simon Brotherton, and a panel of sporting legends each night, with the week ending in a thrilling final that will crown one male winner and one female winner.
So, how are our celebs coping with the pressure of the competition so far in their training?
“Competition, for me, brings out the best and the worst,” laughs The Games host and cricket star Flintoff, 44.
“As a sportsman, I thrived on competition – I always thought it was ‘win at all costs’. But spending time with the lads last week, when I went to watch them do the hammer and the hurdles, everyone’s encouraging each other, getting on really nicely, supporting each other.
“But there is that underlying competition, where everybody wants to win.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see how each person adapts,” Flintoff adds. “I think everyone’s looking at a different discipline and thinking, ‘That’s the one where I’ll excel’.
Colson likes the canoeing, the kayaking, Christine McGuinness has the weightlifting, Wes on the hurdle. There’s a real cross-section.”
Musician and former Love Islander Nelson, 24, has elite sporting prowess in his blood. His brother, Curtis, is a professional footballer and he has two Olympian sprinter cousins – though he says the only advice they’ve offered him is to “run fast, and don’t get injured”.
Also doing well, Flintoff reveals, is Coronation Street star Smith, 23, who only really got into sport when he took up running during lockdown. Emmerdale’s Sarker, 46, is also among the hosts’ favourites to win.
“The thing is, I am not sporty!” Sarker disputes. “I don’t feel sporty, I never was sporty at school. I’m active, but that’s not the same as sporty – sporty involves skill, I feel. And competitiveness. I don’t think I have either of those.
“But I’m learning – I’m 46, it’s never too late!”
Ex-Love Island star Attwood, 31, is facing a unique personal challenge in competing in The Games. As a teenager, she competed in long distance running at county and national level before having to confront a “really sad end to sport”.
“I got really over-trained, and I was super underweight,” she explains. “I ended up having an enlarged valve in my heart from too much training. It all ended really suddenly and horribly.”
It took her years to even get back in the gym, having adopted a negative attitude towards sport in general. “Sport was my life,” she says, “and this was like coming back to an environment that I’d shut the door on. It was really emotional, the first day of being on the track, and it took a while to get back into running at pace like that.
“I’d never run like that in normal life, unless I was being chased by a murderer – or if there was a sale on!”
Also facing a challenge in the competition is actor Josh Herdman, who played Gregory Goyle in the Harry Potter films before launching a career in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – an inherently injury-prone sport.
“I broke my ankle in three places and dislocated it when I was 18, basically my whole foot separated from my leg,” Herdman says, describing a painful fighting-related injury. “I’ve got a metal plate in there, screws, pins, it’s like Robo-foot!
“It’s caused little niggles – I’ve got limited flexibility in that ankle – but the physio said there are actually a lot of pros who have metalwork in their legs, and it’s doable. I’m doing alright.”
As a professional dancer, Kevin Clifton, 39, is no stranger to taxing cardio workouts, but The Games will be less about fancy footwork and more about brute strength and agility.
“People keep going, ‘Oh, you’re a dancer, you’ll be brilliant at all the events’, but I’m like, ‘I’m not sure how the paso doble translates to any of this!’”
Despite his dancefloor background, Clifton says the event he’s enjoying most so far is climbing – a hobby he reckons he’ll keep up after the show ends.
“I really didn’t think I was going to, but I’m quite enjoying the climbing,” he says. “I’ve got mates that go climbing all the time, and I’m always like, ‘You go and do that, I’ll stay and watch the football and I’ll see you after!’
“I thought it was going to be a bit of a nightmare, but actually I’m really enjoying it. I might keep it up.”
Each of the contestants, regardless of their background, has had to put their all into the gruelling training weeks ahead of the live shows.
“It has been a real commitment to learn so many different disciplines in a short amount of time, and to take on all of that information,” says The Games’ trackside reporter, ex-footballer Alex Scott. “But it’s going to be different for every single one of them.”
One thing’s for sure: They’re all bursting with a competitive spirit and raring to take on the challenge, with that coveted gold medal a motivational twinkle in their eyes.
The Games starts on Monday, May 9 on ITV.