HE BECAME as famous for his on-air gaffes as he was for being the voice of sport.
Broadcaster David Coleman, who commentated on 11 Olympic Games over a career spanning five decades, died at the age of 87 yesterday.
His best known observations included: “That’s the fastest time ever run – but it’s not as fast as the world record.”
The commentator worked for the BBC for 46 years, his final one being Sydney in 2000. He also covered six football World Cups.
His family said last night: “We regret to announce the death of David Coleman OBE, after a short illness he died peacefully with his family at his bedside.”
Fellow commentator Brendan Foster, the former Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist, hailed Coleman as the “greatest sports broadcaster that ever lived”.
Foster said: “David enriched so many lives and that was down to his brilliant commentary and presentation at all the major sporting events of the world.
“In my view, everybody had a David Coleman quote they could use. It could have been about Pele, Charlton, Toshack or Keegan, or just ‘one-nil’.
“It was a privilege to know him, to have him commentating on races during my career, to work with him and to call him a friend.”
Coleman, who was born in Cheshire and joined the BBC in 1954, presented Grandstand and also hosted quiz show A Question Of Sport from 1979 to 1997. Coleman, whose first Olympics was in Rome in 1960, began presenting Grandstand in 1958 and worked on the programme for ten years.
In 1971 he became the BBC’s senior football commentator, covering five FA Cup finals before handing over to John Motson took over in 1979.
His early background in news was also utilised when he calmly and sensitively delivered updates on the tragedy unfolding at the Munich Olympics in 1972, which led to 17 deaths, before later reporting on the memorial held for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
He was awarded an OBE in 1992 and retired from the BBC in 2000. Later that year he became the first broadcaster to receive an Olympic Order medal for his contribution to the Olympic movement. Steve Cram, another athlete turned BBC broadcaster, credited Coleman with helping him in the early stages of his career.
Coleman covered many of Cram’s races and his tussles for world middle-distance supremacy with fellow Britons Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett. Cram said: “When I first came into the British team as a youngster, I would watch back my races and I could tell from his commentaries he knew what he was talking about. When I met him at major championships, such as the Olympics in Moscow in 1980, he would say things that turned out to be incredibly helpful, such as advice on travel and how to deal with the media.
“He had a reputation within broadcasting for being tough and demanding, but I always found him an incredibly generous bloke.
“Yes, he had high standards but I think that came from his athletics background. Broadcasting, like athletics, is in a sense about performance and he wanted to produce the best he could. He used to always tell me that I should endeavour to work with the best to get the best results.”
Denise Lewis, the 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion, added on Twitter: “All my childhood memories of athletics brought to life & made so vivid by one man, one voice. RIP David Coleman.”
Paula Radcliffe, the women’s marathon world-record holder, said: “RIP David Coleman. A true master in his field and voice to so many of our iconic sporting moments.”
British Athletics chairman Ed Warner said: “David has been the voice of some our most memorable moments over the years. A truly iconic broadcaster.”
Gary Lineker paid tribute. The Match of the Day host and former England striker tweeted: “Sad to hear, David Coleman has died. A giant of sports broadcasting. Brilliant, gifted, precise and concise. Much more than ‘one-nil’ #RIP.”
BBC director-general Tony Hall called Coleman “one of this country’s greatest and most respected broadcasters”, while the corporation’s director of sport Barbara Slater described him as “a giant in the sports broadcasting world, an iconic and hugely respected figure”.
Gallery of gaffes: Some of the best quotes from David Coleman:
• “That’s the fastest time ever run – but it’s not as fast as the world record.”
• “He is accelerating all the time. The last lap was run in 64 seconds and the one before that in 62.”
• “There is Brendan Foster, by himself with 20,000 people.”
• “Forest have now lost six matches without winning.”
• “The front wheel crosses the finish line, closely followed by the back wheel.”
• “And the line-up for the final of the women’s 400 metres hurdles includes three Russians, two East Germans, a Pole, a Swede, and a Frenchman.”
• “It’s a great advantage to be able to hurdle with both legs.”
• “If that had gone in, it would have been a goal.”