Commonwealth Games: Man behind mic uplifts crowds

It TAKES a lot to get me back to Glasgow on a day off – back after three nights in a row of last trains, no seats, sweaty armpits, no bevvy, not even what ScotRail insist on calling a “sangwich” – but there I was heading to Gamestown again and the unscheduled detour through Airdrie and Carntyne was never going to dim my enthusiasm.

Simplice Ribouem of Australia competes in the Men's 94kg weightlifting final. Picture: Getty

“Right, kids,” I said, “we’re off to the weightlifting.” Now I know what you’re thinking: that I shouldn’t bother clearing a space on my mantelpiece for the Fun Dad of the Year Award. But you don’t know my children and, I would suggest, you don’t know weightlifting. The kids loved it on the telly from the London Olympics and they loved it even more down at the Armadillo. Thanks to Ron Burgundy for that.

The real Ron? The buffoonish broadcaster from the Anchorman films? For a few delicious moments, I thought it was him. I waited for a Burgundy-ish quote. Maybe “I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal” or “Don’t act like you’re not impressed” or “I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany”. The quote never arrived but no matter. The man at the microphone added hugely to the theatre of the men’s 77kg.

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The announcers at these Games are brilliant. I suppose they’re like TV commentators, who we don’t need when we’re watching sports live that we know all too well, but who are invaluable when, for instance, we’re struggling to tell the difference between a “bomb out” and a “press out”.

But from here on it’s important we distance them from modern commentary styles for minority sports. During the last Winter Olympics, the BBC decided it would be a good idea to treat Sochi like a cross between The Eurovision Song Contest and Jeux Sans Frontieres. The coverage team included comedians and other berks who guffawed at competitors coming a cropper on packed ice at high speed.

Our announcers are enthusiasts of their sports so they’re never going to exploit them for cheap laughs anyway. They seem to belong to a quieter and much less self-regarding age, although admittedly early on I wasn’t sure how these Games were going to pan out.

The first events I covered were the individual triathlons in Strathclyde Park. The announcer, whose name I didn’t catch, was perhaps a little too keen to give us the benefit of his “wacky” sense of humour. Maybe he was Coatbridge FM’s answer to Alan Partridge. But, to be fair to him, he deferred often to his co-host, an obvious triathlon expert, and he perfectly judged the mood of the crowd, which was a generosity of spirit towards all competitors, and especially those serious stragglers from very hot lands who’d expected Glasgow to be “absolutely baltic” in July, rather than a place for “taps aff”.

Glasgow’s announcers are informative without being tedious, pro-Team Scotland without being jingoistic and – in the case of Ron Burgundy at least – funny without even trying. “Loaders – more weight, please” isn’t funny written down, but you should have heard the punters mimic our man as they filed out of the Armadillo after the four-hour morning session and you should hear my kids do it even now.

That’s not the weightlifting announcer’s real name, of course. I called him that at first because he sounded like a broadcaster from some constantly-striving part of North America, such as Burgundy’s San Diego. Now, because I’ve tracked him down, I know him to be Richard Mason. I should say Burgundy was a lazy comparison based on the accent. Mason, during those four hours and the following day when I went back to watch the women lifters, never came close to uttering anything so bumptious. Indeed, he had to have his arm twisted before agreeing to speak to me.

He’s 49, Canadian, a former newsreader in constantly-striving Winnipeg, who’s married to an ex-weightlifter, Susanne Dandernault, who just missed a Commonwealth medal in Manchester. “In order to see a bit of my wife, I thought I’d better get involved in the sport,” he explained. “I’m not clever enough to be a coach or strong enough to be a competitor but I thought I could maybe officiate. I’m now a Category 1 judge and in Glasgow I’m that as well as what we call the speaker. I can’t believe ‘Loaders, more weight please’ has become a catchphrase. And your kids really sat through the whole morning? Jeez … ”

Mason has Scottish ancestry through a grandfather. When the Glasgow gig came up he jumped at it and he has wasted no time in looking up cousins in Buchlyvie that he’d never met before. But remarkably, despite a delivery that is polished without being over-Brasso-ed, this is his very first competition. “Weightlifting isn’t a very demonstrative sport but there are little bits of drama in there for sure,” he added. “I guess it’s my job to help spread them through the hall.”

I don’t really know why I like weightlifting. I’m not impressed by big muscles or shows of strength. But there’s a gloomy furtiveness to the sport which reminds me of what snooker halls used to be like, before TV shone a big light on them.

That’s very appealing, and quite Scottish I suppose, given that lithe limbs in a sun-kissed setting isn’t our usual thing. As Mason would have it: “Gooood liffftting!”