Olympics 2020: Sam Quek and Dan Walker have been a tough watch but don't get me started on Bradley Wiggins in cat-just-died breeks
I get that these Games have been difficult for the Corporation, that they haven’t had as much sport to show - 350 hours compared with 3,000 from Rio - and that they’ve mostly been stuck in Salford, which isn’t in Japan.
I get all that and I sympathise. Big sport is all about money - big, big money - and the International Olympic Committee sold Tokyo 2020 to pay-TV and Discovery long ago.
Still, the morning bulletin with Dan Walker and Sam Quek? It’s been a tough watch. Not wanting to insult the athletes, I’ve refrained from making a comparison with the marathon, the 10,000 metres and - this news just in - the 15,000 metres. Did you know about this distance? Quek seemed to think it was happening on Friday and that it would feature Laura Muir.
Bloopers occur on TV live. I get that too. And Quek appeared to top her entry for Colemanballs a short while later in conversation with Holly Bradshaw, gushing her admiration for the latter having cleared the high-jump bar to win gold for Team GB. “Pole vault,” corrected Walker.
For the uninitiated, Walker is a regular host of the Beeb’s usual Breakfast show, a happy-clappy production which performs the remarkable feat of making the state broadcaster come across as parish-pump as it celebrates the ickle, the cute and the tremendously tedious. As a general news programme it’s only slightly less embarrassing now because Piers Morgan is no longer on ITV aiming Goldfinger’s industrial laser at snivelling politicians’ goolies.
Quek is a member of the victorious Team GB women’s hockey team from Rio who’s being fast-tracked into presenting, not just sport but possibly beyond, if the “fans” who reportedly want her teaming up with Walker every morning beyond the Olympics get their way.
Ex-sportspeople beating a path to TV studios when their race is run has been happening for a while but most try to be pundits. Presenting is different, far more challenging than it appears and a skill seemingly underappreciated by the Beeb bosses who have thrust Quek and former footballer Alex Scott into the spotlight these past two weeks.
Less sport available to the Corporation has meant more chat has been needed but the “bants” between Scott and Clare Balding in the evenings have, if anything, been more excruciating than that involving Walker and Quek. A friend from the touchline where we watch our sons play football admitted the other day that the awkwardness of these pairings had stressed him out so much that he’d deserted the Beeb for Eurosport’s take on the Olympics, although this has meant being confronted by the unedifying spectacle of Bradley Wiggins in cat-just-died breeks which should only really be worn by men 20 years younger, if at all.
Presenting should not make us cringe to such a degree. It’s like Scott and especially Quek have been shadowing the professionals, only instead of this happening on a training course in Hemel Hempstead or somewhere, with the newbies being filmed and having the chance to watch themselves back at the end, their stilted efforts are being broadcast to the nation.
I suppose that remark about trouser lengths reveals my age. I can go all the way back to Mexico 1968 when the time difference forced the Beeb to open up the airwaves at breakfast and Frank Bough brought us Dick Fosbury, Bob Beamon and the Black Power sprinters - radicals all - who I watched wolfing down Pop-Tarts before rushing off to school.
But was Alan Weeks as parochial and frivolous and keen to compare the Games Village to school dorms like the Olympics coverage now? Was David Vine? I don’t think so and we all knew that the great David Coleman wasn’t any of these things.
Note, though: I am not complaining about Scott’s accent. Dropping the odd g doesn’t bother me in the way that diving commentator Leon Taylor’s reliance on one vowel bothers me (“Oooooooooo!”). I like Scott on football when she’s a pundit but I repeat: anchoring sports coverage is an art. And Des Lynam was a master.
The Beeb will think they cannot win. They get criticised when throwing vast sums of money at big broadcasts (eg Glastonbury) and the production credits at the end run on longer than for a Michael Bay blockbuster. Now they’re being criticised for this slimmed-down coverage.
But it’s only the actual sport that’s been reduced. There have still been great, yawning plains of programming. If we, the viewers, had been able to leave the chatter behind and, as at previous Games, travel via the red button round many different venues and competitions, then maybe the chumminess, tweeness and wokeness wouldn’t have been such an issue (though these are officially recognised Beeb styles for much of the current output right across the spectrum).
Still, it’s not been all bad. Hazel Irvine has had a good - no, quietly great - Games. And nothing can spoil diamond moments like Laura Muir’s silver medal heroics. I missed a contribution from Phil Jones, the Beeb’s doughty trackside veteran, replaced by another recently retired athlete, Jeanette Kwakya, but Steve Cram delivered a commentary befitting Muir’s run and Gabby Logan encapsulated the moment of triumph back in the studio. “It’s like a cork has been popped,” she said, referring to the great tumble of words from our girl. Here is a sportswoman who doesn’t play the personality game - “We don’t hear a lot about the rest of her life,” added Logan. Not frivolous, then, and probably not likely to turn up in a TV studio when she finally hangs up her spikes.
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