Jack Pitt-Brooke: Instructive and inspirational – Channel 4 strike the Paralympic balance

View From The Sofa: Paralympic Games Channel 4
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The Independent Culture

Channel 4, the masters of light-touch sport, have a difficult job with the Paralympics. Telling the human interest stories is important, but should not be at the expense of the competitive sport.

It is a delicate balance, but was quite well achieved at the weekend. The coverage provided the same mixture of glossy presentation and technical explanation as their famous cricket coverage had. They even had the innovative technology: a colourful set of diagrams to explain the different classifications.

Paralympic sport is a specialist field and so Channel 4 paired their general presenters with those boasting experience and expertise. Clare Balding continued her transformation into the great multi-sport presence on British television, paired here with the fast-talking Athens wheelchair basketball medallist Ade Adepitan.

Jeff Adams, the great Canadian three-time Paralympic gold medallist, was an excellent addition, describing the nature of the challenges on the track. The skills required to excel in the Paralympics will be more remote to most viewers than those at last month's Olympic Games, but Adams spelt out the challenges and the responses, particularly the guided running for partially sighted athletes. Guides who run in step with the guided are hard to find. "I don't think you put an ad up on LinkedIn," Adams noted.

Giles Long himself has three gold medals in Paralympic swimming, from Atlanta and Sydney. He was on hand to describe the dynamics of Ellie Simmonds' winning swim in the S6 400m freestyle, and how the British teenager, born with dwarfism, differed in approach from her great rival Victoria Arlen, paralysed from the stomach downwards with Lyme disease. Simmonds' victory was described by Long as "the best swimming race I have ever seen".

For all the lighter moments, the tone was not just purely congratulatory. The interview with Tom Aggar at Eton Dorney immediately after his failure to win a medal in the single sculls ASM1x was difficult, just as tough as the one with Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase last month after their failure to take the gold in the lightweight double sculls. Sonja McLaughlan described it as the interview she did not want to do: a distraught Aggar said he was "absolutely devastated" after his race "fell apart in the middle" and he "tried to dig deep but there was nothing there". No one could say that on the Channel 4 Paralympics participation alone was enough.

The only time when seriousness slipped into triviality, it was the work of Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic gold medallist. Aggar's final was graced by the presence of Kate Middleton. Edwards referred to her as such. He then briskly retreated and apologised, saying he had been advised only to call her "the Duchess of Cambridge". Why her presence was noteworthy, never mind her name, was not adequately explained.