Last Night's Viewing: Victoria Pendleton: Cycling's Golden Girl, BBC1
The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, Channel 4
Always warm-up first. The BBC understand this First Commandment of athletic preparation and so as the Olympics approach – a massive fixture for the armchair sportsman – they traditionally lay on a schedule of light stretching and eyeball calisthenics to get us ready for the main event.
There hasn't been a night this week so far without a sports documentary – surreptitiously keying up the headline races and refreshing the narrative for those to whom the sports pages are an alien territory – and last night it was Victoria Pendleton's turn in the spotlight. And what a star she turned out to be. I don't know anything about her technical skills as a sprint cyclist (and Victoria Pendleton: Cycling's Golden Girl didn't tell us much either), but when it comes to sporting soap opera she's surely unbeatable.
Like the profile of Usain Bolt on Monday night, Daniel Gordon's film wove together a career history with recent Olympic preparations. Unlike the Usain Bolt film the central subject cried a lot. What was fascinating about it – for a viewer not already captivated by every detail of track cycling, at least – was Pembleton's odd combination of everyday normality and emotional fragility. At track side, she's perfectly capable of putting a brave face on things and churning out the usual sporting clichés, as we saw from archive footage. But one-to-one with the camera in confessional mode and she appeared to hide very little. She made no bones about the fact that an Olympic gold medal has a dark side to go with the shiny one.
"It just happened," she said of her cycling career, explaining that her competitiveness was probably a result of her twin brother's childhood illness (she had to compete to get some attention) and her father's drive. There was a distinct edge to her recollections of what the boilerplate profile would probably call his "unfailing support": "It was stick all the way. It wasn't the carrot it was always the stick," she said. In a telling moment, her father showed the camera the framed 2005 World Championship jersey she'd dedicated to him and what came across most strongly was not paternal pride but personal regret that he didn't have one of his own. Hardly surprisingly Pembleton had issues with authority. After training with the French coach Frédéric Magné (not a man for the carrot, by the sound of it), she got so depressed that the British team sent out their psychiatrist to talk her through the low.
Then she fell in love with her coach, Scott Gardner, which was tough on her, him and everyone else in the team, but a top-of-the-podium result for those of us who enjoy a bit of back story with our sport. It sounds like it was EastEnders on wheels, with the entire coaching team going off on one when the relationship was revealed. Old friendships broke up and our heroine was heartbroken at the very moment she should have been celebrating one of her greatest triumphs – winning an Olympic Gold in Beijing.
Apparently, things have calmed down a bit now. Scott Gardner, her partner, is back on the coaching team and she's fully geared up for a blazing exit in London, defeating her long-time rival Anna Meares for one last time. I'll watch, too, now I've been warmed up. I know who she'll be kissing afterwards if she wins and that her dad will be secretly thinking, "It should have been me."
Parental ambition, youthful sporting stardom and the vagaries of training also featured in The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, a funny and engaging portrait of the Knight family, who run the World Association of Wrestling out of a council house in Norwich. The Victoria Pembleton of this set-up was 18-year-old Saraya, who got a contract to fight for WWE in Florida. Tactfully, nobody mentioned the fact that wrestling really is sport as soap opera.
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