Matt Butler: Bring out the parachutes, there's a bloke in an orange wig lost in the fog

View From The Sofa: Great Birmingham Run, Channel 5
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The Independent Culture

Mocking Channel Five for its sports coverage was once fish-in-barrel territory. But, as many Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool fans can attest to, the quality of the broadcaster's Europa League presentations has been more than adequate.

But, if yesterday's coverage of the Great Birmingham Run was anything to go on, Five should stick to footy. The coverage of the latest in the series of mass-participation half-marathons made as much sense as a rotund bloke in an orange wig and leotard opting to run a 13.1-mile race. Of which there were more than a few in Birmingham yesterday.

In their defence, the broadcast was delayed by fog; more specifically, a fog-bound helicopter, the purpose of which was not clear, as there was nary an aerial shot to be seen in the 90-minute presentation.

Coverage was due to begin at 10am, 10 minutes before the elite athletes, who included half-marathon world record-holder Zersenay Tadese, started the race.

But Katharine Merry appeared in a misty Victoria Square in central Birmingham at two minutes to 10 with the news that "we were expecting to bring you coverage" and the ominous caveat that the backstage staff would "do their best" to show pictures of people running in half an hour. In the meantime, we were treated to an episode of How Do They Do It? which – with unintended irony, we presume – featured a segment on safety parachutes.

The rules for covering athletics endurance events are simple: be there for the start and finish. So for a flustered Merry to welcome viewers as the elite athletes are hitting the five-mile mark is a little redundant. And with no live shots of skinny people crossing start lines, it proved to be the cue for some epic padding not seen since Adrian Chiles' verbal acrobatics during England's washout in Poland last Tuesday.

Between 10.30 and 12 minutes to 11 there was ample time for concerned faces, waffling and a host of ums, errs and uncomfortable silences. After Merry and David Moorcroft's elongated introduction, we had Eilidh Barbour stumbling through an interview with Robbie Grabarz, the 2012 Olympic high jump bronze medallist, who fired the starting gun. Questions included: "Are you cold?"

Then we crossed back to Merry and Moorcroft to witter on about the climax to the "great summer of sport" (how many climaxes does one Olympic summer need? Will we still be looking misty-eyed back to Stratford if the England cricket team win in India over Christmas?) and how the "atmosphere is building". Which was an unfortunate phrase, given the soupy fog hanging behind them.

Finally, at 10.48, it was time to cross to the start, as live. Shame the runners had started 38 minutes previously. And, in this age of social media and as-it-happens online updates, following the race was as anticipation-filled as watching the last 10 minutes of The Sixth Sense then rewinding to the beginning.

They did manage to capture the exciting sprint finish, in which Kenya's Micah Kogo edged past the Ethiopian debutant at the distance, Abera Kuma, in a fraction of a second over an hour, with Tadese in third. But by the time we got to see it, the trio will have showered, been massaged and back on the shuttle bus back to the hotel.