A day's hard labour with the Chang gang
Sport on TV
Sunday 19 January 1997
There was a chunk of the Chang-bang after lunch on Sport on Friday (BBC2), and some more in a hurriedly contrived International Tennis Special at six o'clock on the same channel. If you wanted live coverage of the match, the BBC were a dead loss: nothing on television and little snippets between hours of reactive guff on Radio Five "Live", which incessantly proclaims that it deals in "news and sport from the BBC" but rarely produces much of either.
Sky had missed out on this one as well (are they short of contacts Down Under?) so Eurosport scooped the pool, and their coverage did them credit. Just the odd blip, like the moment when John Barrett noted that a group of Henman supporters were "here in Australia I think originally to support our British cricketers". A couple of points: there is a British cricket team Down Under, but they are called England, and they are two thousand miles away from Melbourne, in New Zealand. Anyhow, if the guys get their kicks from watching English losers, they were in the right place after all.
Perhaps they were British cricket lovers who wanted to see a high- quality game. The unofficial world championship of Test cricket is under way between the West Indies and the host nation, Australia, but not a single ball has been seen on British screens. There is no shortage of airtime - think how many hours of darts we have been treated to this year - just a shortage of imagination on the part of our broadcasters.
Sue Barker fronted the BBC's later tennis programme, all pink and smiley and fluffy, like something you might win at a coconut shy. Her guest was Greg Rusedski, and the two engaged in the kind of who-can-be-nicest contest that can set your teeth on edge.
Sue suggested gently that there may be a slight lack of talent in the British game below Messrs Henman and Rusedski. Greg, who had clearly been boning up on the youngsters of his adopted country, sprang to their defence. "There's the younger players coming up through the system," he said. "There's Martin Lee, and James Trotman, and Mike Dickson..." Hold on there, Greg. Simon Dickson is a handy young player. Mike Dickson may also be useful with a racket, but is better known as the thirtysomething tennis correspondent of the Daily Mail. Back to your homework.
Esther Rantzen had been doing some sports swotting for a special "Champions" edition of her late afternoon series Esther (BBC2), a kind of Oprah Lite. What both Esther and Esther required was not just sportspersons who had done great things, but those who had succeeded - you know the way her voice goes all deep and serious - "against all the odds".
So welcome, to celebrate their twin victories in sport and adversity, Bob Champion (The Grand National and cancer), Fatima Whitbread (javelin world record and neglected childhood) and Steve Redgrave (four Olympic rowing golds and dyslexia). The frequently expressed premise of the programme was that the trio's struggles had in some way shaped their sporting destinies, which is the kind of commonplace philosophy that comes in very useful when constructing a show like this.
Unfortunately, Steve Redgrave was having none of it. "People say that I've been a good rower because I was dyslexic," he said. "I don't agree with that at all. I've been a good sportsman because I love sport and found - by chance - a sport that I am suited to, and which I have been able to perform quite well at." Quite well, indeed.
Undaunted, Rantzen turned to a psychologist, Ben Williams. "Ben," she asked, "what are you hearing?" "A lot of persistence," he noted. "A lot of very positive thinking and also I think that, uh, Fatima has a very strong quality." No surprises there then. Williams, like millions of ordinary mortals, had watched Redgrave's "shoot me" interview after the Atlanta win. But Williams had the special insight of the psychologist. "We saw a lot of negative emotion there," he said. "A lot of positive energy probably flipped over to negative. Can I just ask you, Steve, were you in fact angry? Was there anger there, or remorse or what?" Redgrave said, "I wasn't angry at all," and Williams said, "Uh-huh" in that special, sincere tone that means "I've ballsed up here, but no way am I admitting it".
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