Fine line between solemnity and jocularity

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
What a terrible shame it is that the abiding image that television viewers will recall from Atlanta is not a scene of joyous celebration but a jolting moment of noise, confusion and fear. The moment that the image on the giant video screen in Centennial Park swayed, the moment that Janet Evans broke off her interview and ducked away from the camera in fright, the moment that Atlanta's boast that it was the safest city in the world was proved tragically empty.

At times like this Sky News comes into its own, switching into CNN-style rolling-news mode. But there is a limit to how much their talking heads can achieve. Steve Bottomley, their sports reporter, quizzed Dick Palmer, the British Olympic team chief. "How does this make you feel?" he asked. "Pretty depressed, as you can imagine," Palmer said, and there was an uneasy silence: there really was nothing more to say.

"The analysis has started," Sky's anchor man announced. They wheeled in an "expert" who solemnly pronounced that the attack was either internal US terrorism or international terrorism. That it was terrorism we could see for ourselves.

Olympic officials had been meeting overnight to discuss the correct course of action. "The Games will go on," Francois Carrard, the International Olympic Commitee director general announced, and there was a certain grim irony in his next statement. "As of now, the buses are rolling..."

Continuing with the Games meant that all concerned had to tread a delicate line between solemnity and excitement. It is a difficult challenge for the television presenters, requiring tact, common sense, a light touch, and great empathy with the feelings of the viewer. The kind of job, in short, that Desmond Lynam was born for.

Lynam had a quiet start to the Games, so laid-back he was horizontal, cooler than a deep-frozen cucumber. The highlight of his performance was his nightly flirtathon with Sharron Davies. "Hmm. Very nice, Sharron," he would purr. "Thought about taking up beach volleyball?" Des would be better off wondering whether Derek Redmond, Sharron's husband, is about to take up boxing and use him as a punchball.

Davies's role at the pool was not so much interviewer as human hanky, intercepting tearful Brits as they emerged from the water after yet another disappointment and giving them big hugs. Graeme Smith needed consolation even after winning a bronze medal. When he was interviewed by Sue Barker hours afterwards, she was concerned to get his reactions to the bomb. But the poor man, on the greatest day of his sporting life, hadn't been out of the Olympic village and had no reactions to give.

This is where the terrorists hurt those who escape injury. Men and women who have been training for years find that in their moment of glory they are denied the attention and adulation that they deserve. The pain of it showed in Smith's face, and we will see that look of confusion again and again in the coming days. Sadly, the spotlight has been turned away from the stars.

What a relief to be able to switch from the grim scenes in Atlanta to the peaceful greenery of Lord's, where a traditional England collapse was under way. With half the summarising crew in the dock for Imran v Botham, or "Gorillagate", Richie Benaud and David Gower were left to carry the flag between them. Running short of material as the luncheon interval approached, they decided to discuss the efficacy of the "magic spray". "The great thing about that stuff is that you can apply it anywhere," Benaud observed. Gower was unsure. "I'm told that there are one or two spots where it is advisable not to use it," he said. Benaud was adamant: "It works anywhere." One got the impression that Richie pops a can of Ralgex on the bedside table to treat any nocturnal malfunctions in the nether regions of the popping crease. What a man.

Michael Atherton was given out lbw by Peter Willey, to his evident consternation. It was a decision best described in cricket terms as questionable - which in layman's terms means "diabolical". Easily explained, though. In Willey's later years as a batsman he used a stance so contorted that on taking guard at the wicket he asked the umpire for "middle and square leg, please". It would seem that even wearing the white coat of authority, he is still not sure where the off stump is.

Meanwhile Geoffrey Boycott was holding forth in the High Court, in a manner familiar to all BBC viewers. What a shame that Court TV has not taken off in this country: it would have been fun to watch Boycs probing his lawyer's brief with a car key: "Nay, lad, you'll never get a conviction out of that. Not a result brief, that. Won't take spin."

The judge eventually tired of Boycott's anecdotes about Brian Close and told him to clam up, admonishing the lawyer who had called him that his witness was "getting out of hand". Mr Justice French, the BBC needs you.

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