Matt Butler: The excellent Dean Macey makes it worth all the pain. Almost
View From The Sofa: Survival of the Fittest, Channel 4
Monday 17 December 2012
It may be difficult to believe, given the gold-laden year we have just had, but Britain were distinct also-rans in athletics in the early 2000s. Sure there was Kelly Holmes, with her unfathomable double gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics – along with the men's 100m relay team in the same Games – and Paula Radcliffe, whose best marathon performances came agonisingly in the middle of Olympic cycles. But, by and large, the very most the country could hope for at a major event was a podium.
Then there was Dean Macey, the decathlete. He was a tough guy. He competed in 10 sports at once, for a start. And, when he wasn't injured, he was more than competitive. But sadly the only piece of gold that ended up around his neck was a Commonwealth Games medal from Melbourne 2006. Even that was gained through pain as the nation watched him half-grimacing, half-crying with relief when he clinched the gold in the final event.
But he showed on Sunday morning, in the coverage of the Survival of the Fittest race, that there might be one more Games yet in the man from Canvey Island. He didn't compete in the race, of course – even though he probably could have. The only exertion he did was to vault the final wall of the 10km adventure race.
But he made the show worth watching. During his athletic career he was a gold-medal contender for quotes; there was none of the banal "I need to do my best" witterings when it came to Macey and he proved yesterday morning he can ask questions as well as answer them.
There was no stench of unrealised dreams or tougher-than-thou boasting when it came to his on-camera chat. In fact it was 20 minutes into the show before his Commonwealth medal was mentioned, by the commentator, Rob Walker.
The Survival of the Fittest is the last in a series of urban adventure races, which are inexplicably popular, arbitrarily hard and designed for masochists – or stag groups too scared to go paintballing and too morally sound to head to Eastern Europe.
The races feature pools of icy water, climbing frames made of scaffolding and rope nets, piles of tyres to scramble across and skateboard ramps to slide down. Basically, anything that can sap all possible enjoyment from a 10km run, all among the surrounds of the Battersea Power Station. If you thought the most excruciating thing connected with the iconic chimneys on the banks of the Thames was Pink Floyd's Animals album, think again.
Macey was a natural at presenting, as well as interviews before, during and after the race. He got some priceless facial expressions from his interviewees with gems like: "Why? Why put yourself through this?" Which was rich coming from someone who more than once competed while barely able to walk. Such was his affability and ability to make people feel at ease, they opened up. And, thankfully, Macey varied the questions well beyond the "bet that's hard" variety.
Some recognised him and let him know. Macey jogged, mike in hand, up to one competitor as he lugged a sandbag through the power station buildings and the runner just stopped open-mouthed and shouted: "Dean Macey!" Macey ignored the adulation and ploughed on with his question, like a pro. He was undoubtedly the star and deserves a better slot than 7.30am on a Sunday morning. So come on BBC, sign him up for Rio 2016.
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