Robin Scott-Elliot: What's in a name? Plenty, as events in Daegu have proved
View From The Sofa: World Athletics, Channel 4
Monday 29 August 2011
In the smarter parts of Edinburgh chip beck is what you must do after going through the green. Granted that's a gag not widely appreciated outside Morningside (a smarter part of Edinburgh) and its surrounds but it's enough, I would suggest, to qualify Chip Beck as an aptronym. Channel 4 gave aptronym enthusiasts a rare treat by dispatching Rob Walker to Daegu, although strictly speaking he was talking the walk rather than walking it.
Walker is another of that litter of puppy reporters who have come bounding out of the BBC over the last few years. He may actually be even keener than Dan Walker, the pick of the litter, which is why at the Beijing Olympics he was put in a boat and sent off to bother sailors.
It seems as if when Channel 4 bought the rights to show the world championships it came with carpets and commentators included as their line-up is populated by familiar faces, including the masterful Michael Johnson, who is holding the studio together as Ortis Deley struggles with the demands of presenting live sport.
Walker, meanwhile, was in downtown Daegu with the 10km walkers (no relation). He had done his homework so when John Rawling, the understated old pro who anchored the overnight coverage, suggested viewers "would not have seen too much race walking" Walker leapt in to fill in the gaps.
Race walking is made for the fast forward button because then it looks like running. It is one of those oddities of a sport. As competitors race they resemble a group of men who simultaneously realise they have a Radcliffe moment, as it's called in the business, looming and there's a solitary toilet just round the next corner.
How do you decide you want to be a race walker? "When I was young I just used to walk everywhere, my friends would run but not me – one day I was walking in the playground when the PE teacher spotted me. He just saw something in the way I walked and the next thing you know I'm a world and Olympic champion," Valeriy Borchin didn't say after his win.
Walker watched events unfold like a hawk – I know someone called Hawker but, unfortunately for aptronymists, he has nothing to do with birds of prey – and picked out the dangermen. Wang is the fastest man in the world, although it is not a title with quite the same cachet as when applied to Usain Bolt. You are unlikely to see promoters clamouring to set up a race against a horse, unless it involves dressage. At one point, Walker labelled something (my attention wasn't all it should have been once we'd gone through the 3km mark) "pedestrian", which may actually be a good thing when talking about race walking.
Back in the stadium the decathlon provided relief from a good walk spoiled (the comforting aspect about taking cheap shots at walkers is if they get annoyed you can always run away). Trey Hardee is a decathlete which surely qualifies him as an aptronym too.
Suddenly they were everywhere, although it wasn't really the time for Katharine Merry with Britons crashing out all over the place. She and Iwan Thomas provided athletic expertise but C4 have mirrored the mistake made by so many broadcasters in presuming they could also act as commentators. Some former athletes can – Steve Cram for instance – but plenty can't, which in effect means I'm doubting Thomas.
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