Chris Hewett: Spot of self-publicity a rare stain on Beeb's brilliant coverage
The critic without a ticket: No one since Led Zeppelin has generated more decibels than BBC presenters in recent days
There was a moment yesterday, shortly after 9am, when an Olympic Games broadcaster from BBC Radio 5 Live described BBC Radio 5 Live's broadcasting of the Olympic Games as "breathtaking", thereby scoring a Nadia Comaneci-like perfect 10 on the Brian Clough scale of self-congratulation. If the speaker stopped marginally short of claiming "best in the world" status for his own station, he had no hesitation in placing it in the top one.
After almost a fortnight of "fantastics" and "amazings" and "unbelievables" and "utterly staggerings" – at a time when the ridiculously overcooked is considered dangerously underdone – can we honestly express surprise if the lingua franca starts feeding on itself? Probably not. But conceit of Olympian dimensions is of no help to the corporation in its fight to the death with the forces of deregulation, which show no sign of dispersing despite the retreat of the Murdochs. A little humility, foreign as it may be to certain 5 Live presenters, would not go amiss.
Leaving aside Led Zeppelin's celebrated multi-night stand at Earls Court in 1975, when the drummer John Bonham threatened the long-term hearing of entire audiences with a single sharp clip of the hi-hat, it may be that no one has ever generated more decibels than the BBC's radio presenters over the last few days.
Ten minutes of listening to the ear-splitting Colin Murray and the equally deafening Kriss Akabusi offering unwanted advice in stereo to the disgruntled and departing Caribbean sprinter Kim Collins forced this licence-payer to reach for the dial in search of respite. Happily, there was a rerun of an old Black Sabbath concert. Aaahh, peace and quiet.
Yet, at the same time, it is possible to argue that no one has ever made a better job of covering an Olympic gathering across its vast 26-sport, 300-discipline spectrum. A trio of dedicated television channels (four during the evening); three radio stations offering rolling accounts of everything that moves (or, as in the case of Phillips Idowu, everything that doesn't); an internet production as idiot-proof as it is comprehensive (if for some strange reason you crave wall-to-wall freestyle wrestling, it's yours at the click of a mouse)… the only people "chilled" by the scope of the BBC's ambition, to borrow a phrase from James Murdoch's public attack on public service broadcasting, should be those with a political/commercial interest in bringing it to its knees.
All this and no adverts, which is of course the killer point. No stupid dog saying "oh yes" every five minutes; no pantomime Caruso with a daft moustache serenading us with the name of a price comparison website; no bloody meerkats.
Heaven knows, the corporation is far from blameless, even if it has provided its own antidote to the cheap triumphalism of the radio coverage with a series of thought-provoking discussions on BBC2's Newsnight.
The deluge of bile that cascaded towards it after the botched commentary of the men's road race was well earned and any self-respecting broadcaster guilty of screening one of its presenters kissing one of its analysts on the cheek – Jake Humphrey and Mark Cavendish were the men involved, in the modern way – might ask itself a question or two. But we are obliged to ask ourselves if we'll miss the BBC when it's gone. If the answer is "yes", we must ensure it stays.
Funnily enough, it was possible to detect a rare hint of understatement during yesterday's athletics session when the commentator Paul Dickenson informed us that Caster Semenya had suffered "a couple of lean years" since winning the women's world 800m title in 2009.
Lean? Lean? Please. No modern-day athlete, including the so-called "blade runner" Oscar Pistorius, has found himself or herself subjected to such a harrowing examination of legitimacy, of motive… ultimately, of anatomy. Himself or herself being the point at issue with Semenya, who was gender-tested by the International Association of Athletics Federations shortly before securing her title in Berlin and then fell victim to an epic mishandling of the case by a variety of governing bodies.
"Either/Or" was the piercing headline introducing The New Yorker magazine's account of the affair, written shortly after those championships. In the course of that illuminating piece Semenya's coach, Wilfred Daniels, was quoted as follows: "Now her life is over. Not only as an athlete, but as a human being. Even if the IAAF says there's nothing wrong with her, people will always look at her twice. There should be hell to pay for those responsible. I've got a daughter. If that was my daughter, what would I have done as a father? Somebody might have been dead by now."
Yesterday the South African was back on the track: a sure sign, we can only hope and pray, that her life is similarly back on track. If the 800m heats were awash with good news stories, with a no-hoper from Guam beating her personal best and competitors from Palestine and Saudi Arabia charting a bold new course for female athletes in their respective parts of the world, it was the sight of Semenya qualifying with considerable ease for the semi-finals that lifted the spirit.
Can she win gold? There is every chance. What kind of victory would it be? Only Semenya knows. Perhaps she could tell us immediately, for to all intents and purposes she has won already.
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