Race a minor issue in Channel Four play

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
Are you feeling dizzy and disorientated? Is your vision fuzzy? Can you see strange shapes and dayglo colours floating across your line of sight? If the answer to all these questions is "Yes", then there are two possibilities. Either you have taken large quantities of psychotropic substances, or you are watching Channel 4's coverage of indoor athletics, which came out of the starting blocks last Sunday.

The assumption is that a sport becomes more interesting if you present it in the manner of a Damien Hirst video for Blur. This is not the case. The people who tune in to watch athletics - even on Channel 4 - are interested in whether or not Colin Jackson is going to run a good race, not what he might look like skipping over hurdles in a techno trance club. Athletics has done a good job getting drugs out of the sport - it is about time they introduced urine tests for cameramen and vision mixers.

In between the woozy bits, Steve Cram did a refreshingly straightforward job of anchoring the show - yet another in a long line of sportspersons to make the switch to presenting look easy. He was joined by a TV star of the future, the distinctly telegenic triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards. How come he wasn't training? "It's one of my philosophies not to flog myself too hard," he explained. No doubt his agent takes care of all that.

Cram and Edwards did a good job: it was the professional broadcasters who let the side down. The first offender was Joanna Kaye, who appeared with Edwards next to the sprint track wearing a Barbie-doll hairdo and a virulently striped top, like a refugee from a Beach Boys movie.

What's more, she seems to think like a refugee from a Beach Boys movie. "OK," she grinned. "This is the start of the 60 metres men's - big boys!" Edwards - nice chap that he is - forebore from pointing out that sprinters are actually pretty slim compared to, say, shot putters. Instead he answered Kaye's lame query about how the runners must be feeling: nervous, apparently. "OK," JK trilled. "Words of wisdom there - back to you, boys!"

This time, the "boys" were Cram and Nick Fellows, who was about to demonstrate that although a 60m sprint takes next to no time, that is still long enough for a commentator to dig himself into an awfully deep hole. "Keep your eyes on lane four," Fellows counselled, "that's the hot favourite, Bruny Surin." Nothing wrong there: as a double world indoor champion, Surin certainly had some useful form. But on Sunday it deserted him, just as luck deserted Fellows.

"Away they go," Fellows exclaimed as the starter's pistol barked. "And it's a good start for lane four, who starts powering for home already. Very close. And also lane two is quick -" at that moment the winner crossed the line. Unfortunately it was not lane two. Nor was it, in fact, lane four, Surin, who had, if the truth be told, made a complete pig's ear of his start and trailed in last.

As the runners accepted flasks of health drinks from ladies in leotards, Fellows caught up with reality. "Lane three, Davidson Ezinwa, seemed to be the quicker," he noted. A minute or so later, he acknowledged "the first upset of the evening, the double world champion Bruny Surin not really in the chase at all". Nick Fellows, not really on the case at all.

The moral here is that, no matter how convincing the argument for a particular athlete's pre-eminence, it it is not wise for commentators to decide what is going to happen in a race before it actually starts. To be fair to Fellows, he quickly realised this. His commentary for the second heat, from the moment the gun sounded to the moment the winning athlete crossed the line, went as follows: "[Bang] Very fast start - they're all very close - it looks to be..." That's it, Nick: don't commit yourself.

We mustn't be too mean. It's good to see the sport back on television, and it's good that Channel 4 is looking for ways to attract a new audience, even if the ways are way out. And there are bound to be teething troubles - in this case, mostly involving JK's grin. OK?

The spoof documentary series Brass Eye, also on Channel 4, has been causing high dudgeon among politicians and celebrities, who have been duped into making passionate statements about totally bogus and usually ludicrous subjects. This is, of course, quite scurrilous but when the conjunction of celebrity and subject is right it is also very funny.

Last week's finest item purported to be a Home Office video for young offenders. And who better to set an example than that upright citizen Geoffrey Boycott? His subject was how to get out of bed. "Don't get half out," he warned. "Get all the way out!" Thank goodness England's batsmen were unable to hear him.

Kevin Keegan made a gentle return to the public eye, commentating alongside Brian Moore for ITV at Wednesday's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final. He recalled wistfully his days as a ball boy at Scunthorpe United, and heaped praise on Bryan Robson's achievements at Middlesbrough. Robson could be forgiven the odd envious glance at the commentary box. One day, Bryan.