Sport on TV: Strangled gurgles and too much silver lining

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The Independent Online
Tom Watts, get out of town. There's a new voice on the blocks. Well, not so new. Seventy-one years old, in fact.

Aurally speaking, David Coleman's commentaries have always tended to thrash around like a Jimi Hendrix weird-out, but like a tree acquiring rings, every year that passes adds a new dimension of tortured, strangulated sound to The Voice. There has always been plenty of gurgle and squeak to go with the pratfalls and Colemanballs, but in the athletics World Championships last week (BBC2) there was evidence of even richer, grittier depths. Now he's got time on his hands after giving up A Question of Sport, I want to hear him tackle "Burma Shave" and do cameos in cult movies.

In fact our ears might have suffered even more, as The Voice tends to crack and lurch most alarmingly when there's British gold in prospect, and it was hardly that kind of week. But that didn't stop the Beeb behaving as if the Greeks had staged the event entirely for our benefit. In the days when we used to get gold medals, the flag-waving seemed reasonable. Now, when we scrabble around for silver linings, it's a little bit embarrassing, by Jingo.

The crudest example came on Tuesday at the end of one of the 800 metres heats. "And Andy Hart finishes in eighth place," Coleman said, and without missing a beat, Brendan Foster dived in with: "I thought Andy Hart acquitted himself very well." I bet Hart didn't think so.

What we need in Britain isn't a new Ovett or Coe but our very own Wilson Kipketer, the elegant, Kenyan-born Dane who provided the highlight of the week as he glided angelically to victory in the 800 metres. It must be utterly infuriating for the also-rans as they see him purr past them, borne on a cushion of air.

Earlier in the week, after he had won his second-round heat with the appearance of a man who knows that victory is his if he only stays awake long enough to put one foot in the front of the other a few times, he was complimented back in the studio by Des Lynam for his smoothness - an accolade indeed from the King of Smooth himself.

Lynam was assisted all week by an assortment of old boys and head prefects, Linford Christie, David Moorcroft and Roger Black being joined later on by the newly retired Sally Gunnell (who has the slightly irritating habit of beginning every sentence with "Yeah").

While Moorcroft and Black played the nice guys, Christie seemed determined to be unpleasant. On Friday, his comment on Jonathan Edwards' second place in the triple jump was a terse, "silver's a failure". But his meanest moment came on the first morning, after the 20 kilometre walk. As Moorcroft enlightened us about how difficult the discipline is (and as someone who was subjected to power walking at school by a PE-teaching sadist, I can testify that it made cross-country seem like standing still and having a quiet fag), Lynam wondered benignly why they didn't just take up running. The ever-Corinthian Christie chipped in with "it shouldn't even be an event." Nuff Respect for fellow athletes, hey?

So much for world championships, though; now down to the serious stuff. Pro Beach Soccer (Sky Sports 1) took place not on the Copacabana, where it belongs, but at Travamunde, a spa resort on the German Baltic coast, no less.

The players in the Brazil v United States match were mostly nonentities, though there was Junior, the former World Cup player described by the American commentator as "a legend on the beach and on the fields of Brazil as well". And one of the Americans, with the evocative name of Albuquerque, did spend time in the German third division.

The US team had two players called Gibson and Ibsen, who would keep insisting on passing to each other. Their hapless goalkeeper looked like Dan Aykroyd - not as a young man, but as he is now, a little bit pudgy, a little bit jowly. And he didn't help by wearing Raybans and a gypsy scarf in surf safari style. It was probably the shades that made him let in 10 goals.

Brazil are, surprise surprise, the untouchable emperors of beach footie, and they romped to their 19th victory in a row, though Ibsen proved himself something of a Master Builder in attack (sorry) by scoring one of the three consolation goals.

Although the players are all highly skilled, it still looked like any old beach kickabout: you could picture yourself - erroneously, of course - taking off your shoes and socks and joining in. When John Barnes decides to hang up his boots he could do worse than go barefoot on the beach, though he also seems to be thinking of a second career as a chef. On Celebrity Ready Steady Cook (BBC1) he took on Bob Holness, his red snapper carrying the day against the Blockbusters supremo's Steak Vienna.

As Barnes sampled the finished product at the end, he murmured appreciatively, "If I close my eyes I'm in Montego Bay. All I need is my thong." That seemed to bring the presenter Fern Britton out in a hot flush, suggesting that perhaps there's a third post-football option for Barnes - on Celebrity Ready Steady Strip.