Winter Olympics: Vision on...and on

Andrew Longmore talks to the TV man for whom the Games have no boundaries
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The Independent Online
A NORDIC biathlete wins unexpected Olympic gold. It is midnight in Europe and the BBC stifles another yawn. In the studios of Eurosport in Paris, Gary Lovejoy, the director of broadcasting, cannot afford the luxury of indifference. This is the Winter Olympics, Eurosport's finest hour - or 384 hours to be precise - and, however tangential the triumph, someone somewhere is relishing the moment.

"It's an Olympics and we're not a national channel," he said. "We don't really care who wins what. The Manchester United fan won't be watching, but there are people in the world who are not Manchester United fans and we want to be good mates to them. If we're there when they want us, we hope they'll say: 'Yes, I'm going to watch this on Eurosport', because there are no debates, no Coronation Street."

For 16 days, 24 hours a day, the 42-year-old west countryman will be monitoring, controlling, overseeing, fretting and cajoling through a marathon of broadcasting. A life of empty coffee cups and drooping eyelids. Not being a Manchester United fan helps. He supports Plymouth Argyle with all the inevitable slings and arrows. For Nagano, he will preside over a Tower of Babel: four incoming feeds, with commentaries in English, German, Dutch and French, transmissions to another 40-odd countries - 77 million households - in a further 11 languages. Every change of schedule provokes a multi- lingual game of Chinese whispers. The whole operation involves 50 people on the ground in Japan, another 150 to 200 in Paris and a host of commentators glued to television monitors from Helsinki to Heraklion.

After a chequered history, Eurosport's influence is spreading. According to independent figures, 1.2 million rooms in European hotels broadcast the channel, 800,000 more than CNN. Lovejoy wants to know that the Swede sent to Portugal on business in the middle of the Games will not be deprived of his ice hockey nor the Norwegian his ski-jumping. Skiing is central to the channel's push against the national stations. Eurosport's heartland remains Scandinavia, the Lowlands, Austria, Germany and much of eastern Europe, countries with a strong tradition in the Winter Olympics, and heavy investment through the season should bear fruit over the next three weeks.

The emphasis is on live sport, outdoors overnight, moving indoors through the morning and early afternoon, with highlights and round-ups packaged neatly in time for the Dane returning home for his tea. British viewers will find commentaries more passionate, less formal, very different from Ski Sunday. The trick for Lovejoy is to anticipate the piece of classic drama which transcends printed schedules and national loyalties.

"Without being holier than thou," he said, "we can afford to say 'we'll stay with this and to hell with the rest, this is great sport'. It's the sport which will make or break the Olympics for us."

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