Sports com­men­tary is a marathon art not a sprint

There is more to an­nounc­ing than sim­ply be­ing “quite re­mark­able” Peter Hoff­mann points out

The Scotsman - - The Scotsman 200 -

An as­so­ciate com­mented that Tim Hutch­ings was the best ath­let­ics com­men­ta­tor on the box.

My first thought was ‘No, he’s not’. My sec­ond was Steve Cram’s bet­ter. Who could for­get his mag­nif­i­cent com­men­tary as Kelly Holmes bat­tled it out against Maria Mu­tola down the home straight in the Athens Olympic 800 me­tres fi­nal?

I like the no­tion of in­stinct over in­tel­lect, but it begs the ques­tion just what makes for an ex­cel­lent com­men­ta­tor?

I think we’re look­ing for some­one who sig­nif­i­cantly adds to the oc­ca­sion. At the most ba­sic level you can’t es­cape from hav­ing the voice. Al­though it’s go­ing against the com­mon view, I don’t like Tim Hutch­ings’ com­men­taries. I ad­mire his knowl­edge, but he doesn’t have the voice – it’s too thin. Michael John­son has the sten­to­rian voice; un­like An­drew Cot­ter he has the ex­pe­ri­ence of what’s in­volved and how ath­letes feel; he also recog­nises the sense of oc­ca­sion and has a good sen­si­bil­ity; and he is pre­pared to tell it like it is. Aside from the voice you need to be able to bring some­thing ex­tra to the ta­ble: what to say and im­por­tantly what not to say. For tele­vi­sion you don’t need to overly de­scribe the ob­vi­ous, i.e. what’s hap­pen­ing, be­cause we can all see that for our­selves.

Peter Al­liss is a voice for the ages and per­versely even more so in this era of political cor­rect­ness. Whilst he’s from the Beeb’s golden gen­er­a­tion of Maskell; Mc­claren; et al where he’s dif­fer­ent is he is un­usu­ally opin­ion­ated. Com­men­tary has changed over the past decade. There’s less neu­tral­ity at play. That can ap­peal or ir­ri­tate. I warm to Ed­die But­ler and Brian Moore at rugby who are great dou­ble act – es­pe­cially when they dis­agree. David Cole­man was opin­ion­ated too and de­spite the Cole­man­balls over the years he was rather mag­nif­i­cent. I re­call him com­men­tat­ing on our own David Jenk­ins on the last leg of a re­lay or on Coe v Ovett in Moscow … “Ovett those blue eyes like chips of ice…”

One of the key is­sues pro­duc­ers have to grap­ple with is find­ing the ideal blend.

Ex-ath­letes of­ten don’t have the voice or are too con­cerned with play­ing a bland bat. How­ever the pro­fes­sion­als fall down too. Last month I lis­tened to An­drew Cot­ter com­men­tate on Laviai Neil­son vic­tory in the UK Cham­pi­onships 400 me­tres against our own Eilidh Doyle. He de­scribed the race. He had the sta­tis­tics. But he missed the sig­nif­i­cance of what was hap­pen­ing out on the track. Not only does he not know how it feels to race at in­ter­na­tional level and what’s in­volved, but he missed the chang­ing of the guard.

Be­fore the race I was think­ing it could be sig­nif­i­cant – if Neil­son beat Doyle for the first time, Doyle might never win against her much younger op­po­nent again. It took Cram to come into res­cue the sit­u­a­tion and take con­trol from Cot­ter. It’s a mat­ter of opin­ion. But I know whose opin­ion I like to hear. ● Peter Hoff­mann was an in­ter­na­tional ath­lete and is an au­thor cur­rently com­plet­ing the fi­nal vol­ume of an Ed­in­burgh Tril­ogy.

0 David Cole­man is a con­tender for best sports com­men­ta­tor

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