Friday, 31 August 2012

Paralympics 2012: An Evening With Channel 4

The first day of Paralympic competition being a Thursday, I was at work. This, despite what the more cynical among you might suggest, meant that I was unable to follow events live on Channel 4. Instead, I put my faith in Sky+ and recorded the whole blooming lot, intending to fish through the dregs to get to the good bits with the aid of the fast-forward button.

It all sounds so simple. It was, though I never expected to be able to get through over five hours of programming and still be in bed before midnight, bearing in mind that I also used the hours between 7.00 and 9.00 to watch Great Britain Men's first match in the wheelchair basketball tournament against Germany. Which was a thriller, but more about that later.

Trying to take things chronologically I put the morning session on first. I had been hearing some whispers of discontent from some people, who complained that there was too much chat from the presenters and not enough action. Their complaints were justified it has to be said. In just around three hours of air-time Channel 4 managed to broadcast eight swimming heats and a cycling heat on their main stream. The rest of the time was taken up by the man fast becoming the scourge of the Paralympic Games, Jonathan Edwards, chatting to his fellow presenters. Add in the endless commercial breaks and the exhaustive flogging of Giles Long's LEXI system explaining the various classification systems in Paralympic sport, and there wasn't actually that much air time left. Some of the swimming heats looked suspiciously less than live also, with the very first heat of the very first event being screened, but then the remaining heats dispensed with in favour of more chat from Edwards and Long. We did manage to see Jonathan Fox break the world record in his heat of the men's S7 100m backstroke. I'm almost sure I hear the commentator say that this is the second world record broken in the pool that morning, the other being broken by Ellie Simmonds, but if that did happen it is a piece of footage conspicious by it's absence. I think I might have imagined it, to be fair.

What I did not imagine was the lack of actual commentary in a heat of the men's men's S8 100m Butterfly featuring Great Britain's Sean Fraser. As he raced his way to the final, we get more of Edwards and Long, with the former in particular sounding like a man who has never left the desert trying to describe a snowstorm. I didn't get to see Fraser's final at all, in which he finished sixth, because the recording stopped seconds before he entered the pool as Channel 4 chose that moment to switch from one broadcasting slot to another. Before that, I did at least manage to see Hannah Russell pick up a silver medal in the women's S12 400m Freestyle and also Nyree Kindred earning the same accolade in the women's S6 100m backstroke.

Away from the pool and in fact away from that first morning session things were much improved, but not before a little more disappointment came my way. I was a little frustrated at not being able to see Scott Robertson or Sara Head's table tennis matches against the brilliantly named Ningning Cao of China and Hyun Ja Choi respectively. I have a greater interest in these two, having been on a sporting trip to Australia with Scott many years ago, and played basketball against Sara on several occasions. I couldn't get their matches online, and I couldn't find them on any of Channel 4's broadcasts. Scott lost 3-1 unfortunately, but this is something I found out via his Facebook page rather than any official media outlet. Thankfully, the table tennis competition is operating a league format for the early rounds so Scott will live to fight another day. Better news for Sara, who won her match 3-2.

Yet the lack of table tennis coverage was the last negative I'm going to bore you with today. Maybe. On condition that someone can explain to me how the GB women's basketball team's 62-35 defeat to Holland could be so heavily butchered? We see the last few minutes of the third quarter in which they slip behind by around 10-12 points, only to then be told in an instant that they were actually well beaten and we're all off to the Equestrian now if that's ok. Well no, it isn't. Not really.

Coverage of Great Britain's first gold medal, won by cyclist Sarah Storey in the women's C5 individual pursuit, is excellent, as is that for Mark Colbourne's silver medal in the men's C1-3 1km individual time trial. Interestingly, times in that event are factored down, so that the more severe the disability of the athlete, the more time is lopped off their time at the end to give them their overall placing. It can be complicated to follow, especially when you have Phil Liggett trying to explain it to you, but it was every bit as exciting to watch as the exploits of Hoy, Pendleton, Kenny and Trott in the Olympics.

So too was the men's basketball I mentioned earlier. Great Britain make a slow start against Germany, with Jan Haller shooting the proverbial lights out in the first half. At one point GB trail by 16 points in the second quarter, but fight back brilliantly to force the game into overtime at 66-66. However, they run out of steam in the extra five minutes and go down 77-72. Our former team-mate Dan Highcock is unused until the game is up well inside the last minute, which maybe due to the fact that he has had an injury recently, but is nevertheless a disappointment for people who like pointing at the telly and saying 'I know him'. Like the table tennis, the basketball competition has a league phase early on and so there is plenty of time for both the men's and the women's teams to make up for their opening day slip-ups.

I'm hoping Channel 4 do the same, but I must just leave you with one word of credit for them. The extra channels they have created to cover the main sports such as swimming, basketball and athletics are superb. None of this red button stuff you got from the BBC, but actual recorder-friendly channels which make it easier to avoid missing the best of the action. If only I had known about them a little earlier, I could have saved myself the bother of having to put up with Edwards and the main stream. I'd receommend this as the preferred method for following the Paralympic Games from now on.

Friday's action is already in the planner.

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