Thursday, 15 September 2016

Paralympics 2016 - Just Like Watching Southampton

I left you on the kind of cliff-hanger that would make the writers of 24 green with envy. Libby Clegg had just claimed a world record in qualifying for the final of the T11 100m. However, her world is about to be rocked by news that she has been disqualified. It is alleged that her guide runner, Chris Clarke, was too far ahead of her during the race and could therefore be seen to be dragging Clegg as opposed to the British athlete tearing down the track under her own steam.

It’s looked at from every angle and discussed to death by Channel Four’s army of presenters and pundits. Of course, they have a lot of time to do this because they don’t seem all that concerned with showing too much of the live action. Olympic 400m bronze medallist from Sydney 2000 Katherine Merry is one such expert, and she is convinced that there was more than a step of distance between Clarke and Clegg at various points during the race, and that even though Clegg crossed the line before her guide runner there had still been a violation worthy of disqualification. None of which is very patriotic of her, even if it was an honest opinion. Colin Kaepernick would approve of the stance but there would likely have been a lot of British people shouting abuse at their television at that point.

Despite the evidence before Merry’s eyes the GB team lodge an official protest, leading to an anxious wait for Clegg and Clarke to see if they will be allowed to run in the final. Even should they be able to do so there are better ways to prepare for a major final than sitting around riddled with angst waiting to find out if your dreams of the last four years are about to shatter. Eventually, and before Channel Four can shoe-horn another commercial break into the discussion, the news arrives that Clegg has been reinstated and will get her chance after all. Sighs of relief all around, then, except perhaps for Merry who, while she will no doubt be pleased to see a British athlete progress to another final, might privately consider that the decision has made her look like she was talking absolute bobbins in her initial analysis. But she wasn’t. There was more than a step between Clarke and Clegg at times and although I don’t understand the rules of T11 sprinting any more than the next man, I can’t help but feel a little sceptical about the outcome of the appeal.

Exhaling deeply we move across to the basketball court where Great Britain’s men are taking on Iran in their second group game. We join it with around three minutes remaining in the third quarter and with GB well ahead. Curiously, Dan Johnson keeps pronouncing the name of the GB coach Haj Bhania as Ba-har-nia. When I was coached by him at under 23 level (don’t worry, we’re not going there again) his name was pronounced Barn-ya. Or so we thought. Frankly I called him all sorts of names none of which were pronounced Barn-ya. At the end of the third quarter, and with GB well ahead of an Iranian team coming in off the back of a fine victory over Germany, we are taken away to the Judo hall. We return with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter to see GB round off an 82-62 victory to maintain their unbeaten start to the tournament. Irrespective of my bitterness Bhania is doing a fine job now by the looks of things, and this team could go an awful long way. It’s just a shame that we look set to continue to see very little of their journey on the main channels and that what is probably the most exciting disability sport out there is forever being shunted online.

I’m pleasantly surprised by the edit of the Germany v USA game we are treated to following GB’s win and Gaz Choudry’s impossibly bland interview. It’s a proper highlights package, about the length of your average Southampton edit on Match Of The Day. And it’s chronologically ordered so that you can properly follow the narrative of the game. That sounds obvious but I wouldn’t have put it past Channel Four to show us the bits they like best in whatever order pleased them. They haven’t seemed interested in the sporting story to this point, focusing more on the spectacle and the ‘look what this lot can do’ aspect of the game. Mike Carlson’s commentary is a good deal more bearable than that of the American chap on the online coverage, with his trifectives, his and-ones and his charity stripe. It’s a good game too, until the USA pull away late to complete a 77-52 success. Matt Scott catches the eye for the Americans. He was breaking into the USA team at around the time I started to think about not playing anymore, so he’s been around a while. He spends a lot more time on the bench than he would do if I was coaching him but when he plays he proves over and over again what a special talent he is. I like the smaller players, the guards. It’s easy to score lay-ups from under the basket if you are a 6 foot lump with a minor disability. The things Scott does are special and make the game worth watching.

Finally for this instalment we are with Jack Hunter-Spivey and his Class 5 table tennis encounter with Germany’s Valentin Baus. Jack is a Liverpool lad, brought up in Anfield and sports a red and black Mohawk. He’s a little on the heavy side for an athlete. In fact, he’s heavier than me and I have been retired from disability sport for 10 years. And he’s nearly 20 years younger than me. We join the match with him 2-0 down in a best of five and when Baus duly takes the third game to complete his win it’s clear that Hunter-Pivey is going to be up against it if he wants to make it to the next stage of the competition. Not that he is in any way downhearted by his loss, offering the post-match interview usually reserved for British Olympic swimmers about being happy to be there and how he has dreamed of being a Paralympian since he was a little boy. Confusingly, he then goes off on a tangent with a mortifyingly strained wrestling analogy.
In sporting parlance, young Jack is a ‘character’.

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