As is my duty, and despite the nauseating dead-rubberdom of the Super League Super 8s, I went to see Saints last night. That, and the fact that I was working all day means that I have been a bit slow to catch up on events at the Paralympic Games in Rio.
Bravely, like a half-stunned elephant, I staggered in from 80 minutes of The Grind at Langtree Park to catch up on the Paralympic action I had recorded from earlier in the day. Turns out there had been three quite lengthy broadcasts throughout Channel 4’s first day of live coverage. I was only able to catch up with one due to my propensity to turn into a pumpkin should I stay up later than midnight on any night during the working week. Nevertheless there was enough in this three hours of coverage to set pulses racing and spleens venting in equal measure.
Now if you read yesterday’s column (September 8) or if you are a regular visitor to Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard you will know that my particular game is or at least was wheelchair basketball. How thrilled I was then despite the post-Saints fug, to sit down to what I thought would be full coverage of the Great Britain Women’s team’s opening group game against world champions Canada. I’d discovered the result of the men’s opener against Algeria on social media (91 to not quite so many, in favour of GB for the record) but had not heard anything about how the women had got on. Ranked fifth in the world, they had it all on to beat a Canadian side which is quite fancied to add the Paraylmpic title to its world crown.
All was well and good for a while. GB started like the proverbial, with Helen Freeman pushing them out into a 4-0 lead. Commentary was provided by Ronald McIntosh, last heard breathlessly chunnering his way through the BBC’s Olympic boxing coverage alongside Richie Woodhall. Here, McIntosh was joined by Dan Johnson, former GB Men’s international and….yes….wait for the clanging sound of names dropping, a former team-mate of mine from my time at Oldham. The duo work quite well together. McIntosh’s enthusiasm and Kamara-like ability to make a pound of lard sound like a royal banquet is embellished by Johnson’s deep knowledge of the game both in terms of the players involved and the tactics and strategies they employ. Some players of his quality (and he was different class) can’t translate that to the ability to provide insight into how it’s done but Johnson is not one of those people.
It was at this point that I started to wonder whether I had developed an inappropriate crush on Freeman, rather like the one I had on Ann Wild when she was the star of the GB Women’s team. I hadn’t had time to quite decide on the matter when to my horror, with Canada having forged a comeback to tie the game at 4-4 with just about four minutes gone, we were whisked back to the studio where Ade Adepitan calmly informed us that we could continue to watch the basketball online but that now it was time for some swimming. By the way, just as an aside I’ve played against Ade many times too, although never with him on the same team. We were once photographed on the front of the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball Association Handbook, moments before I lifted the ball over his head and executed a barely credible half court dribble and lay-up. No, really.
Anyway Ade is very much a television presenter these days and so for that I am cursing him at this moment. It is not his decision, I know that, but I need someone to vent at for this injustice. You can’t continue watching the basketball online when you are watching a recording some 12 hours later. Given the hours they keep in Rio (four hours behind the UK so this game was taking place at around 1.30 in the afternoon BST) I would argue that the vast majority of people would be unable to follow the whole of the live broadcast on Channel 4. But for those who were, and who may not have access to the internet (do those people still exist?) what is the point of showing them the opening four minutes of a wheelchair basketball game before cutting away to a man talking a lot about swimming for several minutes before we actually see any swimming? This approach takes all of the context away from the game, as if we are just being invited to a demonstration of a whacky, crazy new sport in which the result is academic. It’s the fucking Paralympics! The result is all that matters, the only thing that provides the drama and the only reason that anybody watches sport.
There’s nothing that can be done now. I’m faced with the choice of sticking with whatever it is they are going to show after the swimming or else going to bed. But I’m still a bit all over the place, still wound up about the whole sorry wheelchair basketball affair, and still a little stultified by the lack of a credible three-quarter line at St Helens RLFC. There’s no way I’ll be able to sleep so I plod on and am taken to the stadium for the athletics. In the Olympic Games you have to wait a full week for anyone to take to the track, but there is no messing about in the Paralympics. At 11 days in length it is a much shorter affair than the Olympic Games despite the fact that there are far more medals to be handed out due to a quite bewildering array of classifications within the same basic events. They don’t have a week to play with so they get things under way quick-smart.
The first notable competitor is partially sighted sprinter Libby Clegg, going in the 100m. With her guide runner (whose name escapes me as is the way it should be) she looks to have been ousted at the line by the Chinese athlete Zhou. Yet on further inspection we are informed that the officials have somehow seen fit to rule the race as a dead heat between the two. It’s a heat, a qualifier, for which originally the plan was for only the winner to progress while the runner-up sweated it out to find out if they have secured a fastest loser berth. Yet unable to separate the two of them, that idea is dispensed with by the powers that be and both make it through. We’ll be seeing Libby again then, which if her bland interview is anything to go by is not a pulse racer even if it does prove that just like in the Olympics, Paralympic athletes say a lot without saying much at all in the immediate aftermath of their endeavours.
Commentary, and not interviews, comes from John Rawling. The name will mean something to regular listeners of Five Live’s Fighting Talk programme which airs on Saturday mornings and on which Rawling is a regular panellist. The idea is points for punditry, so guests are asked questions based on the week’s sporting news and get points for coming up with the best answers. Kind of like a sporting QI but it isn’t ruined by Alan Davies. Anyway Rawling proves himself more than adept in the commentary box too, refreshingly treating the action like the sport that it is and not like a year 7 sports day. He’s probably helped by the fact that 100m races like Clegg’s are short enough to swerve the indignity of being pulled off the air mid-way through, and it helps that he’s supported by sound studio analysis from former Olympic 400m man Iwan Thomas and ex-Paralympic athlete Danny Cates.
Also covering 100m are swimmers Bethany Firth and Jessica Applegate, as we are dragged back into the pool by our televisual masters. Firth sails through her heat (if indeed one can sail in a swimming pool, there might be rules against that) while Applegate trails in second and looks more than a little disappointed by it as she gives her thoughts to poolside question poser Rachel Latham. Applegate has the final to look forward to but still seems close to tears following her performance in the heat, all of which feels like shades of Phil Jones doing his level best to make Jessica Ennis-Hill cry following her unsuccessful bid to retain her Olympic heptathlon title just a month or so ago. Latham isn’t really to blame this time in the way that Jones was. He appeared hell-bent on making himself a moment in television history on that occasion, while Latham seems more of an unsuspecting victim as Applegate wells up alarmingly while still maintaining the resolve to promise to do better in the final. I really hope she does or it could get ugly.
When we left the basketball Ade had assured me that we would be returning later, which raised hopes that I might get to see the denouement of what promised to be a cracker between GB and Canada in the Women’s competition. True to his word, they do return, just in time to see the players on both sides shaking hands at the end of the game. There’s no sign of Freeman as Ade informs us that our girls have fallen to what sounds like a valiant 43-36 defeat. The closeness of the game only adds to my fury at having missed out on it but I’ve learned a harsh lesson. I’m not going to get very much of the content I really want from these games simply by recording what is on offer on the Channel 4 broadcasts throughout the working day. The laptop may see some action over the weekend.
Finally we are flitting again, this time to the 7-a-side football where GB are 2-0 down to Brazil with just a few minutes of the game remaining. They pull a goal back but the hosts cling on throughout three minutes of injury time for an opening day win. Again it is disappointing to see so little of the action but at least this time we are offered an opportunity to see how it all turned out in the end, rather than a pointless taster followed by a manic hop across to the track and the pool and back again.
So that’s the first afternoon done and dusted. A pang of terror strikes as I head towards my bed and realise that I still have two broadcasts to catch up on from Thursday’s action, as well as a re-run of Saints’ dirge-fest with Castleford ahead of my weekly scribblings on redvee. Whose idea was it to blog about the Paralympics again?