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Spectator sport

In defence of the BBC’s Sochi commentators

Ed Leigh, Aimee Fuller and Tim Warwood are hardly Dan Maskell, but they set an exciting tone

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

You can trust the BBC to behave like a leaf blown by any breeze, but even that spineless leviathan (if such a beast could exist) might have tried to grow a pair and stick up for its admirably manic commentators at the Sochi Winter Olympics. It was Ed Leigh, Aimee Fuller and Tim Warwood on the opening weekend’s snowboarding contest that really got people going. There were a few hundred complaints, and one or two media observers who really should have known better got very snooty. Frankly anybody who can get worked up about some slightly over-the-top commentary on a sport no one has ever seen before should really get out more. However, the BBC, bless it, did promise a ‘review of its procedures’ or some such drivel.

This was the first Olympics where snowboarding ‘slopestyle’ made an appearance and it set the tone. The boarders flew across the sky, twisting, turning, jumping and somersaulting and grabbing their boards as they went. You had to have balls of tungsten to even try this stuff. There are only a handful of people on the planet who had any idea what was going on, and three of them were in the commentary box — so let them have their say. ‘If you want to know how difficult this is,’ said Tim, or possibly Ed, ‘imagine trying to write left-handed while walking along the seafront in a storm and being attacked by seagulls.’ ‘While wearing a chip hat,’ said Ed, or maybe Tim.


David Coleman and Dan Maskell it wasn’t but it was wonderful to listen to; a perfect accompaniment to some of the most amazing sport you will see. In fact the presentation of the whole Games has been terrific, as you would expect with anything involving Clare Balding. I particularly liked the build-up to the ice hockey match between Russia and the USA. ‘The Cold War is long gone,’ said the voiceover, ‘but some people didn’t get the memo.’ Cue footage of skaters beating the living daylights out of each other.

Don’t let Britain’s apocalyptic weather divert you from keeping an eye on some spectacular cricket in the sunshine of the southern hemisphere. More particularly, the crucial role of facial hair. A couple of summers ago Ian Bell was spotted growing a moustache. It was the sort of thing that could have been rubbed off with a flannel. He should have been encouraged to work on it given the extraordinary rewards that Australia has seen since Mitchell Johnson stopped shaving. The Aussie fast bowler, mocked for his waywardness in previous Ashes Tests, grew his ’tache for ‘Movember’ and proceeded to destroy England, taking 37 wickets in five Ashes Tests.

He shaved off the Mexican drooper for the one-day series at his wife Jessica’s request (best not go there I think). But after taking only one wicket with a bare upper lip, Johnson has regrown it and is now terrorising South Africa, the world’s No. 1 cricket team. The Proteas have just been beaten by 281 runs, with Johnson taking 12 for 127, the best figures of his career. That 281 runs was exactly the margin of England’s defeat in the fifth Test in Sydney, so it turns out we didn’t do too badly after all.

New Zealand’s mighty skipper Brendon McCullum is always ruggedly unshaven, as well as richly tattooed (the polar opposite of Alastair Cook, you might say). McCullum has also just pulled off one of the greatest rearguard fightbacks in cricket history. In the second Test against India in Wellington, his team were struggling at 52 for three when he arrived at the crease. He left the best part of two days later with the score at 625, of which he had made 302: more runs in one innings than any England batsman made in the entire Ashes. Sir Brendon sounds good, your Majesty.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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