So far in the BBC’s coverage of this Olympics, Sally Gunnell has yet to plumb quite the depths of her trackside interview with Kelly Holmes in the European Championships two years ago. But it’s not been for want of trying.
Back then, she completely missed a disappointed Holmes’s unguarded comments about drug taking among her peers, and bludgeoned on with her predictable ‘still-a-bronze-isn’t-bad-though’ line of softsoap questioning. The big story was left for the newspapers to pick up the following morning.
Holmes, at least, has used the intervening years to work hard on improving her game, and was rewarded on Monday with a gold.
Shame we can’t say the same for Gunnell. “Where do you go from here?” she asked the British triple jumper who had been disqualified after three foul jumps on Sunday. “Home,” he said tersely, and stalked off.
Gunnell, a former 400m Olympic gold medal winner, is the embodiment of the BBC’s obsession with replacing professional – and trained – journalists with former athletes whose media credentials begin and end with the fact that they were once pretty good at sport.
Certainly they have their place as pundits. Michael Johnson’s contributions are always thoughtful and thought-provoking, for example. But using celebrity athletes on the front-line is another matter altogether.
Former runner Steve Cram handled the only one-toone interview with a traumatised Paula Radcliffe, the day after her marathon disaster, well enough. But it was still a sympathetic friend trying to cheer up his mate. What level of insight might we have got had the questions been put by a more dispassionate journalist? We’ll never know.
The BBC’s obsession with using sporting celebrities in place of the highly talented reporters it has at its disposal is short-changing viewers.