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Gymnastics give early Olympic taste

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 12:08 UK time, Friday, 16 October 2009

The bloke in the accreditations office at the O2 couldn't resist his little joke. "Blimey, there are more of you here than there are in the FIG delegation!"

(The FIG, in case you were wondering, isn't a representative body of biscuit manufacturers. It stands for the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique - they love their acronyms, these world governing sporting bodies.)

To be fair, you could see his point. What on earth were BBC Radio 5 live doing bringing their tennis, boxing and racing correspondents, two British handball players, three former Olympians in swimming, athletics and table tennis, the four times champion national hunt trainer and an ex-flat jockey - oh, and a presenter and a handful of producers and engineers - to the men's all-around final at the World Gymnastics Championships?

Great view of gymnastics at the O2

When Andrew, one of our production team, came upstairs having collected the rest of the passes, he'd hung them all around his neck. He looked like he was having an identity crisis of major proportions.

But this wasn't a case of BBC over-manning at its worst. On a Thursday night on 5 live Sport, we like to provide a cornucopia of different sports. As it happened, our scheduled Olympic special, London Calling, coincided with the first major world championships in an Olympic sport to be held at an official London 2012 venue.

So it made sense to present that section of the programme from the O2 - but what about the Headline Hour from 7-8, 5 live Racing from 9-10, and of course our regular no-holds-barred sporting debate And Another Thing from 10-10.30?

Hey, we thought, as Cliff Richard may or may not have done in Summer Holiday - let's do the show right here!

We had the run of one of the very smart executive boxes overlooking the arena, with plush sofas to lounge on, a high bar where those of us actually broadcasting perched on bar stools, and two rows of seats in front with a bird's eye view of the action for those waiting to go on - although before you worry about your licence fee being blown on corporate hospitality, all the alcohol was locked away, a silver dish with labelled "chocolate-dipped strawberries" was disappointingly empty, and we provided our own supermarket sandwiches and cups of tea.

I love the idea that every sport, however different on the surface, is linked by similar interests and themes: dedication, passion, sacrifice, the will to win. My favourite kind of discussion is when you bring together people from completely different disciplines and let them discover their common ground. It feels like the best kind of dinner party (but with slightly better catering).

But what would Paul Nicholls, trainer of Denman and Kauto Star, among a string of champion race horses, make of watching the world's best gymnasts competing for medals?

This is a man you're used to seeing dressed in his best tweed suit and trilby hat, leading another thoroughbred into the winners' enclosure at Cheltenham, not sitting high up in one of London's premier indoor arenas, watching guys in tight lycra performing stunning moves on the floor, bar and vault.

Of course, you can make the obvious joke about pommel horses - and we did, don't worry. But he seemed to really enjoy it, and wasn't at all perturbed by us interrupting our conversation on Sir Alex Ferguson's passion for racing to go for news from Alison Mitchell on Dan Keating's high bar routine - the moment which won him Britain's first ever medal in the men's all-around event at the World Championships.

And it turned out that former jockey Jason Weaver could bring us his own insight - his sister had been a pretty serious gymnast herself in her youth, and you can imagine that, with their compact, powerful build, jockeys and gymnasts might physiologically have a fair amount in common.

Outside at the O2

Overall, this was a tantalising preview for all of us of what London 2012 will be like. I've been to five summer Olympic Games now, and walking out of North Greenwich tube station into the sunshine, and along the canopied walkway to the entrance to the O2 (or North Greenwich Arena One as it'll be known at the Games, because of the IOC's rules on sponsorship), it was easy to imagine the crowds flocking there for the gymnastics and basketball in less than three years' time.

British vault specialist Marisa King had never competed before a home crowd at a major championships before, and she told us she'd absolutely loved the feeling over the previous days.

While waiting to come on the air, our handballers Lynn McCafferty and Louise Jukes - who face former world champions France at Crystal Palace on Saturday - had tingles down their spines watching the gymnastics and dreaming of becoming part of the first British team to represent their sport at the Olympic Games.

And Mike Costello, Jonathan Overend, Kath Merry, Steve Parry and Matthew Syed - who've all seen the best that the likes of Barcelona, Sydney, Athens and Beijing could offer - all agreed with me that this was an Olympic venue to more than match them.

For me, it will be the greatest sporting party on earth - and we're going to be hosting it. Chocolate-dipped strawberries, anyone?


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Eleanor

    I really enjoyed the show on Thursday night - it was a really good idea to take the show out to an event of this kind.

    I was dissapointed for you when I heard you had been moved to Thursday nights, it sounded to me like a demotion but I really enjoy the show now. Thursdays have a different feeling to the other nights and have some great series such as London Calling, Five Live Boxing etc. And The Headline Hour is a great start to show.

    Well done to you and all involved.


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