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24 September 2014
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The Beijing Games on the BBC
Hazel Irvine

The 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics on the BBC

BBC TV team Olympic impressions

Hazel Irvine


Hazel is one of BBC Sport's most experienced and versatile broadcasters. A regular presenter of Grandstand, Sunday Grandstand and Ski Sunday, she is also the face of snooker and athletics coverage and a sports presenter on BBC News.


An integral part of the BBC's coverage of all major events over the past 18 years, Hazel presented from Athens in 2004, marking her fifth consecutive Olympic Games.


She has also worked on every Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games since 1994 and reported from the football World Cup Finals and European Championship finals since 1990.


In golf, she is the anchor for the Women's Open and reports on the Open, the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup.


Hazel's many other credits include Final Score, Football Focus and Wimbledon.


"For me the Olympics represents the absolute in sport, something that I aspired to as a child – it fired my imagination and is responsible, probably, for my career in sport. I was first aware of the 1972 Olympics in Munich and I had a scrapbook and a sticker book and knew all of the little logos for the different sports and was absolutely fascinated by the whole thing.


"Spitz, Korbut, Mary Peters – the games of 72 made a massive impression on my life and – unknowingly – shaped my direction. I was interested in sport anyway and always imagined myself winning an Olympic gold medal; I guess the closest I've ever come is commentating on other people winning one!


"I've been very lucky because this will be my sixth Summer Olympic Games on the trot – my first one was 1988 – so there are probably too many memories to detail but all of them have been very different.


"My sporting memories are probably like everyone else's, much of them shaped by events in track and field – Michael Johnson, obviously, breaking the 200m world record in Atlanta – but it has opened my eyes to a huge number of other sports, the so-called minority sports which in reality aren't minority!


"I remember at the diving pool in Barcelona, speaking through an interpreter to a little girl named Fu Mingxia who was 13, the youngest ever gold medal winner. The only thing that we could understand was that she was a great fan of Madonna and so was I!


"And Cathy Freeman typified what it's all about to me in Sydney that night she outshone Jonathan Edwards – who also won a gold medal that night, so did Michael Johnson, but she to me was the absolute iconic figure of that Games and I'll never forget seeing that, it was absolutely sensational.


"More recently it was so exciting being in the stadium the night when Kelly Holmes won her second gold medal and our sprint relay team won the gold medal too. A lot of these memories are dominated by track but there are so many things; Jason Quealy and Chris Hoy in cycling, even becoming fixated with Ben Ainslie in sailing – totally transfixed by a sport that I would probably not have watched in any great details but I always think if there's an Olympics gold medal up for grabs, it could be underwater tiddlywinks and it actually matters so much.


"I was touring around China on holiday 11 years ago and I'm expecting huge changes in the city. It'll be fascinating to see that, and I'm also intrigued and excited by the prospect of the handover of the flag to London.


"As to the Games themselves, I think some of the venues will be fascinating. It's a cliché answer but it's still true: it's a lot of work for us broadcasters but you get up every morning and there's a spring in your step because you know somebody's life is going to change for the better and to be sitting there watching it... it's hard to describe how exciting a day at the Olympics can be because you just don't know what's going to come up.


"Things fly at you from all sides – it's just this fantastic cornucopia of sport and it's a fantastic feeling working at it.


"I was actually in Moscow when the IOC announced that it would be Beijing in 2008, so I was covering the event for news and a lot of the questions that are now being raised, I and many other journalists present raised at the time. So to me this whole situation is rather old.


"On a personal level, China is an absolutely wonderful and fascinating country and I have met some of the friendliest people I've ever met there while travelling around the world so I'm really looking forward to going back.


"Looking at the action there, Michael Phelps could be an interesting one in the pool. With him it's not a question of will he win a gold medal, it's how many, and I'll be interested to see how many he does get.


"I'm also interested to see how the three-day eventers get on in Hong Kong, and having just watched the world track cycling championships I'm very excited about Britain's chances because it was such an uplifting event in Manchester.


"For me half of the joy of the Olympics is in celebrating achievements of people whose countries we've never been to and never seen and seeing what it means to them – like when Jefferson Perez won Ecuador's first ever medal – which happened to be gold – a few years back.


"I love the fact you see the making – and indeed breaking – of national heroes from all around the world and that's as rewarding sometimes for me as to see a British gold medal.


"But in saying that I've been lucky to work at the last couple where our medal count has been boosted substantially and I've got a big feeling of optimism about our chances in very many sports and hopefully we can do even better and peak as we come up to 2012.


"I remember going to Athens one year before the Games and they had a host of problems beforehand and I thought, why would you ever bid for an Olympic Games? Seeing the pain these people were in with cranes and construction… it was a nightmare!


"But the feelgood factor afterward so saturated the whole of Greece – a Greek friend said you can't describe the feeling of pride and success that Greece feels now. We did it!


"So for London, yes it'll be painful on the way but there's something about an Olympic Games – and I've seen this in so many cities – suddenly the country wakes up about a week beforehand and when it's on everyone thinks this is the best thing we've ever done, and I'm looking forward to seeing that in the people of Britain because they've not had a chance by and large to experience it.


"It's a fantastic feeling when it's on and it's so inspirational not just to athletes but to people in general."







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