From Shekhar Bhatia in Beijing
On Saturday, I filed for five Sunday newspapers and there were splashes, spreads and a few bylines.
Undoubtedly, I am a happy man today. As a freelance news journalist who often dabbles in sport, this is a tailor made event. There are stories everywhere you look. In the first week out here, when the whole event hadn’t even kicked off, I and my news colleagues filled the pages back home with tales of smog, Tom Daley and life in the Olympic Village.
There was the Opening Ceremony, which we all agreed was the best ever. Then, last week we took it in turns to dismantle the accolades as lie after lie about parts of the ceremony were revealed.
The Tom Daley fiasco in the diving pool – when he had a barney with his syncronised diving partner Blake Aldridge – has given me the greatest pleasure. In the heat of the Mixed Zone, Tom was niceness all round and took time to speak to everybody about how the Olympics flop had been a great learning curve.
Standing beside him, Blake’s body language told a different story.
I could see he was about to speak his mind about the final and Tom’s celebrity status. A few days earlier, I had irked him in the Olympic Village when I had asked his name while interviewing Tom.
Tom moved one way along the Mixed Zone and Blake the other.
I saw four or five Groin Strains (that’s what we news reporters call the sports writers, who in turn label us “Rotters”) huddled around Blake and it was obvious by the look of his face that he was letting rip. The whispers between the sports journalists only
raised my intrigue further.
I was filing for the Evening Standard West End Final edition, and we were about to be stiffed. I had to act fast.
I phoned Blake’s father, but his mobile was turned off. A few BOA officials said they had not noticed Blake having words about Tom.
In the end, with minutes to go before London’s 1.30pm deadline, I pulled a big favour from a contact and my notebook was filling up. The national newspaper sports journalists thought they had the exclusive. But I had hit a late goal.
The story made the Evening Standard that night and I was pleased that a few, the Telegraph‘s Sports Editor David Bond, the Mail‘s Charlie Sale and The Guardian‘s Paul Kelso, all had the time to congratulate me. They are people I already respected in the business anyway – but thank you guys.
The Main Press Center here is second to none and apart from a few internet problems, its all fine and dandy. The Chinese can’t be helpful enough and bend over backwards to come to your aid with directions, press announcements, scores and bottles of mineral water.
It does grate a bit, however, to have your press pass visibly scanned at every door as we are already in a secure area and the screening starts from your hotel, on the press bus and on arrival at the MPC.
Sometimes they can be too helpful. I love the story Ian Stafford of the Mail on Sunday told me about the morning he was in a lift and a volunteer scraped in through the closing doors to press the “close” button for him and then jumped out.
As my friends who clamber over roofs replacing tiles or stack baked beans in supermarkets back in London keep telling me, I am so lucky. I have seen Bolt run the fastest 100 metres ever, witnessed Rebecca Adlington’s double gold and seen tennis stars (my favourite sport) in all their grace in the Olympic arena here.
I even had Rafael Nadal to myself for five minutes, without any interfering officials, and still couldn’t think of anything to ask him except for the normal mundane questions he often fields at Wimbledon.
The press canteen is more than adequate in the MPC, the buses run on time all through the night (even when most hacks are asleep or in the bar), the taxis are ok if you can convince them to take you to the correct destination, and the fine Chablis in the
Omega lounge close to the Fencing Hall is simply fab.
Phil, Barry and the team from BOA, seated alongside the Brit pack in rows 400-500, have been extremely helpful and, despite shaking on the screen sometimes, their website with the latest results and nannies is a great back up.
I do feel Britain has some of the best sports writers, news reporters and photographers in the world and the coming together at this time, produces a real strikeforce.
It is always good to see that journalism poet, James Lawton, or first rate sports writer Ian Chadband, and working with photographer of the year Jeremy Selwyn is like having another reporter on your team who happens to take great pictures.
In veteran newsmen Nick Parker, Ian Gallagher and Jeremy Armstrong, you have not only reporters who have risked their lives in Afghanistan, but men who are passionate about sports and Team GB increasing the gold medal haul.
The readers are so lucky to have us.
I could not close, however, without mentioning a priceless moment on Saturday at the MPC when gold medals were flying in from every direction.
A group of sportswriters began jumping up and down at a British individual rower who went from nowhere to approach the leaders with 50 metres to go. “The Brits gonna get a bronze, he’s going for the bronze, no wait, he’s got the silver”, they said in
unison, punching the air.
Shame, the rower was Czech. You know who you are.
Photograph of Bhatia hard at work at the beach volleyball with The Sun‘s Nick Parker
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