Papers rise to challenge of Great Haul of China

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Sunday:
Super Saturday at the Beijing Olympics was fully reflected in today’s British newspapers, despite strong sporting competition for space from the first weekend of the Premier League football season.

British success – embraced with “Great Haul of China” headlines in at least three newspapers – ensured the wall to wall coverage, on the front pages as well as back, in the news sections as well as sport of a massive gold medal day, which was capped off by one of the most astonishing 100 metres finals ever seen on the track.

Estimates of words filed from the men and women at the coal face working in Beijing included Scotland on Sunday at 5,000, the Sunday Express at 7,000, News of the World at 5,000, Mail on Sunday at 8,000, Sunday Telegraph at 12,000, Independent on Sunday at 12,000 plus, and The Observer at 15,000 plus.

The working day yesterday was the biggest of the Games so far with swimming starting early at 10am local time and Usain Bolt in the men’s 100 metres final coming more than 12 hours later. Some papers stayed open for Paula Radcliffe‘s challenge in the marathon, which was at 7.30am local time on Sunday, half an hour after midnight in the UK. It meant that some Sunday newspaper reporters were effectively filing live copy halfway into Sunday.

“I worked late last night and had a rest on a couch in then Press Centre waiting for Paula,” said Andy Dunn , of the News of the World.

Demands of websites means that many writers were also feeding traditional and new age outlets one after the other. The Mail on Sunday duo of Rob Draper and Ian Stafford both filed well into Sunday afternoon in Beijing, on Radcliffe and Michael Phelps‘s eighth gold medal respectively, for the Mail Online.

One American writer was heard saying to his office that he had never realised how demanding working for the web would become in an Olympic setting. From all over the world writers are discovering the fresh challenges set by new technology.

â–¡ Savour the moment. When Ben Ainslie, a friend of the SJA, won his Finn class sailing gold medal this afternoon, Britain had accumulated its 10th gold of these Games, putting us third on the medals table. That’s ahead of Germany. Oh, and ahead of Australia, too, and with more to come from the Velodrome later.

That fourth place target on the medal table for 2012 might not be so far away after all.

â–¡ Spare a thought, though. For Kath Grainger in the women’s quad sculls, her third successive Olympic silver medal

â–¡ Britain’s awesome foursome of Andy Hodge, Steve Williams, Peter Reed and Tom James regained their rightful place on top of the world at the Shunyi Rowing Park with a blistering last 500 metres to take gold from the Australian crew in the final few strokes, Philip Barker writes.

It was a performance which attracted great interest beyond the normal rowing specialists from both Press, radio and television. The buses for the one-hour journey from Beijing to the site were crammed full. Being a Saturday, the Sunday newspaper chaps were out in force together with the dailies. Virtually all the desktop positions were taken in the Press box so that it was almost standing room only.

Sad to say the same could not be said for the public stands, but at least there were enough Union Flags waving at the medal ceremony during God Save the Queen.

Britain has now won this event at the last three Olympic Games. But for the first time since 1988, there was no involvement in any British crew of someone called Redgrave or Pinsent.

â–¡ SJA member Michael Butcher was out and about this morning around the women’s marathon, and on the Metro met a Polish sports enthusiast who told him: “I wanted to watch the cycling road race, but all the buses and taxis were stopped eight kilometres from the race. I had to walk 8km to see the race.” That might explain why there were no spectators on the roads.

â–¡ There are times when a newspaper report gathers momentum and takes on a life of its own. Sid Lowe, The Guardian‘s correspondent in Spain, knows all about that after the past week, in which he landed a slam dunk of a story about the Spanish Olympic basketball squad and an ill-considered publicity stunt for one of their sponsors which has led to claims of a national slur against Spain and an “Anglo-Saxon conspiracy” to undermine Madrid’s bid to stage the 2016 Games (which is an odd complaint anyway, since the chances of Europe staging two successive Games, at a time when the United States has not hosted the summer Games since 1996, is less than zero).

Yesterday’s Guardian reported:

The ad that started the international hoopla was for a courier company, Seur, the official sponsor of the Spanish basketball federation, and it occupied a full page in the sports daily Marca, the country’s best-selling newspaper. Both the men’s and women’s squads posed in full Olympic kit and appeared to be pulling back the skin on either side of their eyes.

“No one involved in the advert appears to have considered it inappropriate nor contemplated the manner in which it could be interpreted in China and elsewhere,” wrote Lowe. “No offence was intended by the advert, but whether the Chinese see it that way is a different matter and it is likely to provoke more criticism at a delicate time for Spanish sport.”

Lowe’s report referred to incidents, including the monkey chants that greeted England’s black footballers in a friendly game in Spain and the blacking up of some local fans when Lewis Hamilton was competing in the Spanish grand prix.

The story was picked up on the internet, particularly in the US, where the picture caused some amazement and has since featured on everything from the popular satirical Daily Show to the national news networks. The reaction in Spain has been outrage, but not against the ad makers, but The Guardian and its reporter.

“The backlash has been fairly fierce here,” said Lowe, who has defended himself on Spanish television. “It seems that no one read the original. I didn’t accuse anyone of anything.”

The Spanish basketball federation suggested that the whole controversy had been generated “in bad faith by some members of the press … so we reserve the right to take appropriate legal action”.

But one of Spain’s squad, Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, said: “Some of us didn’t feel comfortable doing it. To me it was a little clownish on our part to be doing that. The sponsor insisted and insisted. They pushed because they’re the people that pay the money. It was just a bad idea to do that. It was never intended to be offensive or racist against anybody.”

The team was booed by Chinese fans when they played and beat the host nation 85-75 on Tuesday, although it is unclear whether this had anything to do with the picture.

Click here for a report and to see the picture.

â–¡ Talking of inappropriate pictures, someone might want to have a word with the picture desk at the Beijing Youth Daily.

The Chinese paper chose an interesting way to promote its preview of the Blue Riband of the Games. In a front page piece looking ahead to the 100 metres final, headlined “The Great Day”, according to my Chinese translators, they chose to illustrate it was a well-known Belgrave Harrier who is most certainly not at the Beijing Games.

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Clear skies 4, Smog 11. Rained overnight, today has been overcast, but not so hot.

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