Multi-eventer Lewis shows she’s multi-talented

Old track buff NORMAN GILLER looks back to this day in 1966, and glances forward to the future of one sport on TV

It was athletics that first hooked me into wanting to be a sportswriter. I can sit you down and reel off the track and field gold medallists in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics from the days when I used to record every fact and stat in a home-made, hand-written magazine that I called Gillerzine. Yes, a boring young fart has now become a boring old fart.

I became disillusioned with athletics when one of my heroes, Hal Connolly, the 1956 hammer champion, turned whistleblower on drug cheats, revealing that he ran out of places on his own body where to stick needles.

Influential people close to the sport have since assured me that many existing world records can only be beaten by either a superhuman or somebody drug-enhanced (take a look at the women’s sprint records and wonder what on earth Flo-Jo was on).

But on Tuesday night, I felt I was watching two clean, well-trained athletes bringing old-style track glory to Britain when I saw Mo Farah and Chris Thompson get a thrilling one-two in the European championships10,000 metres final in Barcelona.

I had just read John Inverdale’s salient article on how athletics needs to drag itself into the 21st century with its presentation if it is to attract mass audiences ” as in the golden oldie days of the Bannisters, Chataways, Hemery, Coe, Ovett, Cram and the Fosters of the running world.

Just think how much more exciting the race would have been if we had been able to get Chris Thompson’s view through a tiny headband-held camera as he dramatically made up ground on the last lap. Some traditionalists are appalled by the idea, but they need to move with the times.

The coverage of athletics (and gymnastics) could be revolutionised with easily adapted technology, and the BBC boffins should lead the way with the 2012 Olympics in mind.

If you saw the way they replayed my old school mate (well, we went to the same East End school) Phillips Idowu’s winning triple jump you will know they have all sorts of tricks up their sleeve. My 7-year-old grandson, James, watched the rapid-motion montage with open mouth and asked, “How many people are jumping at once?”

I have seen the gizmos in the BBC control rooms, and know they have plans for revolutionary coverage of major sports in this high-definition and digital age.

But as we live in a world where it is a bridge too far for FIFA to put a dispute-deciding camera in a goal frame, then perhaps we are expecting too much.

There is one area where BBC could improve their presentation at a stroke. Promote Denise Lewis from rarely-heard analyst to co-host with Jonathan Edwards. Lewis, pictured left, the 2000 Olympic heptathlon gold medallist, is articulate and knowledgeable, but so far the BBC has not got near to tapping her many talents.

The days of women presenters taking a back seat at the Beeb are long over. If I had to draw up a top 10 list of BBC sports presenters, then Clare Balding, Hazel Irvine, Sue Barker and even Gabby Logan (when she remembers she is not a celebrity magazine reporter) would jostle for the top places.

And if the BBC producers have any sense, they will give Denise her chance to join them.

WOMEN PRESENTERS were nowhere to be seen when ” exactly 44 years ago today ” England won the World Cup at Wembley, which is an appalling segueway into yet another plug for my instant World Cup Day By Day book.

The book is officially published today, and for those of you following my print-on-demand adventure you will be fascinated/concerned/amused to know that it looks like entering the record books on two counts:

1) the fastest World Cup report book ever printed, first copy off the digital press within 72 hours of the final; and
2) the lowest selling World Cup book of all time.

My pre-orders are on a par with sales for the memoirs of the contortionist and extortionist Ethel Buckethead. Who? Exactly. Actually, she was a character in one of my Carry On novels, very adept at getting herself out of tight spots.

All this gives me the opportunity to recall how I was one of the few reporters (possibly the only one) to get into the England dressing room after the World Cup final in ’66.

A trick today’s young reporters might want to copy: I was good friends with Wembley press officer Len Went. When the final whistle went, I stuck as close to Len as chewing gum to a London pavement.

It was merry mayhem, with total strangers hugging and dancing with each other as if they’d just scored that last-minute England goal that completed Geoff Hurst’s historic collection of two and a half World Cup final goals.

Len, of course, had an admit-to-all-parts pass, and such was the joy unbounded that none of the security guards questioned him as he waved me through all the check points until we reached the dressing room corridor in the bowels of the old stadium.

The jubilant players were coming back in ones and twos, and after I had hugged Ballie and kissed Banksie, I followed them into the dressing room where I touched the Jules Rimet Trophy (actually, it was a replica) and cuddled my mate Mooro before I felt the blowtorch stare from Alf Ramsey.

Even in this moment of euphoria, he was not going to bend his rule that the dressing room was as private as a lady’s boudoir, and I quickly stepped back into the corridor before he could kick me out.

But at least I had got in for a few moments, enough time to see trainer Harold Shepherdson treating hat-trick hero Hurst for a black eye collected when he had collided with goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski.

I had a front page story in the Daily Express on the Monday about Geoff’s black eye, while on the back pages of several papers Ramsey was getting less than generous praise from top writers Brian James (Daily Mail), Ken Jones (Daily Mirror), Clive Toye (Express) and Peter Lorenzo (the broadsheet Sun).

They had been Alf’s disciples through all the trials and tribulations leading to the finals, taking his corner when there was widespread criticism of him from the likes of columnists Desmond Hackett, JL Manning, Laurie Pignon and, in particular, northern scribes led by Eric Cooper in the Express.

Alf left an ITV-staged Sunday lunch the day after the final to tell his unswerving supporters James, Jones, Toye and Lorenzo: “You know the rules, gentlemen. I never give interviews on a Sunday. This is my day off.”

So much for loyalty. I should write a book about it.

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