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Over the last few weekends, I’ve been ridiculously excited for reasons my friends cannot comprehend – live athletics has been on the television.

Okay, so it’s the Aviva Indoor Athletics which aren’t the most important events in the world, even if they are used to get qualifying times for the World Indoors next month. And granted, the Indoors aren’t vitally important, and many great athletes won’t be there. But it’s very good preparation for London 2012 and I enjoy watching athletics. I don’t care who’s competing or where it is, as long as it’s on the TV.

Both the BBC and Channel 4 have been covering these qualifying events. The BBC covered Glasgow’s event and Channel 4 broadcast from Sheffield where Jessica Ennis got her season off to a brilliant start. This Saturday, the BBC is moving to Birmingham.

Those that read my blog will know I have been very critical of Channel 4’s athletics coverage previously. They were, and will be next time around, the broadcasters for the Athletics World Championships. There was one occasion where I was sitting watching the 2011 Worlds, when Channel 4’s coverage ended before the pole vault final had concluded because they felt they had to show Three In A Bed instead.

Channel 4 will be the broadcasters for the Paralympic Games and their promotional programmes have been nothing short of excellent. One fine programme made use of sport science technology to show how these incredible athletes use their bodies and disabilities to excel in their sports. The Paralympic Show has provided insightful interviews. The other day, I watched a ten-minute segment on Eleanor Simmonds.

Channel 4’s actual live coverage, however, is still lagging behind the BBC’s.

First, is the issue of the presenter. Channel 4 opened the Worlds with Ortis Deley, who proved to know very little about athletics and struggled with the live presenting. He was eventually dropped and exchanged for Rick Edwards.

Edwards is better than Deley. He copes with questioning his very knowledgeable guests, including Dean Macey and Kelly Sutherton and is much better at providing segways between interviews and live action. But something still feels amiss. He simply is not as natural as John Inverdale. I haven’t yet put my finger on what’s missing, but something is.

Channel 4’s coverage also struggles because of its adverts. The BBC’s programming excels because of its expert analysis from Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson between events. Channel 4 does not have time to do this because it cuts to adverts between events. Indeed, Channel 4 leaves very little time for interviews with the athletes unless they are particularly famous. They chose to interview Jessica Ennis and Dwain Chambers, but seemed to feel others were unworthy of screen time.

Channel 4’s coverage last Sunday involved the finals from a two-day event. It attempted to highlight the main action from Saturday and from Sunday morning, but actually showed very little of it. At one point, it seemed to cut suddenly from its highlights to live action because the highlights were almost shown over a race. The BBC’s programming tends to last longer than the athletics itself, allowing time for an interesting interviews and conversations between the presenters before the live actions starts, and some time at the end to sum-up.

Some of these problems will be hard for C4 to rectify. It will have adverts during the Paralympics and this may still leave insufficient time for analysis. Analysis is something athletics watchers enjoy. It’s amazing to watch in slow motion the moment in a race where Mo Farah suddenly accelerates, where you see a hurdler knock one hurdle and lose the race on the line, where you can see the 100m again, because its too fast to fully appreciate the first time around.

There is still time for Channel 4 to improve. It will be hosting the Indoor Worlds in Istanbul next month and promises over 20 hours of coverage screen across Channel 4 and More 4. It will definitely have learnt from Daegu last year, where it struggled with poor presenting. Hopefully it won’t cut out any live action to make room for repeats this time.

Ultimately though, Channel 4 has a long way to go if it wants sport coverage to rival the BBC’s. But there is still time.

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If you read nothing else today, read this article by Andrew Steele, British 400m runner.

These last few days, I have been writing about the wonderful achievements of athletes in Daegu. Well, that and the failures. But what never gets mentioned is the athletes that would have given everything to race, jump or hurdle alongside their contemporaries but can’t, for one reason or another. A lot of athletes have set-backs.

In 2008, Andy Turner’s lottery funding of £12,000 a year was cut off, based on the assumption that he would not win a medal in the 2009 World Championships at the 110m hurdles. At the time, he said “It’s going to be tough but I have to do it as I’ve still got dreams of winning a medal in the Olympics,” and that he would have to look for an outside sponsor or start a part-time job. The idea of not competing did not cross his mind, despite financial concerns. Competition, after all, drives all sportsmen. Turner had the drive to continue competing, despite the new hurdles he had to jump (pun intended).

Turner had to bounce back from what was probably a sporting all-time low and start achieving in order to get his funding back. Here are some of his achievements (and setbacks) from 2009, a year after he lost funding:

  • Fourth in 60m hurdles in European Indoor Championships
  • Won 110m hurdles in European Team Championships
  • Eliminated in heats at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, carrying an injury
  • Fifth in the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final
And here are a list of achievements from 2010:
  • Won 110m hurdles in European Team Championships
  • Won 110m hurdles in 2010 European Athletics Championships
  • Won 110 hurdles in the Commonwealth games
And today, Turner was rewarded with the Bronze medal at the World Championships in Daegu, proving once and for all that he was more than deserving of Lottery funding.
Turner’s obstacles have been different in nature to that of Steele’s. Steele’s struggle with glandular fever means that he is not just struggling with his finances (he believes that, like Turner, he will lose his funding), but he is struggling everyday with his body. An athlete’s most important tool is, naturally, his body.

Steele’s article proved a timely reminder: The athletes at Daegu have worked incredibly hard to get where they are. But they are also incredibly lucky not to be plagued by injury and illness. It’s amazing to watch their performances, but it is very easy to forget the ones that have pushed themselves to the limit trying to achieve the same things.

I’m going to give Steele a thought when I’m back watching athletics on Thursday. I hope he gets well soon.

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With tomorrow’s athletics merely the walking races, I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss some of the most pivotal moments in the last few days of the Athletics World Championships in Daegu.

As a fan of all British athletes, I was slightly disappointed to see Jessica Ennis win the Silver medal, and not retain her title from Berlin two years ago. Nevertheless, Tatyana Chernova put in an incredible effort, and definitely deserved the gold medal.

I think, though, the most shocking moment of these championships (so far) was definitely Usain Bolt’s disqualification from the 100m final. I have already written at length about what changes I believe the IAAF may need to implement before the Olympics next year to avoid such an event occurring a second time. It is a shame though, that the IAAF may only reconsider its decision on false starts (currently one strike and you’re out) as a result of a world record holder being disqualified. Fans have to wonder if it had been Tyson Gay or Asafa Powell who false started whether the IAAF would still be considering another look at the rules.

Another shocking moment which I mentioned briefly in this blog yesterday was the disqualifaction of Dayron Robles after he interfered in Liu Xiang’s lane during the 110m hurdles. There have been mixed views on whether stripping him of his gold medal was the right decision, but he clearly made contact with Xiang twice towards the end of the race, at a moment where it appeared Xiang was on course for the gold medal. The fair and correct decision appears to have been made by the IAAF in this case.

The biggest cheers around the stadium have emerged every time Oscar Pistorius has taken to the track. A Paralympic athlete who runs on blades, Pistorius was granted permission to run in these World Championships, to mixed feelings. To some, he is an inspiration, running times unthinkable to even some able-bodied athletes. To others, such as Tanni Grey-Thompson, a legend in Paralympic sport, he is relegating the Paralympics as a ‘B’ sport. And others feel that his blades give him an unfair advantage over other athletes. Pistorius crashed out in the semi-final, but put in some amazing performances to make it that far. I am still struggling to make my own opinion about his inclusion, but this is a fantastic article from the Telegraph which may help you make up your own minds.

Also, in the men’s 400m, there is another man to look out for: Kirani James of the island of Grenada claimed the gold medal after a surprising victory over favourite LaShawn Merritt. Aged only 18 (19 in two days), he ran a superb race and may be on course to one day beat Michael Johnson’s world record.

In the next few days, I am most looking forward to the relays. They are so often full with drama, but also feature some of the best sprinters in the world. As a fan of Great Britain, I also can’t wait to watch Dai Green’s 400m hurdles, as well as triple jumper Phillips Idowu. Be sure to keep a close eye on the next few days of events at Daegu – I am sure they will be thrilling.

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