Alan Hubbard: The baffling jargon and hysteria of a Winter Olympics

Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Alan HubbardCards on the table. I am not the greatest fan of winter sports.

I suppose it goes back to the time many years ago when I took my one and only skiing holiday with my wife, an accomplished downhiller having spent some time in Canada.

While she was high above merrily skimming around on the red run for the experienced skier I was stuck down below falling about on the novices' green run being bellowed at by an unsympathetic Austrian instructor for repeatedly failing to master something called the Snowplough Position.

In the end I chucked the skis into a snowdrift and stomped off for a warming glass of gluhwein in the village hostelry where I spent the rest of the week.

Subsequently, I have to say that of all the international sports events I have covered in more than half a century, the one which lingers in my  consciousness as the most abysmal is the Winter Games of 1980 in Lake Placid.

It was so badly organised under the auspices of a local vicar (one Rev Bernard J Fell) the memory still sends cold shivers down my spine.

Small town America at its worst.

Lake Placid 1980 was a badly organised games ©AFP/Getty ImagesLake Placid 1980 was a badly organised games ©AFP/Getty Images



I have attended several since without ever becoming enamoured by them, though Lillehammer was quite civilised, but I had hoped I might finally be wooed by watching Sochi on the box from my comfort zone.

Instead, thanks to the BBC, instead of being turned on I have been totally turned off, as I suspect have many more back home.

Commentaries and punditry ranging from the excruciatingly hyperbolic to embarrassingly orgasmic have been showered up on us by cheerleaders with microphones waving verbal pom-poms.

In particular those "experts" who regaled throughout the undoubtedly admirable performance of Jenny Jones winning the historic bronze medal in the women's slopestyle on Sunday exceeded even the appalling jingoism we usually get from NBC whenever an American gets near the Olympic podium.

They possess a bafflingly wide variety of slopestyle jargon in their vocabulary (I always thought a McEgg was something you got in a bun at McDonald's) but objectivity appears a foreign language.

For BBC read OTT.

So much so that the BBC had to issue an apology after receiving just over 300 complaints from viewers who variously described the coverage as 'partisan, puerile and idiotic'.

The BBC commentators got carried away as Jenny Jones claimed slopestyle bronze ©Getty ImagesThe BBC commentators got carried away as Jenny Jones claimed slopestyle bronze ©Getty Images



One rightly condemned the "shrieking with joy" as one of Jones' foreign rivals fell.

Most of the time the constantly whooping presenters Ed Leigh and Tim Warwood, both former snowboarders, bemused us with those curious slopestyle phrases like "third metres of rad", "phat" and, even "huck it", which sounded so much like something else even the professional aplomb of the usually capable Hazel Irvine was ruffled to the extent of saying sorry to viewers for what we, and she, misheard as offensive language.

There was also the moment when Jones' team-mate Aimee Fuller, who had failed to make it through to the final, joined the over-effusive commentary team but was overcome with emotion she had to put down the mic. Not only was she speechless, but apparently sobbing, screeching as Jones began her final run, "I can't look – someone else commentate."

And this was not enough, as Jones waited for her score Leigh declared:

"I can feel my pulse in my lower intestine." Warwood sniggered: "That's not your pulse, Ed."

How David Coleman and David Vine must be turning in their proverbial graves.

Dare I say it, but that's the problem with employing jocks rather than journos.

We have been introduced to some curious slopestyle phrases during the events in Sochi ©Getty ImagesWe have been introduced to some curious slopestyle phrases during the events in Sochi ©Getty Images



As I was also saying last week the problem is we in Britain just don't seem to take the Winter Olympics seriously.

And we never will while television continues to dispense such ridiculously oversold commentaries, which I fear will spread to other aspects of the Games whenever Team GB gets the scent of a medal.

Goodness knows what would have happened had Jones won gold rather than bronze.

The commentary box probably would have disappeared in an avalanche of mouth-frothing hysteria.

As the late Michael Winner used to say in those insurance commercials: "Calm down dears!"

This overkill could well be the result of the Beeb having to justify their massive Games outlay in terms of cash and personnel by convincing viewers that everything that happens in Sochi is earth-shattering.

Their hope is that those at home will be as beguiled as they were when Torvill and Dean captivated the world exactly 30 years ago. It is too hard a sell, as we don't have a T and D any more.

But we do have so far is a Jenny Jones, as personable and presentable an advert for a British Olympian as you could wish. Good luck to her...

The BBC's outlay for coverage of the Sochi Games has been significant ©AFP/Getty ImagesThe BBC's outlay for coverage of the Sochi Games has been significant ©AFP/Getty Images



But let's keep things in proportion. Alas, those wading through the floods to get to the Dog and Duck on Sunday didn't find those at the bar fervently discussing the glorious bumps and grinds of Jenny Jones but the inglorious decline and fall of Manchester United.

The BBC's much-criticised coverage has been compounded by their decision to screen the lamentable Friday night piste-take Après-ski. Fronted by comedian Alan Davies it is crass, corny and about as funny as broken ribs.

So will I ever warm to this year's Winter Olympics? I might if I turn down the volume on the box.

Actually, I do see what the International Olympic Committee is trying to accomplish by bringing events like slopestyle into the Games. A sort of hip-hop on snow it obviously has a particular appeal to kids, but as the Games venture more into the realm of It's a Knockout, you wonder how long it will be before putting snowball becomes an Olympic event.

I was remarking on this to my winter sports enthusiast missus, suggesting that some of the antics for which you now see people winning gold medals in the Winter Games are what you might try for a giggle while on an Alpine holiday. "You wouldn't find anything like that in the Summer Olympics," I sniffed.

"Beach volleyball to you," she retorted coldly...

There was no answer that.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning  sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and  world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
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