12 November 2019

ABC draws the curtain on the Olympics in the theatre of the mind

| Tim Gavel
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ABC broadcasting the Rio Olympics from Redfern in 2016. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Jim Maxwell and Peter Walsh broadcasting the Rio Olympics from Redfern in 2016. Photo: Tim Gavel.

If you are like me, you would have grown up listening to the Olympics on the radio. Television reception wasn’t great in the bush, so the radio was our connection to the outside world. It was great when driving as well. The picture could be created with words and your mind does the rest.

The impact that it had on me was significant. I started to practise commentary while I was mustering sheep. Like the giants of broadcasting, I worked on extracting every ounce of emotion without losing control.

It was theatre of the mind, with the visuals provided by the commentators’ breadth of knowledge and their ability to create an image through words. Many of those commentators, such as Tim Lane and the late Norman May, plied their trade broadcasting a number of sports such as cricket, AFL, rugby union and the like, but it was their Olympic commentary which evokes the most memorable of memories.

Having commentated at seven Olympic Games for the ABC, it was always the ultimate test for me. Over the course of the Olympics, I could be called upon to commentate around nine different sports.

I well remember looking around at my first Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 in absolute awe of the commentators around me. I needed to lift my game to ensure I didn’t let the team down.

So I pushed myself as a commentator beyond what I thought I was capable in order to reach their standards. My aim, as much as anything else, was to avoid being the weak link. The months of preparation learning names and intricate rules, the sleepless nights, was akin to studying for an exam and being tested 16 days in a row.

Recently, the ABC pared back its coverage with most of the commentary for the Rio Olympics being performed on the back of a pantech at the rear of the Channel 7 studios at Redfern.

That proved to be another test. Commentating events relayed through a television screen from across the other side of the world at 2:30 in the morning set another layer of difficulty.

But devoting effort to bring the television images and sound to life by concentrating on description for the listeners, is the challenge for radio.

Tim Gavel commentating off television in Glasgow in 2014. Photo: Supplied.

Radio commentary was always a passion for Tim Gavel. Commentating from television in Glasgow in 2014. Photo: Supplied.

This effectively is why the decision by the ABC not to broadcast the Tokyo Olympics will have a lasting impact on the next generation of sports commentators.

A pathway is essential for any career with challenges and higher goals. In eliminating the ability to commentate at the Olympics, the showcase of athletic achievement, takes away one of the greatest challenges and goals that a sports commentator can experience.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world, but in the small and ever-decreasing world of radio sports commentators, it’s a huge blow.

Another factor, referred to earlier, is the joy of listening and visualising the Olympics.

In fact, there are some Olympic moments that I have deliberately avoided watching on television replay lest it spoil the memory garnered through the image provided by the radio.

Hopefully, the next generation will find their special way of enjoying the Olympics.

Original Article published by Tim Gavel on The RiotACT.

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