YOU probably won’t remember but I used to be ITV’s rowing and canoeing commentator!
That was 20 years ago mind you, in the year Steve Redgrave, long before he became knighted, won the second of his five gold medals in Seoul.
The memories are flooding back this week as I catch a plane to Beijing for only my second Olympic Games.
No regattas for me this time, I’m going to be tucked away in a commentary booth in the International Broadcast Centre commentating on football and tennis for NZBC – that’s the New Zealand state broadcaster.
Korea 1988 was a wonderful experience, I was doing live broadcasts from the Olympic Stadium at both opening and closing ceremonies, and got to watch some of the athletics, tennis, swimming and hockey on days when I wasn’t down at the Han River calling the shots on Redgrave and his partner at the time Andy Holmes, or the canoeists paddling like fury.
That’s actually a better description than one I came up with at the time.
You might not believe this but I was actually informed that I was ITV’s rowing expert the night before the first race!
Head of Sport, the late John Bromley, took my breath away at the eve of Olympics team briefing with the words: “Helmy we’ll come live for the first of your races.”
“What sort of race?” I blurted out in astonishment. “Whatever – single sculls, coxless pairs – you’re the expert!”
I’d been to one regatta in my life – at Saltaire – in my days as a cub reporter on the Shipley Times & Express – and here I was being told I was broadcasting to the nation on a sport about which I knew nothing.
Anyway, with considerable help from a lady called Penny Chuter, who was head of the rowing delegation, and a former cox and now member of the House of Lords, Colin Moynihan, I just about got away with it, and was thrilled to describe a gold medal victory for Redgrave and Holmes.
“Brommers” – a great leader of men – had another shock in store: “Right Helmy, on to canoeing. You can have a day off to swot. Good luck!”
I went down to the River Han to begin my new assignment – in other words find the Penny Chuter of canoeing to clue me up – when I noticed the ITV telephone ringing in the commentary position.
Foolishly I picked it up and heard a voice say: “John put your headphones on.” Seconds later Barry Norman, our studio presenter in London sent a chill down my spine with the words: “Now we’re going live to our first event of the day – it’s the kayak in the men’s canoeing competition. Commentator John Helm.”
I was on air for 20 minutes without a monitor to refer to, another commentator anywhere in sight, an event list, or a scrap of information. The race started miles away – and when the canoeists eventually came within vision I blurted out excitedly: “They’re going like the clappers!”
It wasn’t the finest moment of my broadcasting career – but I kept the job.
Needless to say I hope NZBC don’t spring any similar surprises on me – though I have heard worrying whispers about handball!
ROBBIE KEANE’S transfer from Spurs to Liverpool has been an acrimonious affair. Liverpool have actually paid a fee to charity to prevent Spurs taking legal action – this by way of an apology.
The Ronaldo tug of war between Manchester United and Real Madrid has been a sickening saga highlighted by vitriol between the clubs.
Wigan have been reported to the Premier League by Birmingham, accused of poaching staff since Steve Bruce’s move from St Andrew’s to the JJB Stadium.
Is any football transfer above board these days? Poaching has always gone on, but the proliferation of agents, keen to move players around like pawns on a chess board for personal gain, and the demand of newspapers for transfer gossip, has had the effect of unsettling footballers and causing friction between clubs more than ever.
In case you didn’t find it in any of the national newspapers and were worried you’d missed it – Brazil won the World Cup of Beach Soccer in Marseille.
Now there’s a surprise! They really are on a different planet to anyone else as an unbeaten record stretching back 72 matches tells you.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable event – I topped up the tan at the same – time and I can’t wait for it to move to Bondi Beach in Sydney. Now that would be a tough assignment.