By Patrick O’Grady
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (MDM) — The refined raconteurs at Rouleur have taken umbrage — umbrage, sir! — with cyclo-cross commentary American style.
Drawing comparisons to Wolfman Jack and the Three Stooges in his recollection of the U.S. national cyclo-cross championships as called by Dave Towle, Richard Fries and Brad Sohner, Ian Cleverly writes:
“The three commentators were unintentionally hilarious and less intelligible than the standard chap I tune into on Sporza for Belgian races, and he talks Flemish … They tossed the commentary around with such alarming frequency you’d have thought it was a live hand grenade with a pulled pin. I’m not sure about the riders, but I was utterly spent with a lap still to go.”
Now, it’s a little grating to endure a lecture about dignity in broadcasting from the nation that brought us “The Goon Show,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and Eddie Izzard. However, I find myself forced to agree with my esteemed colleague from across the water (though I’m reluctant to slap a Stooge sticker on Sohner, whom I considered the best of the trio).
I, too, watch and enjoy Sporza’s coverage of cyclo-cross. Watch enough of it for a living, as I have, and at some point you believe you have come to understand what the Flemish-speaking commentators are going on about.
I’ve never quite gotten to that point with our homegrown announcers.
I appreciate how difficult it must be to keep a snappy line of patter running while standing in a frozen, windswept park tracking barely recognizable, mud-spattered cyclists as they whirl about the course like so many dirty dervishes. I’ve covered a few cyclo-crosses in person, of course, but I never had to entertain anyone while I was in the midst of doing it. I’m much better suited to tapping half-witticisms into a keyboard and snickering to myself from a safe distance.
But speaking as a fan of televised cycling — and as a reporter who has used streaming video to “cover” bike races for publication — I appreciate commentary with a little less drama, a bit more detail and a whole lot less WWF-WTF racket. Who’s in the lead, who’s chasing and how far back, how many laps to race — that sort of thing.
More on-screen graphics. More replays of key bits. And more cameras. I think Sporza issues a camera to every drink-sodden Belgian crushed up against the course fencing. But there are a lot of blind spots in U.S. ‘cross coverage, and it’s irksome to watch one group of riders vanish behind a hummock only to see a different bunch emerge while your computer is screaming, “This report brought to you by Phonak Hearing Aids! Back to you on the stage!”
I know, I know — this sort of thing is still in its infancy here in the Colonies. Technology is expensive and the logistics nightmarish and sponsorship dollars as rare as common sense in Congress. Plus Ian and I may very well be alone in our critical assessment of U.S. ’cross commentary. For sure the P.T. Barnum School of Broadcasting has its adherents. I’m just not one of them.
I think the domestic viewing audience is accustomed to the slightly more sophisticated presentation given other, lesser events like football, baseball and GOP presidential primaries, and the novelty of simply having something, anything, about cyclo-cross on TV will soon wear thin.
And that’s when sales of Flemish-English dictionaries will take off. Although you don’t really need one to understand that Sporza announcer when he says “Tsk, tsk, tsk” or “Oy yoi yoi yoi yoi.”