One of these is in the sporting arena. The sporting colossus' of our time stand high above their peers as exemplars of the highest levels of skill, perseverance, nerve and raw talent known to us all. The names Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Ayrton Senna, Phil Taylor, Nadia Comaneci, Muhammed Ali, Martina Navratilova, Pele, Don Bradman, Ryan Giggs and Steve Redgrave to name but a few, will stand the test of time.
But for many a sporting hero and for many a historic sporting moment, you need a keen observor with a microphone in his or her hand to turn a moment of tension and sporting emotion and drama into one that will be remembered throughout the ages in the archives of our minds. Without the right words, a moment of sporting drama can be lost and forgotten instead, in the archives of televisual institutions.
The names Brendan Foster, Kenneth Wolstenholme, Eddie Waring, Ted Lowe, John Motson, Harry Carpenter, Murray Walker, Peter O'Sullevan, Sid Waddell, Brian Moore, Barry Davies, Bill McLaren, David Coleman, Peter Allis and Richie Benaud all trip off the tounge for their mastery of the greatest sporting occasions. The ability to commit an audio recollection of a sporting moment of greatness or despair to us the listening and viewing public in an art. Many try it, but very few, as with the sporting heroes on which they commentate, ever make the top grade.
A great piece of sports commentary must contain several elements. It has to be:
- funny where possible,
- but above all it must have something that makes it memorable enough to stay in the public consciousness for years afterwards.
- and if it is truly memorable, it'll send the shivers down your spine.
The Top 20 Countdown
So to celebrate the remarkable craft that is sporting commentary, I give you my humble countdown of the greatest moments in sporting commentary history.
Here, I give you my countdown from No.20 down to No.16.
No.20 - Ian Botham’s 'Leg-over' (Agnew and Johnston)
Squeezing into my top 20 is my only piece of commentary from the world of cricket. Not from the fantastic Richie Benaud, but from Jonathan 'Aggers' Agnew and Brian 'Johnners' Johnston on Test Match Special on radio in August 1991.
It was at The Oval, when Agnew (who had only began his 20 year and counting working relationship for Test Match Special that summer) referred to Ian Botham's 'hit wicket' dismissal as he "just couldn't quite get his leg over"! This remark led to the total collapse of both Agnew and veteran Johnston into a fit of giggles (which was followed quickly by Johnston's giggle-affected chastening, "Aggers do stop it!").
Certainly one that fits into the 'funny' category of commentary, it is a cricketing classic!
No.19 - Tiger Wood's 16th hole chip at the 2005 US Masters (US commentary)
It has gone down in sport as one of the best shots ever seen on a golf course. I had the great fortune of witnessing it live, as it happened, back in 2005. Tiger Woods made the most extraordinary putt that I may ever see.
Here, in the only golfing commentary moment to make my top 20, the American commentary as is its way, gave us a full throttle response to what was an incredible shot at the Augusta National.
"Oh my goodness...OH WOW! In your life have you ever seen anything like that?"
In all honesty, no I hadn't. What I felt had therefore been summed up by the commentary team and that is exactly what they're there to do.
No.18 - Sally Gunnell "Gets the Gold" at Barcelona '92 (David Coleman)
There are fewer better exemplars of sporting commentary greatness than David Coleman. He was famed for his 'Colemanballs' - but he had a distinctive and authoratitive voice which lent itself for the greatest occasions and there are none greater than the Olympic Games.
I'm biased here admittedly because the 1992 Barcelona Olympics were the first that I remember so it has stuck vividly in my mind. But what helped made it so were Coleman's passionate, dramatic and in the fullness of time, wholly memorable words.
Here he is, commentating on Sally Gunnell's 400m Hurdles dash for Olympic Gold.
"And it's Sally Gunnell now with one to go. Gunnell leads and goes for it...and she gets it right. GUNNELL GOING FOR GOLD, AND GUNNELL GETS THE GOLD"...
No.17 - Steve Davis Vs Dennis Taylor in the 1985 World Snooker Final ('Whispering' Ted Lowe)
There have been fewer dramatic moments in sporting history than the black ball climax of the 1985 World Snooker Championship final at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre.
In itself, the drama of what unfolded was enough to put it into the annals of sporting history but the commentary of legendary 'Whispering' Ted Lowe gave it the gravitas that it deserved. His under-stated commentary added to the drama. He knew that there were times when the best commentary was silence and to leave the action speak for itself.
His commentary is the first of two from the green baize to make my top 20.
When he did speak, he spoke on behalf of us all. When Steve Davis missed what looked like an easy black for the title, his exclamation of "No!" was filled with incredulity and disbelief at what he had just seen."This is really unbelievable".
When Taylor sank the black, Ted Lowe said all that was needed to be said. "He's done it...Dennis Taylor, for the first time, becomes Embassy World Snooker Champion, 1985".
Here, we see Ted Lowe speaking of that finale over 20 years later.
Absolutely perfect commentary.
No.16 - "Dessies done it" - Desert Orchid wins the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Desert Orchid has gone down in racing history as one of the most popular horses of all time. Affectionately known as Dessie, the gallant grey had it's greatest moment at the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He had previously been considered a two-miler but the Gold Cup was 3 miles and 2 furlongs long. The rain and snow which had fallen relentlessly at Cheltenham made the racecourse going heavy. These were conditions hardly suited to Desert Orchid, especially at this left-handed course which he never particularly favoured.
But he gallantly fought back at the death against Yahoo and Peter O’Sullevan with his distinctive, deep voice, filled with passion for what he was watching, gave the euphoric moment the words that made it even more so.
"Desert Orchid is beginning to get up as they race towards the line. There's a tremendous cheer from the crowd, as Desert Orchid is going to win it, Desert Orchid has won the Gold Cup, Yahoo is second...Simon Sherwood punches the air. Dessie has done it".
Wonderful, emotional commentary from racing's master!
So there's a sample of some of my greatest sporting commentary moments. But they are merely the taster. Merely the orderve for what is to come.
So stay tuned for my next installment tomorrow when the countdown continues...