13 Apr Hoist by their own petard: BBC the victims of their own hype

‘I hope the message is getting out to the spectators that Mo isn’t losing’ said a perplexed Brendan Foster as Mo Farah set about doing just that in the London Marathon. ‘He’s sensibly gone off in the second group and that doesn’t mean he is losing’ continued Brendan before turning his attention to ‘the great men, the experts of the marathon’ who were in the leading group. Just how someone in a competitive race can be absent from the leading group and not losing is beyond the comprehension of all bar Bren.

The BBC’s hype department had clearly missed the memo reminding them that 5 of the fastest marathon runners of all time were to take on the debutant Farah. Indeed, either Cram or Foster gasped as the names were read out. It was a realisation that came a little too late as we had already seen Colin Jackson ask Mo’s PE teacher from school whether he ‘expected’ Mo to be the athlete he was today. The #MoTime countdown clock made repeated appearances just in case viewers missed the first hundred metres or so and we had been treated to looped close-ups of our man shooting the breeze in the starting area.

As it became increasingly clear that ‘#MoTime’ was not going to be the fastest time run on the day, Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram and an audibly devastated Foster were left to scramble around and find something to talk about that wasn’t the domination of Farah. Sensation was very much the order of the day and so the title ‘great’ was banded around with such impunity that mediocrity was a more exclusive club than legend. We had ‘the great man’ Haile Gebrselassie ‘selflessly’ opting to get paid to pace the race rather than race it. Up the road there was ‘great one’ Tirunesh Dibaba making her marathon debut and – like our very own ‘great’ Mo Farah – failing to win it (but let’s be clear they were not losing). Away from the runners, the organisation, the spectators, the volunteers and just about everything going was at some stage branded as ‘the greatest in the world’.

Back in the race and the importance of picking up a drinks bottle correctly was repeatedly demonstrated. It quickly became apparent that fresh from advising Farah to ‘take it easy in the home straight’ at the Great North Run (thus handing victory to Kenenisa Bekele), Paula Radcliffe had joined his team full-time as the ‘Director of Picking Up Bottles Effectively’. Paula revealed exclusively that as late as yesterday, Farah planned to have people handing him the bottle rather than having to pick them up himself. Clearly, Radcliffe had counseled for the latter as ‘people may not hold the bottle in the right way’. Regardless of all the ‘training’ it was a ploy that backfired horribly when Farah dropped his drink just after halfway and had to go on without it. Viewers were treated to slow-mo (geddit?!) replays of the gaffe and if you listened closely, you could hear the blood draining from Paula’s face.

As the race wore on, focus on ‘the gap’ (that at one stage was ‘coming down rapidly’ before promptly going back up again even quicker) between Farah and the leaders stopped and we were constantly reassured that this was ‘an excellent run’ from Mo and he was sure of a British record. Maybe even a European record? When those goals also vanished, Steve Jones (the current British record holder) was celebrated as ‘the man’ and the achievement of 2 hours 7 minutes underlined. Odd that a couple of hours prior, the prospect of Farah ‘only’ doing that was virtually laughable. Happily, Mo was able to achieve that oh so difficult English Record – a stat that Cram gleefully spat out to manage our despair. You wonder whether we would have started going as far as ‘Southern’ records or a ‘when wearing an Official Team GB vest’ record.

As always when a British athlete performs below expectation, you can be sure of only one thing: the BBC will make excuses for said athlete. And so Paula – possibly trying to draw attention away from her advice not to have help taking drinks – opined that Farah’s build up to this race had been ‘far from ideal, with what happened in New York and the calf injury he has had meaning missing a bit of training’. Cram blamed the fact that the group in front of Farah’s group had gone too slowly and Brendan – by this stage in the ‘denial’ phase of his grieving process – clung to Farah’s achievements on the track.

‘There’s been a lot of attention of this London Marathon because of Mo Farah. But why would you chose to take on these athletes?’ thundered Foster (quickly moving into the ‘anger’ stage of grief) as the race wound up, clearly forgetting his prior proclamations of how ‘pleased’ he was that Farah had chosen to do so. Adding that he thought ‘Mo should stick to the 10,000m’, Bren again voiced his surprise (and almost annoyance) at the ability of Wilson Kipsang and the other ‘real’ marathon runners.

Ultimately, just about everyone on the BBC loftily opined that the hype and expectation had been too high given the quality of the field. Quite. I wonder who we should blame for that?

  • David Howe

    Excellent piece – the race up front at London 2014 was brilliant – it is a shame that the commentary on Mo by the BBC pundits nicely articulated by Fairborn had to get in the way from a great race!

  • David Howe

    Excellent piece – the race up front at London 2014 was brilliant – it is a shame that the commentary on Mo by the BBC pundits nicely articulated by Fairborn had to get in the way of a great race!

  • Tom

    At the top of his sports fame, it is clear why Mo chose London Marathon: +2h of advertising new NIKE GB kit + VIRGIN BANKING was probably well paid. NIKE & VIRGIN know how to do marketing. :)
    And of course he had not much to lose this year, he will rest few weeks, do some track training and will comfortably win Europeans and if he is in good shape the Commonwealths as well.