I have spent more time watching the Paralympics than the Olympics a few weeks back. At first it was not through choice. My son hijacked the TV and has been watching the Games each night from 6.00-7.00pm on ABC1 and then switching to ABC2 until 11.00pm. “These athletes are amazing,” he said, “You should watch them.” So I did. He’s right. The athletes are amazing and inspirational. The evenings have not been without teary moments as well.
I must admit that at first it was a bit daunting watching all the so-called ‘disabled’ athletes but the ABC coverage has helped to overcome any reticence. I know that some people might baulk at the humour that has been introduced into the broadcast; however, it has worked brilliantly. This is where the ABC excels and whoever devised the on-air combination deserves an award.
Hosted by Stephanie Brantz (who was a rising star and back at the ABC where she should stay) with Lawrence Mooney, Adam Zwar and Sam Pang, the telecast might ostensibly be lighthearted but reflects the nature of the athletes we see each night revelling in their own performances – whether they finished first or last. No petulant relay swimmers refusing to talk to the press here. No one sulking and worrying about how much sponsorship they might have lost by finishing second. There are no swimmers crying because they think they let their parents (let alone the country) down by not winning. We are the ones crying because they actually manage to finish the race despite their so-called disability. Magnificent, terrific, superb, wonderful….all descriptions used by commentator Gerry Collins and all accruing money in the ‘superlative jar’ on the studio desk.
With Brantz often just controlling her laughter, or outrage, the panel have brought a refreshing attitude and one that is also highly entertaining. I hope the ratings will reflect this. Channel 9, with all its money and resources, never came close to this much fun – and information. It would have been easy to treat the whole affair seriously – the athletes all have a compelling and often sad story to tell – but as, I think, one of them said, ‘We don’t want your pity, just your support.’
In fact, we might have to find a word other than ‘disability’ to use. I went for a swim yesterday morning and in the evening watched Australian Ahmed Kelly, a man with no arms, swim a 50m lap of breaststroke faster than I can!!! Who is disabled here? (Though I am pretty sure I could beat him the freestyle).