Geoff Wightman - Diary of an Also-Ran

Geoff Wightman is a former elite runner, heads up Road Running for UK Athletics, but perhaps most importantly in this regard, he's also the man who owns the voice that many of you would have heard at major events across the UK, including the start of the London Marathon and as one of the stadium announcers at the Olympic Stadium last year.

He's releasing three ebooks on Kindle, all in diary format, detailing the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 and below is a sample from 2012, that all important day in August, Super Saturday. Enjoy - 

Saturday 4th August 2012 

As I went to bed last night (and it is hard to sleep when you have been announcing until 22.00, 01.00 was the best I could manage even with my lucky charm bottle of Duchy of Cornwall/Hereford cider from Waitrose), I wondered whether the Saturday night session could deliver two gold medals for GB and, if it did, whether the noise levels might match Stadium Australia on “Magic Monday”. What would we call our equivalent? “Super Saturday”, I decided. Nice one. I awoke at 06.30 and switched on BBC TV. “Welcome to Super Saturday” they said. I passed the Waitrose news-stand “It’s Super Saturday” screamed the front page headlines. Righto. I should have got in first with that on the Friday night PA announcements.

I have discovered that there is one specific athlete introduction that always aggravates my throat. It first happened at Crystal Palace last year and it happened again this morning......

“TYSON GAYYYYYYYYYYYY”   I can’t help myself and, sure enough, I felt a rasp at the back of my throat. Please God, preserve my voice. This is only session two out of 19. The two things I still fear most are losing my voice and mispronouncing notable names. As a precaution, I check all pronunciations with Garry and he has a computer gizmo that gives the phonetics on screen. I am also inhaling steam from my bathroom basin three times a day, drinking beetroot and cherry juice and sucking two Vocalzone pastilles per session.

Ennis set herself up for gold with a strong penultimate session, the crowd went ‘batshit’ as Garry would put it and I beetled away from the Stadium to The Mall for the 20k walk. Staff volunteer Jamie gives me a lift there in an electric-powered Games Mini and, after a delay in sourcing Mall (MLL pass) accreditation, necessitating me having to be escorted to the booth by the head of security, I arrive about 40 minutes before the start.

There is an elaborate pre-show routine involving the Grenadier Guards band playing and Bryan Burnett doing some excellent stuff to camera. The race walk itself is notable for the defending Olympic Champion collapsing, while in fourth place on the last lap, and the 19 year old Chinese winner high fiving the crowd around the last 2km circuit. Co-commentator Dave Ainsworth liked my “the bell dings for Ding” line as he went into the last lap.

I have spent a lot of time trying to arrange my return transport to the Mall tonight because the last finisher arrives around 18.25. The medal ceremony is set for about 18.35 and this is my announcing schedule back at the Olympic stadium (ten miles away). 

• 19.00 Men’s 400m hurdles semi-final (no chance – GH will cover that)

• 20.05  Women’s 400m semi-final (should be OK)

• 20.35 Heptathlon 800m (no problem)

• 21.15 Mens 10,000m (easy)

Paul Hardy, IAAF Competitions Manager, kindly offers me a lift in the IAAF car which has Olympic lanes access. Thank you, Paul. However with hindsight, I should have run for the Tube because this is how my re-make of John Cleese’s stress ‘Clockwise’ film panned out.

• 18.50 Medal Ceremony goes late because the Guatamalan medallist is in doping control.

• 18.55 We can’t leave because the medal presenter, the Russian IAAF Council member is also in our car.

• 19.10  The Russian Council member has to hang back to check on the welfare of his athlete – that was the defending Olympic Champion, who collapsed. He eventually passes us near Simpson’s of Piccadilly in the back of an ambulance, with blue lights flashing

• 19.15. We leave

• 19.50  The Olympic lanes are no use to us because there are none in our part of the West End. Hence, at 19.30 on a Saturday night we have crawled through both Piccadilly Circus AND Trafalgar Square. After 35 minutes in the car we have made a net journey of 400 metres. I rest my forehead against the back of the driver’s chair. “Where are you?” texts UKA Chair Ed Warner from the Stadium “Garry is announcing on his own and Dai Greene only just made the final”

• 20.05 After hitting every red light ever installed in the East of London, we are in another slow queue to get into the stadium. I offer to run from there but it is a vehicle check area. Terry Colton, the Athletics Competitions Manager is also in the car and agrees to run with me and show me a short-cut once we get there. Terry and I were first and second in the British Universities 5000 metres Championships in 1980.  This is the re-match.

• 20.10 We go into a vehicle access area which requires us to get out of the car, to have our belongings scanned and the car searched thoroughly. What?

• The scanning takes several minutes and the security guys have a query about Dave Katz’s race measuring equipment. Dave works for New York Marathon and is also anxious to get to the stadium to see his wife but he nobly waves us to go on. We roar off. Thanks, Dave.

• 20.19 Terry and I leap out of the car and start running. We run for about half a mile through the outskirts of the stadium and along alleyways that I never knew existed.

• 20.24  I burst through the Event Presentation room doors and plonk myself down in my seat in the booth, sweating like a hobgoblin. Garry and I high five (he has to do this journey next week but is relieved to end a solo 90 minute announcing stint). I put my headset on. “Nine minutes until we introduce the first heptathlon 800 metre start” says Florian. We carry on as if nothing happened. Production Assistants Matt Bates and Kyleah Widdecombe have my Butler notes set out on the desk in front of me, just as I like them and Kyleah passes me a bottle of water. I take a deep breath.

18 minutes later, Jess Ennis wins the Olympic Heptathlon, a moment or two after Greg Rutherford had won the long jump, then Mo brings the house down to win the 10,000. Mary Wittenburg, the New York Marathon race director tweets my announcement about “This is the event where we are taking the Stadium into orbit.”

Paul Kelso says that the music was switched down and the presentation was much better “LOCOG is listening to feedback. The DJ was much better. We enjoyed ‘Baggy Trousers on Mo’s lap of honour.” He had previously objected to a Mexican Wave being encouraged in the women’s 10,000m. Personally, I thought the wave worked well because it kept pace with the athletes, captured the crowd’s enthusiasm and I ALWAYS enjoy Sound Manager Peter Key’s excellent choices of music.

There is a triple protest around the heptathlon bronze medal, regarding something that happened in the final 800m heat – meaning protest, counter-protest etc. There is a strict protocol to be observed and Bill Bailey of the Jury of Appeal came in to tell us this process, looking more flustered than I have ever seen him. There are 80,000 people who have waited on in the stands for Jess’s Victory Ceremony and Florian decides to set it up ready to go, albeit later than advertised as soon as the appeals are resolved, “even if it after midnight”. 80,000 people sing the national anthem lustily. Jess weeps. I had to then read the final line of the Ceremony script, with difficulty. Garry reaches for a tissue because he has something in his eye. We are all athletics fans through and through and this was our sport’s finest hour. Seb announces that Super Saturday was better than Sydney’s Magic Monday. I really should have copyrighted that name.

If you enjoyed this, make sure you check out the Diary Of An Also-Ran ebooks on amazon