Friday, December 28, 2012

A sports-writer's year, part 1

It has been a rather busy year. As a sports writer for The Times sent to cover some of the most extraordinary stories of my lifetime it has also been an extremely privileged year, but at the same time an exhausting one, with the cuttings pile showing that I've had 613 bylines in the paper in 2012.

Some might say it is more quantity than quality, and at times it has felt like I have been ploughing out the words rather than having time (or talent) to finesse them - hence the lack of blogging here - but hopefully a few decent pieces have been returned.

There were plenty of fabulous stories that I did not get to cover. I didn't write a word on the Tour de France or the US Open tennis and was busy with the Olympics when Rory McIlroy was winning the US PGA, a tournament I covered in 2011.

I handled the England cricket team's disaster in Dubai at the start of the year but not the miracle in Mumbai at the end of it. The only time I set foot in the Olympic Stadium was for a Paralympic test event, although I did get to report on 15 of Britain's Olympic medals at Eton Dorney, Weymouth and Greenwich Park.

That only shows what a year this has been in sport, since I can hardly claim to have missed out. My year has taken in a Wimbledon final, the Open golf, the greatest Ryder Cup comeback, the All Blacks beaten at Twickenham, two Lord's Test matches and the resignation press conference of Andrew Strauss. And, of course, the first London Olympics for 64 years.

As this year ends, I'll be posting a few of the highlights of the year, separated like Gaul into three parts, with links to how I covered them. Yes, it is all behind a paywall but for your quid not only do you get what I wrote but you get 24 hours' access to all my more talented colleagues. There is a reason why The Times has been sports newspaper of the year for the past two years.

Some may see this as a bit of an indulgence, perhaps, but if my toddler daughter stumbles across this blog in a few years time it will at least explain why I was never there during her second year.

January The year began well with a prediction that Britain's rowers would win nine medals at London 2012 (spot on, for once), then it was off to the Middle East for the rest of the month with the England cricket team, where the Barmy Army struggled in a "dry" country, England struggled against Saeed Ajmal's illegal-or-not action and Younus Khan misread the Trottsra.

The first Test in Dubai was lost by ten wickets, and it was on to Abu Dhabi, with the spaceship parked at third man and kids playing in the dust outside. The puppyish Monty Panesar was back in the side but the batsmen were still clueless against spin and were dismissed for 72.

While out there, I also squeezed in an interview with Ben Ainslie about the Olympic sailor forming his own America's Cup team. I've interviewed Ben half a dozen times this year: for such a super-talented sportsman he is tremendously down-to-earth and decent.

February Back in Europe in time for the Six Nations and the first of two trips to Paris to cover France against Ireland. The first attempt was abandoned ten minutes after the scheduled kick-off because of a frozen pitch. Having been in 30C heat a few days earlier, it was quite a shock to be sitting outside at 9pm in -10C, but give me a frozen Paris over the burnt desert any day.

March It was back to Paris three weeks later for the rematch (a 17-17 draw) and then on to rowing with the Olympic trials and an interview with the 40-year-old would-be Olympian Greg Searle.

In between, I wrote about Sachin Tendulkar finally ending a year-long wait for his 100th international century and was at Twickenham when England's pack demolished Ireland to end a satisfying first Six Nations for the new coach, Stuart Lancaster.

April Possibly the most eventful Boat Race there has been. I was in a following launch as the flotilla slammed on the brakes to avoid killing an idiotic protestor. After the restart, Oxford suffered a smashed oar after some dubious coxing and Cambridge romped home. Alex Woods, the Oxford bow, collapsed with exhaustion and had to be taken to hospital. As I had written in an interview two days earlier, it had taken Woods ten years of study at Oxford to earn that seat in the boat.

I have never been to Augusta, but with the six-hour time difference and late finishes I often get called on to assist our golf correspondent on the final day from my sofa. This year, I had to knock out a passable profile of the winner, Bubba Watson, in about 20 minutes. What our cuttings database doesn't show is the profile I also filed on Louis Oosthuizen, whom Watson beat in a play-off, just in case...

Keeping up a trend of trying to spot future Olympic champions, I interviewed Ed McKeevor, the canoeist with forearms like Spanish hams. Gold would be his by the end of the summer.

Then it was off to Boras, a town east of Gothenburg, for a few days to cover women's tennis as Judy Murray's Great Britain Fed Cup team were beaten by Sweden, but Laura Robson showed her immense talent in defeat.

I remember over dinner one night the four-strong press pack debated how big a story it would be if Andy Murray ever won a grand-slam title. The biggest since 1966, we decided, yet only good enough, it turned out, to come third in Sports Personality of the Year...

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