Friday, September 7, 2007

Surviving the mixed zone...

One of the prerequisites of being a half-decent reporter at an event like the world track & field championships is the ability to tolerate the stench of fellow journalists who smell like they have not heard of the word shower, thinking on your feet about the next question you're going to ask a dead-tired athlete on the race they just ran, as you're sticking your arm out with tape recorder in hand, as another reporter tries to sneak under your arm to get better positioning.

Welcome to the world of the mixed zone, where TV cameramen and anchors, radio reporters, print and web journalists jockey with each other to bring you that one insightful quote that will draw attention to their program/paper/magazine/web site.

The way it works is like this--after an athlete's event, he/she is escorted to a maze that starts up front with television rights holders (i.e., Tokyo Broadcasting, NBC/Versus, Eurosport, Canadian Broadcasting, etc.), select non-rights holders (i.e., local TV & radio), then print/web journalists (basically everyone else).

As the athlete goes through the maze, he/she has probably heard the question, "What was your reaction when _insert name of athlete who just outkicked you_ ran by you like you were a statue?" asked in numerous different languages.

The way athletes react to a question is somewhat insightful, depending on how media-savvy they are, varying from the one-syllable answer to a dissertation.

You almost had to feel sorry for Alan Webb after the way he beat himself up after the 1500-meter final where he led early, only to be overtaken at the end.

Talking to a group of American reporters, Webb said:

"I just got beat by everybody. I got myself in trouble last time by staying back, so why get in trouble again. That didn't work, so I'll be in the front. That didn't work either. At one point, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Somebody took over for me halfway through. I felt pretty good. When the real game time went, I just couldn't do it".

"It was a colossal breakdown. I've changed nothing really. I thought I had more left than I did. I wish I could learn a lesson from that, but I learned nothing. I got nothing out of it. If I wanted to get seventh, I would have run for seventh and gotten seventh, or whatever the hell I got. I didn't come to get seventh, I came to get first. I didn't".

The photo above shows you the world of the mixed zone. British marathoner Mara Yamauchi, who finished ninth in 2:32:55, is being grilled by her country's press corps.

For the superstars of the sport, take that photo and multiply the number of press 4 to 6 times, or in the case of China's great hurdler Liu Xiang, try 10 times. While trying to interview American hurdler David Payne for USA Track & Field, we were overrun by folks from the Chinese media screaming for a quote from Liu.

All I can say is this: Liu Xiang has a lot of pressure, especially with the Olympics next year in Beijing.

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