Being in the studio audience for The Clare Balding Show demonstrated to me that sisters are still doing it for themselves…
By Katie Garner
The end of January saw the last recording for brand new weekly live studio talk show The Clare Balding Show, shown on the new BT Sports channel. Situated at the Olympic Park in Stratford, you couldn’t find a more inspirational venue for talking to the sporting greats and getting an exclusive sneak peek into the competitive and fiery world of professional athletes. As we were ushered into the circular studio, I couldn’t help but be excited as cameras on pulleys swished by overhead, spot lights were zoomed in on a glaringly empty sofa whilst background screens showed sport star silhouettes painted on a sunset orange pink back drop. Granted we were going to have to stand for the two odd hours of recording, but with the guests yet to be revealed, the worry of wobbly legs was soon lost in the anticipation.
Getting to see iconic sports presenter Clare in the flesh was also just as exciting – she came across so naturally, interacting with the audience as if she had known us for years, concerned about us standing, wanting to know what parts of the country we were from and sincerely hoping that we would enjoy the show she was proud to be fronting. With a casual flick of her stylishly swept hair, Clare revealed the triple whammy of guests who would be joining her on the purple sofa that evening. Not only would we get to see popular London born heptatlete Louise Hazel and winter Olympic darling Amy Williams but we would also be able to see the incredibly iconic Dame Kelly Holmes. They really were pulling out all the stops for the grand finale, with an all-female line up of sports finest performers.
Kelly was the first guest up, her welcoming applause was natural, excited and genuinely appreciative as we ohhed and ahhed. It may not be cool to be star struck, but I really couldn’t help it. What I loved most about Kelly’s interview was just how completely normal she was. Her voice reminded me of X Factor’s Stacy Solomon and she was amazingly endearing when talking about her future projects, her past successes and all the aspects that made her the brilliant athlete that we all remember most from the 2004 Athens Olympics, when she won two gold medals for the 800m and the 1500m.
She’s definitely come a long way from her early career days of being a driver in the army – despite being retired, she still holds the records for the 600m, 800m, 1000m and the 1500m, with so many medals to her name she could build an incredibly impressive wind chime. Not only is she an icon of sport, but she also aims to be a pillar in her local community, always striving to bring people together. Her next ambition is to open a café in her home village with a wide range of purposes and activities scheduled, as well as selling the typical sweet treats we all associate with our favourite cafes. Such a warm hearted and likeable person, it is easy to see how she has become so successful in whichever venture she deems to pick up – for Dame Holmes, losing is simply not viable. She may have been plagued with injuries during her running career, but this never held her back or stopped her competing and I think this is something we can all learn something from.
Next up to be quizzed by Clare, was bob skeleton athlete Amy Williams, who snatched the gold in the Vancouver winter Olympics back in 2010. Not only was her win the only medal for team GB in those games, but it was also the first gold medal in an individual event for 30 years, and the first to be won by a woman in 58 years – no small feat, as she was even awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of that same year. Amy’s passion for speed began back in her university years in Bath around 2002 where her aptitude for the sport soon became evident and she rose from strength to strength. Although still competing as an athlete, Amy’s adrenaline junkie tendencies have seen her take up a multitude of sports to satisfy her need for speed – most recently, this has been rally driving. Holding the vital role of navigator with map clutched in hand, Amy has loved being part of the car racing scene in her most recent competitions.
Bob skeleton is definitely not a sport for the meek, as after a sprint start, you throw yourself head first on a slim line toboggan down a bobsleigh track. Gaining speeds of 80mph, the average run is about 1500m in length, containing about 15 corners which house immense G force pressure. Bob skeleton first featured as an Olympic sport back in 2002.
The last guest of this impressive line-up was Louise Hazel, friend of national darling Jessica Ennis. This Commonwealth gold medallist is not shy to achieving her goals either as she earned four personal bests when she competed to win her golden glory. Originally part of the Birmingham based squad Birchfield Harriers, she has been competing competitively since the grand old age of 15. The hot topic on everyone’s lips was whether Hazel would be giving retirement the boot to take part in the Commonwealth games once more, after news of team mate Jessica’s pregnancy means that she won’t be taking part. With only months to prepare, Hazel is gearing up in serious style to try and give top notch performances in all of the required heptathlon sports, including 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and the 800m. A mix of running, stamina and skill, this is definitely not a discipline for the faint hearted.
As well as the face to face interviews, Clare’s show is very keen on discussing the issues and topics that surround sport. Interactive expert Christian Howes is forever on hand to delve into the realms of social media for an array of clips, stats and questions to fill in whatever issue is being debated. On the night that I was in the audience, the debate took a fascinating turn after the results of a BT survey, which looked at female sports stars and body image. A staggering 80% approximately of women athletes still considered their body image important, and it was intriguing to discuss the finer points – for example, women who want to diet and eat a calorie controlled diet to remain fashionably slim, yet wanting to excel in their sport means using food as necessary fuel and therefore eating more than you maybe would want to. Also tossed in to the discussion was the idea of muscular sports stars wanting to look feminine and how being portrayed as a ‘beef cake’ so to speak would affect their body image. It’s interesting to see that it isn’t just us mere mortals who stress and worry about these factors of everyday life and beauty regimes, but that these sculpted, six-pack clad sporting beauties still consider these dieting dilemmas.
All in all, it was brilliant being able to see such prominent and well known athletes so close and in the flesh. I will admit to being star struck for almost the entire evening, unable to believe I actually seen them! Listening to their live stories and what they were up to now was so interesting, but most interesting at all was the competitive and ambitious edge. Yes, they are talented and they have trained hard to hone and fine tune this raw burst of sporting energy. However, for them winning is about giving themselves challenges, working hard and then defeating the said challenge by smashing it into the ground and then stamping on top of it with childlike glee. That burning desire to excel, to perform your best is in all of us and I firmly believe that sport is fantastic way to bring out this competitive nature and let it flourish in a fun environment. I’m not a sore loser by any stretch of the imagination, if someone does well then they deserve any wins that they achieve, but anyone who says that it’s the taking part that counts, is lying. We play sport because we love it, we take part because we want to win and there is no shame in admitting that. I was so inspired by the women that I saw that night, by their drive and their determination – it made me realise what an amazing thing sport really is.