Monday, 18 August 2008


National newspapers in the UK are facing their own challenge during the Olympic Games - how to make their coverage relevant when the seven-hour time difference means that there is little their readers don't already know. With one week completed, they are doing a very good job.

Simply relying on reports of the various events to fill their pages is, of course, inadequate. The formula for success comprises follow-ups, off-beat stories, comment and analysis.

The serious papers were gifted Page One winners on the very first day. The Russian invasion of Georgia on the day that animated doves were propounding their peace message in Beijing gave editors a wonderful chance to juxtapose headlines and pictures, one which the Guardian seized particularly well. At this stage the tabloids seemed unconvinced about the value of the Games as a sales-driver. Even after a spectacular opening ceremony, the red-tops found activity in the Big Brother house more interesting, with no Olympic presence on the front pages. But the row between young diver Tom Daley and his partner Blake Aldridge catapulted the Games onto page one even among the tabloids: "Belly Strop" was the Mirror's headline.

That sorry little episode also produced examples of informative, thoughtful writing by the columnists. Jim Lawton in the Independent filed a compelling piece in which he blamed not Aldridge - the fall guy in the eyes of most phone-in callers - but "a huge fault line in the culture of our sport." He defined it as our eagerness to make 14-year-old Daley a "ready-made little hero" long before his time. Meanwhile, to prove that the tabloids are not simply the home of snappy headlines, the Mirror's Oliver Holt wrote an incisive piece about the same incident, taking a much harder line against the 26-year-old Aldridge.

There's been so much going on in Beijing that the feature writers and photographers are spoiled for choice. Among the best images so far are a shot of Russian boxer Islam Timurziev having his nose flattened by Britain's David Price, by Phil Noble of Reuters, and Tom Jenkins' picture of cyclist Rebecca Romero whose visor reflects the track and the crowd at the velodrome. That pic was used on page one of the Guardian, while inside the sports section Marina Hyde revealed that 100,000 condoms have been supplied to the Olympic Village - and are all expected to be used. Which paper will reveal who are the medalists in that particular event?

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