BLOG: Big fun in brilliant China

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A damp Opening Ceremony was lifted by some spectacular fireworks

Trying to smear on make up in 30+ degree heat and feeling it melt away like butter as the humidity took hold on my face – a frequent battle I would never win. One of the abiding memories I’ll take from our fortnight in the Chinese city of Nanjing
covering the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. That along with a suitcase full of taxi receipts, barrels of laughs and a pinch of “I saw them first” smugness having witnessed the talent of British sport’s next generation before they capture the attention of the nation.

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Lindsey and I trying to prevent the onset of SUL

A greasy face is any presenter’s nightmare, or worse still…SUL (pron: ‘SOOL’, i.e. Sweaty Upper Lip) which, as Blue Peter’s Lindsey told me, can be a real hazard for the girls! And when filming in any tropical region both are a big risk, but (you’ll have to pardon my facetiousness) of course are little price to pay for what I’d rank as one of the most enjoyable work trips I’ve ever been sent on.

For those, like me, who weren’t familiar with the whereabouts of China’s 10th largest city, well, Nanjing is quite some distance away. In flight time (Manchester-London-Beijing-Nanjing) it took us a short 19 hours. But there are few places I’d rather park my behind for hours on end than reclined in an airline seat, recently released movies one click away, with snacks, dinner and drinks on request – yes, I am one of the rare humans you’ll meet who’s a big fan of plane food!

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A fresh-faced team on Day 1

And I got to share the adventure with a great team, all of whom I’d worked with before and I consider good friends – which, when you’re spending 24 hours a day together for two weeks at very close quarters, makes things a lot easier and much happier!

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Interviewing Ben’s dad, Tom, after the triathlon

Pretty much from Day 1 the hard work began, and with a full BBC operation. It was all hands on deck at the Xuanwu Lake – the only way to tackle the triathlon, the first event up for Team GB that included a big gold medal hope in Ben Dijkstra. As prepared as we were to cover the race from all angles, we couldn’t have hoped for a more eventful start to the action in Nanjing or a better result.

Gold for Ben via a nervous swim, tumbling bikes in the cycle-run transition – including Ben’s that would be subject to a agonising 30-minute long post-race appeal – and a photo finish after the East Midlands-based athlete chose to lift his glasses and raise his triumphant arms aloft, forgetting the proximity of his New Zealand rival. At 15 years old, it’s a lesson I’m sure the young lad will learn quickly. Thankfully he didn’t have to learn it the hard way.

It was a template of things to come for Team GB. Four years ago in Singapore, the young British team came away from the inaugural Games with 13 medals. In Nanjing they nearly doubled that tally – 24 medals and performances which included 12 personal bests. For the 33 teenagers representing their country this experience wouldn’t be defined by medals, but it was a measure of the international talent brewing on our shores. A privilege to watch unfold so closely.

Dinner time in Nanjing

If we weren’t watching the action, we were in our adopted office space (the hotel) fuelled by the ‘local’ American coffee franchise that concocted a mean caramel macchiato and sold a (warm?) chicken caesar wrap! We did dabble in some local cuisine too… Something that may have resulted in two of the team being forced to lay very low for 24 hours early on in the trip. We would henceforth keep the duck brain, fermented eggs and stinky tofu to a minimum.

Thankfully we found some fantastic places to eat after that, and I’ve only just got over the fact it’ll be a while until I taste authentic Chinese food again or re-visit another corner of such a fascinating country. Next time I’ll know how to deal with the heat… Electric or authentic fan?

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