Craig Masback & Steve 0vett: Same passion, different approaches in media coverage



Craig Masback, photo courtesy of

_61787353_ovett3.jpgSteve Ovett, photo courtesy of BBC

Craig Masback was a fine miler, used his love of the sport to build a media commentating career. Steve Ovett, an Olympic champion, an a mile WR holder, used his love of the sport, his sense of humor to build a career in sports commentating on the other side of the pond.

In this short review, Jeff Benjamin writes of their styles and attention to detail that make them popular sports commentators in the sport of athletics.

Way back in the last century during the pre-internet era, running and track & field geeks here in the States relied on a staple of magazines arriving monthly to follow the goings-on in our Sport.

There was the mainstream Runners World and The Runner Magazine, but for real fans Track and Field News, known as the "Bible of the Sport" fit the bill.

However, if you really wished to cross over into ultimate fan geekdom, one had to lavish out quite a few bucks and send it across the pond to get the Brits top publication Athletics Weekly.

You see, since the beginnings of the modern Olympiad and the formation of the IAAF in 1912, the Brits have always taken great pride in being at the forefront and acting as the vanguard of the Sport of "Athletics". All one has to do was look at the amazing crowds which attended the London World Championships. Aside from that, look who's in charge of the IAAF!

This past August, viewers like myself (at least in my area) were able to almost get a triple dosage of World Championships coverage from NBC, NBC Sports, and the Olympic Channel. Adding into the unpredictable mix was that on quite a few days, the episodes of coverage were led by an American team of commentators and then, either before or after that respective episode, followed by a British commentating crew. And leading these crews in the Distance Running coverages were Craig Masback for the Americans and Steve Ovett for the British.

It's quite ironic that viewers were given the opportunity to compare in a fun way the knowledge and styles of these commentators. 40 years ago, Masback, a Princeton Graduate whose best mile time was 3:52.02, competed on the world racing circuit in world-class fields against Ovett, one of the the greatest milers of all-time. As a matter of fact, when Ovett (the 1980 Olympic Gold 800 and Bronze 1500 Medalist) set one of his Mile World Record times of 3:48.40 in Koblenz back in 1981, it was Masback who finished 2nd in a time of 3:54.14.

Although an American, Masback also has a strong affinity towards British Athletics. While working on his graduate studies at Oxford, Masback attempted his first 4- minute mile on June 17, 1978 on the same Iffley Rd track that Sir Roger Bannister broke the barrier on first back in 1954. Masback would run 3:59.6, becoming the first runner since Bannister to accomplish it on the famed track.

image1.JPGSir Roger Bannister and Craig Masback, 1978, photographer not known

However, in this new century, viewers like myself just couldn't resist comparing the 2 commentators on their respective broadcasts. The only unfortunate thing was that while some days showed the Brit broadcast parallel to the USA Crew, there were other days where for whatever reason only the USA Crew broadcast was being shown. Kind of like in the old days not getting that particular month's issue of Athletics Weekly from overseas due to some kind of foul-up in delivery- yes that was frustrating!!!

Here are some observations-

-Both commentators were very prepared and definitely showed a passion for the Sport.

-Both were able to share little fun facts about the athletes competing. For example, Ovett spoke about how Mo Farah got ready to compete ("he has his share of songs!") while Masback mentioned the parents of 1500 finalist Johnny Gregorek ("His dad was a 3:52 Miler and his mom was a 4:28 Miler!")

-"This Gold is in the bag!"-exclaimed Ovett as Mo Farah approached the Bell Lap in the 10K

-Jenny Simpson's unreal kick through the inside lane to net a Silver caught Masback by stunned surprise, but one can't blame him. Simpson's outstanding performance seemed to stun everyone who witnessed it.

-On Caster Semanya: Masback emphasized that while the IAAF will be pursuing the issue of hyperandrogenism soon, there are only studies out that are not verifiable at this time.

-With almost every top runner, Ovett consistently stressed the importance of relaxation, a tip which all runners should pay heed to.

- It was really great as an incredulous Masback led viewers through the Women's steeplechase race culminating with the Gold for Emma Coburn and the Silver for Courtney Friedrichs. Equally great was Masback paying homage to the last American Gold Steeple Medalist Horace Ashenfelter, "The FBI agent who's 93 years old and still alive, living in New Jersey!"

-While Ovett in his broadcast immediately noticed the disqualification of American Colleen Quigley in her heat, Masback, later at the final, emphasized emphatically that she may have been an unwitting victim of the misplacement of cones by race officials along the curve of the water jump.

-Ovett sure knows his race walking!! His knowledge on the forms of the athletes and the rules is truly expert!! One wonders how he feels about the controversy over the possible debates involving the discontinuation of the 50K race walk.

-Masback the Miler sure knows his marathoning, as he described Amy Cragg's form and strategy which led to her Bronze medal.

So in conclusion, did one finish ahead of the other?

They both brought a lot to the table over the 11 days! Each has his own strengths and styles.

We will give it a tie in this one.

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