TV blog: Olympic Games 2016

Benjie Goodhart / 11 August 2016

Our TV reviewer, Benjie eyes up a week of TV sport, plus a powerful documentary about Helmand.

Olympic Games, pretty much 24/7, BBC, every day, hurrah!

I view the Olympic Games as both a blessing and a curse. It is a curse because I end up starting each day bleary-eyed with sleep deprivation.

(Ed’s note: Benjie, try these tips on how to get through the day after a night of no sleep)

Last night, I was still watching hockey and weightlifting at 2am, which took me into the swimming, so I had to watch a couple of finals of that. But the blessing is that it really is the most magnificent sporting spectacle on earth. The simple fact that I find myself jumping up and down with excitement as some canoeist of whom I’ve never heard does something that I don’t really understand says all you need to know about sport’s capacity to thrill. Of course, the other part of the curse could be that in a fortnight’s time I may be communicating with my wife only through lawyers. Still, it’ll be worth it for the track cycling…

Here’s just some of what’s coming up over the next week:

Saturday 13th: A replay of the glorious, golden night in the Olympic Stadium in 2012 is possible, with Mo, Jessica, and Greg all in with a shout once again. It all kicks off with the Long Jump final at 12:50am (so technically Sunday, but you get the idea). You might want some coffee. The heptathlon doesn’t finish until around 3am. Elsewhere, events begin in the Velodrome tonight at a more respectable 8pm, including the keirin (my money is on the chap on the motorbike). There’s also a lot of rowing finals, although thanks to the vagaries of the Rio weather, heaven knows which ones. At least the water here should stay the correct colour.

Sunday 14th: The big one. Bolt v Gatlin. Britain’s gymnasts have medal hopes in the pommel and floor finals (from 6pm) and there are high hopes for Andy Murray in the tennis final (if it’s not been put back by the weather). There’s also the final round of the golf. Which is a bit odd. And, for those of you who are fans of baffling events where hairy men slowly grapple each other, Christmas has come early, in the form of Greco-Roman wrestling.

Monday 15th: Mark Cavendish goes in the Omnium, in search of that elusive first Olympic medal. Meanwhile, Britain has medal chances in yachting and dressage. 

Tuesday 16th: Laura Trott goes in the Omnium, one of a host of medal possibilities in the Velodrome. Britain’s mastery of sports that involve sitting down should also continue in the regatta, where Giles Scott is scorching hot favourite for gold. And triumphant diver Jack Laugher goes for his second diving gold, in the individual 3m at 10pm.

Wednesday 17th: Armchair lechers get their last opportunity to ogle the scantily clad beach volleyball proponents tonight. But don’t worry, the prospect of your other half catching you is limited by the fact that the women’s final is at 4am. Before that, GB goes for gold in the team showjumping at 2pm, while husband-and-wife team Chris and Gabby Adcock will be playing in the badminton.

Thursday 18th: The remarkable Brownlee brothers go in the triathlon at 3pm, with realistic hopes of a one-two finish. Of a slightly less arduous nature is the 200m, in which Bolt runs tonight at 2:30am, in search of the second part of his treble. He has stated his aim to run under 19 seconds – absurd, when you consider how few athletes can manage to run under 20. In the women’s 10m platform diving, Britain has two hopes, in Tonia Couch and Sarah Barrow.

Friday 19th: Hurrah! The 50km walk is finally here. So we’ll all stay up into the wee small hours for that, right? Right?? Okay then, how about the two 4x100m relay finals? Especially as the likelihood is that the men’s final will represent Bolt’s last ever Olympic appearance. Elsewhere, there are the BMX finals, which presumably involve 12-year-old kids doing wheelies and smoking in the playground.

Heroes of Helmand: The British Army’s Great Escape, Tuesday 16th August, 9pm, Channel 4

I’m writing this on a Monday. Mondays are never good at the best of times, and this Monday happens to be my first day back at the office following a two-week holiday. Also, I live in Brighton, and I travel to London by Southern Rail. This week, there is another five day strike, so I’m on a train where we are packed in like the contents of the garbage compactor scene in Star Wars, only more so.

All in all, then, it’s been what you might call a bad day at work. Except there’s bad days at work, and then there’s bad days at work. I’m not nuts about rail strikes, but there’s nobody trying to kill me. I don’t have 500 heavily-armed Taliban firing tracer bullets and mortars at me. And the experience, tedious as it is, isn’t going to last 50 days, and leave me an exhausted and emotionally scarred wreck.

This fascinating one-off documentary is a remarkable look at one of the most dramatic and bowel-looseningly terrifying battles of the war in Afghanistan. It’s worth watching next time you think you’ve had a hard day. Ten years ago, a group of 88 British soldiers were holed up in a small, badly-fortified compound in a Helmand village called Musa Quala. Shortly after they arrived, they came under attack from Taliban forces. Not to put too fine a point on it, the attack lasted for the next 50 days.

This is the story of what those soldiers went through, led by their truly remarkable commanding officer, Major Adam Jowett. Ill-equipped, outnumbered, fired on from all sides, surrounded by buildings at close quarters, they fought non-stop for almost two months. In that period, these 88 men fired a quarter of all the ammunition used by the British in the whole of Helmand in 2006. It is a story of staggering bravery and coolness under pressure, of the bonds that form, the tragedies that occur, and the tolls taken on emotions in the heat of battle.

It is also a story of political expedience and depressing cynicism. Because the Afghan project is seen as a failure, we are not told about the heroism and sacrifice of those who fought there. As one former soldier puts it: “It was the best time and the worst time I’ve ever had in my life. The memories that I have from there will stay with me for the rest of my life. The friends that I have from there will always be my friends, for the rest of my life. And the deeds that we had done there should never be forgotten.”

The best (and the rest)

Saturday 13th August

Edinburgh Nights, 9:30pm, BBC Two: Kirsty Wark presents highlights from the Edinburgh festival, from the brilliant to the unwatchably pretentious, and everything in between.

Match of the Day, 10:30pm, BBC One: For those of you who are sick to death of sport, tune in for, er, the return of Premier League Football. Tonight, with the added bonus of Gary Lineker in his underpants, following an unwise pledge last season.

Sunday 14th August

Water the begonias. That’s not a programme title, that’s a suggestion to fill your time. Though it might make a good name for a drama. I could see Dame Judi Dench in that.

Monday 15th August

Alphabetical, 5pm, ITV: Jeff Stelling presents a brand new quiz based on letters of the alphabet.

Kate Humble: My Welsh Sheepdog’s Tale, 9pm, BBC Two: Ms Humble sets out to breed Welsh sheepdog puppies from her beloved pet, Teg. Although has anyone asked poor Teg? Maybe he’s not ready for the responsibility of parenthood. And the expense… sheesh!

Tuesday 16th August

Weed the Tomato Patch. My proposed sequel to Water the Begonias, probably starring Tom Courtney.

Wednesday 17th August

Great Canal Journeys, 8pm, Channel 4: The return of this absolute gem of a series. This time, Tim and Pru are on their way to the greatest canals of them all. In The East Midlands  Venice.

Skies Above Britain, 9pm, BBC Two: First of a three-part series about aviation and whatnot. Tonight, we meet the air traffic controllers who keep us safe.

Thursday 18th August

Secrets of a Police Marksman, 10pm, Channel 4: The story of Tony Long, Britain’s most prolific police marksman, and the case that saw him ending up in court charged with murder.

Celebrity Trolls: We’re Coming to Get You, 10pm, Channel 5: Frankie Bridge, from some band or another, looks at the unpleasant people on social media who like to inflict fear on celebrities. People can be weird!

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