I love Clare Balding. In line with just about everyone else, I think she is a class act. And having known her since university days, I can vouch for the fact that not only is she a very nice person, but also – rather marvellously – completely unaffected by her very well-deserved status as a national star. But she landed John Inverdale in it on the last day of the Olympic Games, after he had already come in for a large amount of totally unwarranted stick.
He was criticised for apparently ignoring people he is interviewing, because he does what all broadcast interviewers do in such situations and kept his eyes open for who might be interviewed next. And he was also accused of being sexist because he apparently ignored the achievement of Venus Williams when asking Andy Murray how it felt to be the first tennis player to retain gold. Speaking to a singles champion after a singles match, it was clear what he was referring to.
At the end of the super heavyweight boxing final on Sunday, Inverdale was talking to Anthony Joshua when he saw two French gold medallist boxers embrace. He alerted the camera to the shot, and then said, ‘I don’t know if two fiancés – or two engaged couples – have ever won gold medals in the same Olympic Games.’
It was clear what he meant. Two sets of fiancés, and two people who are each a fiancé and a fiancée, can both be described as two fiancés. On realising that (to his credit, very quickly, and mid-way through his sentence), he clarified that he was musing on the question of whether two engaged couples – two sets of people who are engaged to be married – had ever before won gold medals at one Olympic Games, as they have done in Rio. Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are one set; and the French pair are another.
But that didn’t stop the Twitterati from going mad, as they do, within seconds. Failing to understand his point, they thought that Inverdale had managed to forget our own golden couple within days. Clare, who might have thought better and assumed that a man of Inverdale’s quality would not make so basic an error, proceeded to fuel their fury because she, too, had mis-heard the point he was making. She hung her fellow presenter out to dry by stating that of course there were other examples: there was Laura Trott and Jason Kenny – and also, there were the Richardson-Walshes in the hockey. But the Richardson-Walshes are married. They are not fiancées. And Trott and Kenny were the first of the two couples to whom Inverdale had referred. So his question still stands: have two engaged couples ever before won gold at the same Olympic Games?
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