One of the country’s best-loved commentators, Stuart Storey, looks back on an amazing career
One of Britain’s greatest sports commentators, Stuart Storey, hangs up his microphone this autumn after 44 years of covering the biggest athletics meetings on the planet.
The 75-year-old worked on his final athletics event in Brussels last month before commentating on the Berlin Marathon for Eurosport and the Cardiff Half Marathon for BBC Wales before leaving the job to enjoy his retirement.
“After 44 years, it’s time to stop,” he told AW at the Diamond League in Birmingham recently. “It was a privilege to work alongside David Coleman and Ron Pickering and then Brendan Foster came in and joined us. So when Brendan said he was retiring I thought ‘now I can be the last’. I’m pleased he’s retired, so I can now go too! I want to get back to the golf course and other things as well, although I’ll miss covering athletics – it’s been a great job.”
Storey will forever be synonymous with a golden era of athletics commentary on the BBC during the 1980s. But he started life in television commentary in 1973 after he had enjoyed a career as a top sprint hurdler.
As a teenager he won two English Schools titles and went on to represent Great Britain in the 1968 Olympics and 1969 European Championships and England at the 1970 Commonwealth Games. He has fond memories of racing fellow Brits like Alan Pascoe and top Americans like Richmond Flowers and Olympic champion Willie Davenport in front of 35,000 spectators at the White City.
He remembers: “You had to warm up on the line because you didn’t want to put a trench in the track.”
His own athletics excellence put him in good stead for a career as a sports commentator. Although his talent was first spotted at a basketball match.
“I started in 1973 as a result of my wife, who was an international basketball player, doing the first ever courtside commentary in Britain,” he explains. “Someone heard what I was doing, heard I was an Olympian, thought my voice was quite good and that I should come and try out.”
Storey was soon asked to work alongside the legendary Coleman, who ironically had commentated on Storey during his run-up to the Mexico Olympics. “At my first major meeting I sat with David in the commentary box at end of ’73 or start of ’74 and he said to me, ‘this is television and the commentator says what the picture does not say’.
“How true that is,” Storey continues. “Today people are waffling over everything, which is a great shame because the pictures are there and the pictures are good.”
“At my first major meeting I sat with David in the commentary box…he said to me, ‘this is television and the commentator says what the picture does not say’”
It is clear from talking to Storey that he valued immensely his apprenticeship alongside Coleman. “It was a learning process from the start,” he says. “My first major championships was the 1974 Europeans and then I did every Olympics from 1976 to 2008, including seven with Coleman.”
Storey also remembers Pickering with affection and he currently chairs the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, which gives thousands of pounds every year to talented young athletes.
“I was fortunate and I learned so much because they taught me,” he says. “People are chucked into it more these days but there is a technique to this job which has to be learned and it comes through experience and it’s not easy sometimes.”
Such were Storey’s skills, he often moved away from the athletics arena and into sports such as swimming, judo, volleyball, squash and the Winter Olympics. Outside his commentary role he also coached shot put great Geoff Capes for almost 20 years.
So with such a long career and so many memories, what are his favourite moments and athletes? Usain Bolt’s brilliance springs immediately to mind. But there is an obvious attachment to his own event and he says watching Aries Merritt set a world 110m hurdles record in Brussels in 2012 was amazing. More recently, he was delighted to see Sally Pearson’s world title victory in London.
“I asked Aries to tell me what his over-riding feeling was in the race,” says Storey, “and he said it was one of fear. He said he was going so fast he couldn’t get out of the way of the hurdles!”
Storey continues: “When Michael Johnson ran his 19.32 for 200m in Atlanta in 1996 I thought ‘no one will ever beat that’. It was sensational. But then a young guy called Usain Bolt came along to run 19.19. What he did was astonishing. To run 9.58 and 19.19 in 2009 was unbelievable. I sat there mesmerised.”