The countdown to Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games is getting ever closer and Sonali Shah will be following the thrills and spills of the highly-anticipated triathlon competition as part of BBC Sport’s on-air team at the event.
Part of BBC TV team at the London 2012 Olympics, Sonali has been a regular face on the corporation’s coverage of many of its marquee sporting events in recent years, including Wimbledon, London Marathon, Boat Race and the Commonwealth Games, having previously been part of CBBC’s Newsround team for five years.
She has also been the face of the BBC’s triathlon programmes, covering the popular ITU World Triathlon Series, recognised as the pinnacle of the sport, as it ventures across into of the biggest cities on the planet, including London, Auckland, Cape Town and Chicago.
Ahead of the Commonwealth Games getting underway in Scotland’s second city, Sonali gives Sport On The Box her unique insight into covering the event and thoughts on who will be in contention for medals in the triathlon competitions, which will be held at Strathclyde County Park over the first few days of the Games.
Follow Sonali on Twitter: @SonaliShah
SOTB: How excited are you about the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow and the return of a major multi-sport event to the UK, in particular so soon after London 2012?
Sonali Shah: It’s been a great few years for any British journalist covering sport, with two huge multi-sport events back-to-back at home.
After being at the Beijing Olympics and the Delhi Commonwealth Games, I was so proud to be part of the presentation team for an Olympic Games in my home city of London.
Working on Glasgow 2014 is like the icing on the cake.
Looking back to the Delhi Commonwealth Games of four years ago, which you covered for the BBC, what are your reflections of how India’s first major multi-sport event went?
Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I had never been to Delhi before.
My overwhelming memory of being in the city during the Games is discovering it along with the audience back home in Britain.
One of the features I filmed was called ‘Ten things you didn’t know about Delhi‘ which allowed me to explore India’s capital while I worked.
I was also able to get out of Delhi and visit the Taj Mahal with some of the athletes – it was like a big school trip!
There was an extraordinary amount of media and public scrutiny which surrounded Delhi 2010. Did you feel this was justified and do you think India looks back with affection at the Games?
I think the scrutiny was justified.
The delayed construction of venues, worries about safety and security, a bridge near the main stadium collapsing, empty seats and snakes in the athletes village were just some of the problems that needed to be highlighted and questioned.
However, despite lots of errors, in the end, India pulled it off.
I’m sure some Indians appreciate the infrastructure, such as the Delhi metro, that was built for the Games, while others will be embarrassed by the damage that might have been done to India’s reputation.
Onto Glasgow and a lot has changed from a UK sporting perspective with the success of London 2012 still fresh in many people’s minds.
What is special for you about the Commonwealth Games and how do you think Glasgow 2014 will compare to London 2012?
Over the past few years we’ve seen how much the great British public loves sport. Even when England crashed out of the World Cup, lots of us were still gripped by the tournament.
While the Commonwealth Games are always smaller than the Olympic Games in terms of the number of sports and athletes, I don’t think the level of enthusiasm and support from the public will be any smaller once the Commonwealth Games get going and one of the home nations teams start winning medals.
Glasgow will also be special because para-sport events will be contested at the same time as everything else.
From a broadcasting perspective, how do multi-sport events like the Commonwealths differ for presenters/reporters such as yourself from other events you cover?
While I always live and breathe each event I am covering, a multi-sport event absorbs you in a completely different way.
I tend to enter a broadcasting bubble and try to enjoy the rollercoaster ride!
You will be reporting on the triathlon around Strathclyde County Park for the BBC at the Games.
What for you makes triathlon special and have you have been able to try the sport out for yourself?
I’ve have been presenting the triathlon for the BBC for three years now and absolutely love having the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a whole season of the sport.
I have a huge amount of respect for the dedication of the athletes on the World Triathlon Series circuit and love the drama the races can provide.
Triathlon is unpredictable, which keeps spectators gripped. I also enjoy the fact that covering the circuit takes me around the world!
I do want to take part in a triathlon myself at some point – maybe I should sign up to one to help me get rid of the extra baby weight!
Thanks in part to plenty of British success in recent years at World and Olympic level, interest in triathlon is growing rapidly.
What would you put this success down to and can you see this trend continuing for many years to come?
Triathlon is the fastest growing sport in the UK and it’s easy to see why.
It involves three disciplines that most of us grew up doing ourselves at some point – swimming, cycling and running aren’t specialist activities so triathlon accessible to anyone
The sport also comes in all shapes and sizes – you can take part in a super-sprint triathlon, train for an ironman, or do a relay where you only race in one of the three parts of the race.
When I ask age-groupers why they compete in triathlons, most tell me training in three disciplines instead of one makes keeping fit more interesting.
Who are your contenders for triathlon gold in Glasgow and ones to watch out for from the home nations?
I think we’ll see a gold for Team England in the triathlon. Jodie Stimpson could win very first medal of the Games on July 24 and Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee are back in form at just the right time.
Ali is certainly looking and sounding very confident after two race wins. You should also keep an eye on England’s Vicky Holland and Northern Ireland’s Aileen Reid in the women’s event.
Outside triathlon, which other sport/event are you looking forward to watching, either in person or on TV, at the Games?
I’ve always been a big athletics fan so I will be keeping a close eye on what is going on on the track. I’d love to be at an event where Scotland win gold to experience the atmosphere of a home crowd.
Any battle between England and India or England and Australia is always entertaining. Oh, don’t make me choose – if there’s a story, I’m there!
Finally, the unique nature of the Commonwealth Games sees the home nations compete separately.
How much of a challenge will it be for the BBC’s coverage to be seen as being both impartial and non-partisan?
The BBC aims to be impartial across everything it does so I don’t think reporting on separate home nations teams will change the way we work.
The whole BBC Sport team is aware that we are broadcasting to what will primarily be a British audience but others will be watching too.
Friendly rivalry between the seven British Isles teams will make the coverage even more exciting.
Glasgow 2014 is live across all BBC platforms – TV, radio and online – from July 23.