I CAN still clearly recall the deep and reverberating voices of Hasbullah Awang and Rahim Razali in their commentary over radio and television when Malaysia last won the Thomas Cup in 1992.
But now, there is one distinctive voice that many Malaysians have grown very accustomed to – that of Gillian Clark on Astro’s Supersport channel. With her steady and calm voice, she passionately engages and captivates her television audience with her witty and succinct descriptions of all the drama, intensity, thrills, spills, joy and agony unfolding on court.
And the former English player, who began her full-time career as a sports commentator in 1994, sees herself as the voice of badminton, a sport that she is just crazy about.
“It all started when I was still competing. Then, I was the first female president of the players’ international commission. I was seen as a person who had an opinion and was not afraid to give my views and comments. Once, I was asked to do a commentary on a match in 1994. The rest, as they say, is history,” said Clark.
Prior to that, Clark had done well as a player and her experience has been the key to her natural transition to a commentator. She was the All-England runner-up three times, a women’s doubles bronze medallist in the World Championships with Gillian Gilks in 1983 and a mixed doubles bronze medallist with Nick Ponting in the world meet at Birmingham in 1993.
“I have absolute passion for the sport. Being a commentator is very much like being a player. One does not go out for the big game without proper practice and training. I adopt a similar approach to commentating – only that I do not have to sweat any more with all the physical training ... and the best part is I am paid quite well to watch the games and give my views,” she quipped.
“I spend a lot of time doing research. I also watch a lot of other sports and see what other commentators do. I usually pick up some useful tips ... there is no end to learning.
“As a player, I looked up to Li Lingwei of China. She had beautiful moves and breathtaking skills and I learnt quite a bit from her. It’s the same with being a commentator. It is not about copying but taking a few pointers here and there and then making it my own unique way of presenting.
“So, to all aspiring sports commentators, my advice is simple: just be yourselves. Be honest and show the passion from within.
When asked which is the greatest match she has ever seen and who is her all-time favourite player, having seen so many thrilling matches for almost two decades, Clark was super quick with a smashing answer.
“It is absolutely impossible to pick one. There have been just too many good matches. My head is in a spin as I try to remember ... when I think of one, another comes to mind and then another and it just goes on and on. For me the greatest match will always will be the next one that I am going to commentate on. As for the players, I can write a book,” she said, bursting into laughter.
“What I do remember of a player is his or her ability to do the unexpected and to come out of an impossible situation. I am more than happy to be able to share their emotions and empathise with their struggles under pressure and, of course, to share all their beautiful techniques too.
“I have never considered any match to be boring because every player has his or her strengths and I am fascinated with all the different personalities struggling to cope with pressure.”
And what about her bloopers? This is one she’d rather keep to herself.
“It happens all the time, especially in live sports commentary. A player cannot play without making an error, there will be a missed drop shot or hitting a shuttle into the net. So, even a commentator can make mistakes, but it is best you don’t make too many,” she smiled.
The most difficult part for any commentator is his or her ability to keep spinning a lively and colourful story even if a match goes on and on. For instance, a tie in the Thomas Cup Finals could go on for five hours.
“I have never moved from my seat until the event is over ... even if there is an urgent need to take a break!” she quipped. With her love for the game knowing no boundaries, her clever quips and catchy phrases, sharp assessments and superb descriptions of every situation, Clark has indeed proven to be an invaluable voice in the promotion of the game.
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