Jill gears up for best Olympics

Jill Douglas and Chris Hoy 3 Gold Beijing
Jill Douglas and Chris Hoy 3 Gold Beijing

EARLY on Saturday morning, Jill Douglas will make her way to her BBC commentary position and ready herself to see sporting history made at what she believes could be the most exciting Olympic Games yet.

Now a freelance broadcaster, she covered the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and Athens in 2004, as well as numerous other major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the rugby world cup. After a career stretching back more than 20 years to her days as a young trainee reporter on TheSouthern, Jill says the greatest sporting show on Earth continues to amaze and inspire.

Not surprisingly for a Hawick lass, she is a big rugby fan and made her name as a rugby reporter, covering numerous Scotland internationals for the BBC and presenting its Rugby Special programme. But in recent years, she has carved out a specialist niche covering cycling.

During the Beijing Olympics she was trackside at the velodrome to speak to Chris Hoy a few minutes after he pedalled his way into legend with his three gold medals.

Jill lives in Cheltenham with husband, Carl, a former Melrose rugby player who now coaches at Gloucester, and their young son and daughter.

Catching her breath between covering Bradley Wiggins’ win in the Tour de France at the weekend in Paris and getting ready for the Olympics, which open tomorrow, Jill spoke to TheSouthern about London 2012.

She says a decade ago when she first started covering cycling events, there was little media interest. “Just before the Athens games, we were the only crew at Newport where the British team were training, even though Chris Hoy was big news. Now, most of my media colleagues are champing at the bit to cover cycling.

“From small beginnings, the team has become the dominant world force on the track and road and that is quite remarkable.

“I’d always been interested in cycling, watched the Tour de France and so on.

“And because I have that longevity, if you will, when it comes to covering cycling, and have come to know well many of the members of the men’s and women’s teams, they know that I am not just some Johnny-come-lately, only interested because they might win Olympic gold medals.”

Jill says not only are the cycling team members some of the world’s top sports people, but also some of the most friendly and accessible.

“Because of that, it is an absolute pleasure to cover cycling.”

Jill has thinks cycling’s Mark Cavendish, lead sprinter in the Tour de France, could provide Britain’s first gold medal of the London games.

“I was watching on the Champs Élysées – I’d never seen the yellow jersey led out by the sprint winner. It’s very unusual for the overall winner of the tour to get involved in sprint on the Champs Élysées, but Wiggo helped teammate Cav win the sprint by setting a fast pace at the head of the peleton in the final few kilometres – it was simply awesome. And three Brits on the podium – that was something never seen before.

“It’s quite possible Mark Cavendish, with the form he’s in, could be Britain’s first gold medal of these games and coming on the very first morning of competition – that would be amazing.”

There’s more. Jill said: “On Monday you have Chris Hoy going in the velodrome. And something I’m really looking forward to is the team pursuit with Britain taking on the powerful Australians.”

Most of Jill’s time at the Olympics will be taken up with cycling, although she hopes to squeeze in a few other events – she saw Usain Bolt speed to gold in the 100m final in Beijing.

“In China, I also managed to catch some of the fencing, which I knew little about, but really enjoyed,” she said.

Her life now seems far removed from her days interviewing Border League rugby players.

“But fundamentally, the principle is still the same. No matter whether it is Bradley Wiggins, Usain Bolt or the captain of a Border rugby side, they are all trying to be the very best they can be at what they do.

“My job is the same – to ask the right questions so that the public can know what these people are thinking.”

She said she had never felt jaded by such massive, commercially-driven sporting events. “The Olympics is the greatest show on Earth and I’m so lucky my job allows me to be right at heart of the action. It is an enormous privilege.

“On the Champs Élysées I had to pinch myself that I was actually there.”

Good friends with many in the cycling squad – she and her family know the Hoys well – Jill remains professional when it comes to asking the hard questions.

“They are always happy to answer questions when things are going well, and to their credit they front up and answer questions honestly when things have not gone so well.”

After the birth of her son, Johnnie, Jill left the BBC to work as a freelance which let her spend more time with him. But she still has a busy year ahead. As well as the Olympic cycling, she will cover the autumn rugby tests and more cycling for the BBC.

She says the key to being a high-profile journalist and juggling that with motherhood is being highly organised.

“Being freelance means I can have longer periods with my family. I’m very lucky to be able to do that and be able to witness first hand some of the greatest moments in sporting history.”