Voice of cycling is taking to the ice

Mid Wales | News | Published:

He's got his bus pass and could be forgiven for choosing the quiet life at his home in the Midlands.

But veteran commentator Hugh Porter was today preparing to cover his fourth Winter Olympics as the competition started in earnest.

Hugh, 74, is a legend among cycling enthusiasts in Shropshire and Mid Wales who can still be seen on training runs near Bridgnorth and Telford.

He is a former world champion who also competed in the Olympics, only for his chances to be spoiled by illness.

And in recent years he has become one of the world's most respected cycling commentators – with an occasional sideline reporting on the winter sport of speed skating, the lightening-paced race around the ice that has been part of the Winter Olympics since the games begun in 1924.

But despite its longevity the sport only leaped into the British national psyche 26 years ago when Midland sportsman Wilf O'Reilly landed two golds at the Calgary games.

Since then the trials and tribulations of the world's fastest skaters have been played out behind the soundtrack of a familiar Midlands twang.

Hugh, from Wolverhampton, has commentated at every summer Olympics since 1984, the last three Winter Olympics and competed in one as a cyclist in 1964. He may be 74, but every Friday he embarks on a rise of more than 30 miles from his home into Shropshire and back.


The evergreen race-caller has just embarked on his 12th Olympic adventure with a trip to Sochi to call home the men and women competing for speed skating glory.

And even as a confirmed pensioner, he says he still has plenty left in the tank. "Sport is my life and I still have the same unquenchable thirst to call on races that I did when I started all those years ago," said Hugh.

"I never tire of seeing the drama unfold. I think the fact I am still involved with athletes on the cusp of life changing moments has kept me young. It's the tonic that keeps me sharp."

Hugh, who is married to Olympic gold medallist winner Anita Lonsbrough, was the BBC's voice of cycling for 30 years, but last year it emerged his services would not be required at the Rio Olympics in 2016, with bosses at the station claiming they had 'moved on to pastures new'.


"On one hand it was a great disappointment when the BBC told me they wouldn't be using me for cycling any more," he said. "Yet at the same meeting the executive editor said they still wanted me for the Winter Olympics and asked if there were any other sports I would consider doing. But I've continued to cover cycling for ITV and BT Sport and of course I'm involved with numerous other sports.

"I suppose you could say there's plenty of life in the old dog yet."

This diversification has seen him lend his vocal talents to TV and stadium commentaries in the realms of tennis, show jumping, water skiing – even roller skating.

But it is at the Olympics, be it the summer or more recently the winter version, where Hugh's voice has become synonymous. Born and bred in the Midlands, Hugh started his Olympic journey as a competitor in the cycling pursuit in the 1964 Tokyo games.

On this occasion illness scuppered the then 24-year-old's chance of a medal, and he bowed out at the quarter finals.

He went on to have a decorated career on two wheels, winning gold medals in four World Championships and at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica.

And 20 years after his Tokyo disappointment Hugh made his Olympic return.

After retiring from competitive cycling he was asked by the BBC to commentate on the 1984 games in Los Angeles – the first of his eight summer Olympics as a commentator.

It was the start of a prolific career which has also seen Porter cover cycling at multiple Commonwealth Games and World Championships. In recent years his attentions have turned to more frosty climes, with a trip to cover speed skating at the Sochi Winter Olympics on the horizon. It will be Hugh's third winter games and it's one which he says he is looking forward to with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

"Cycling was my sport, having competed at so many events commentating on it was second nature to me," said Hugh, who struck gold in the 1966 Commonwealth Games.

Porter says one of his main challenges is the constant battle to correctly pronounce competitors' names. Having an expert like Wilf O'Reilly alongside me is a big help in this respect."

Despite a career of fond memories, he admits to being a little disappointed at losing his mantle as one of the two most famous former students of St Peter's Collegiate School. "For years me and Don Howe were the most well known former St Peter's boys, but now Liam Payne has usurped us," he joked.

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