wed 12/08/2020

Dan Snow's History of the Winter Olympics, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Dan Snow's History of the Winter Olympics, BBC Two

Dan Snow's History of the Winter Olympics, BBC Two

Less a history programme and more a travelogue

Dan Snow was, as ever, an amenable presenter and keen to show his action-man credentials

The programme blurb says: “Dan Snow looks back at 90 years of the Winter Olympics and shows how the political upheaval of the 20th and 21st centuries has impacted on the Games". Instead we got a mish-mash of archive clips, a potted history of the Games, a nod to some of the politics surrounding them, and a tale of how one chap's derring-do impacted on them.

The programme went all over the place – as did Snow, who travelled to several countries, most of them unnecessarily, to tell his story. The rugged historian, an amenable presenter, was, as ever, keen to show his action-man credentials by trekking up and skiing down mountains - although I notice he didn't attempt the really thrilling, i.e. dangerous, stuff such as bobsleigh, skeleton or ski jumping. (This is what celebrities are currently doing on Channel 4's The Jump, a sort of snowy version of Tom Daley's Splash!)

Ninety years is a lot to pack into one hour, and telling the story adequately all but impossible

Snow managed to shoehorn in a reference to each of the 21 Games in their 90-year history, with clips and talking heads. There were interesting vignettes; how the “Jews not welcome” signs had to be taken down around Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany in 1936; how the lovely city of Sarajevo (1984) had become a killing ground by 1993 during the brutal civil war; and the background to the memorable USA v USSR ice hockey match at Lake Placid 1980, at the height of the Cold War, when a team of American college players took on and beat a professional Soviet team.

Snow brought things up to date with a mention of the Sochi Games, which have already caused controversy due to Vladimir Putin's outrageous comments about gay men and women who may attend the Games. American figure skater Johnny Weir spoke with quiet dignity and intelligence about his sport and the broader political context in which he will be participating in Sochi. He revealed that in Russia, as a skater, he is admired because Russians believe it's a manly sport, but as a gay man people like Putin revile him. He's an interesting guy – fluent Russian speaker, married to a Russian and opposed to a boycott of the Games - and worth an hour to himself.

Running through the programme, though, was a terrific story that also deserved a documentary of its own – how the Lunn family had a striking impact on the Games. Sir Peter Lunn was a British Methodist minister who believed in the sanctifying properties of outdoor pursuits, and so established a travel company (later called Lunn Poly) to organise trips to the Alps. Lunn was a pioneer of what we now know as package holidays.

His son, Sir Arnold, was a devotee of alpine pursuits and founded the Alpine Ski Club, organising several skiing competitions around the world. He was instrumental in downhill and slalom skiing being introduced at the 1936 Games, much against the wishes of the Nordic countries. Strangely, Snow made no mention of Lunn's pro-Franco and pro-Mussolini views, even if he was no supporter of Hitler and felt the International Olympic Committee should not have awarded the Games (and six months later the Berlin summer Games) to Germany.

Ninety years is a lot to pack into one hour, and telling the story adequately – especially in the context of geopolitical history - is all but impossible. I suspect that sports fans and history buffs will have found Dan Snow's programme lacking in both departments, while those who like history presented as a travelogue with sumptuous scenery will, however, have loved it.

Snow managed to shoehorn in a reference to each of the 21 Games in their 90-year history

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I think it was a pretty poor show for Snow to dismiss the GB Ice Hockey Gold at Garmisch in 1936 because "the team was full of ex-pat Canadians". Not True. One Canadian player was born in UK. Also one GB player was born in Canada. My Father, Carl Erhardt, born in England, who played most of his hockey in UK and Europe was the captain.

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