“He’s the consummate professional,” offers former Olympian Tamsyn Manou, who works hand-in-glove alongside McAvaney. “I’ll throw something out there and he’ll reel off these stats without looking at his sheet of paper, without turning to anybody to get the info. He just knows it. Add that to his genuine, authentic passion for the sport and you get a unique person who calls the race in his special way.”
We’ve tumble-turned into the second week of the Tokyo Olympics but let’s call this home run by its real name: the Festival of Bruce has begun.
Seven used McAvaney sparingly in the first week of its coverage but he’s now front and centre with the athletics program under way.
Whether it was Thompson-Herah’s victory, or the heroics of Australia’s Rowan Browning in the men’s 100m, or Peter Bol, Jeff Riseley and Charlie Hunter in the 800m, McAvaney’s supreme narration was as much on show over the weekend as the athletes he was calling.
He’s one of those rare commentators who makes a sport better. More than that, he’s a reminder of why we watch it in the first place. It’s supposed to be a joy, an inspiration, a distraction from our wretched lives, not the cranky shitfight it often becomes.
Some people reckon he’s too enthusiastic but, personally, I could listen to Bruce call the phonebook. I reckon he’d make it interesting, too, telling us how the phonebook’s time is the fifth fastest in history, the second fastest at this particular phone box, and only 1.2 seconds outside the world record set by the Yellow Pages at Helsinki in ’52.
To understand why McAvaney has set the high water mark in sports broadcasting, you need to consider the sports he no longer covers. Now 68 years old, having staved off cancer four years ago, he’s more than entitled to mail it in.
He’s dramatically reduced his workload but hasn’t slowed down, according to colleague Hamish McLachlan: “He’s given up things so he can allocate more time to getting what he does right.”
The best ones have a common approach to their preparation and McAvaney handed the secret to McLachlan on his first day in the job.
“This is how much research you should do,” McAvaney said, stretching out his arms.
He then narrowed his hands, so they were almost touching.
“This is how much you’ll use,” he said.
Inside the industry, it’s impossible to find a single person who will speak an ill word of him. In the viper’s nest of sport and media, that’s unheard of.
Four years ago, before a Friday night match, McAvaney and McLachlan were working out before going on air their weekly discussion point not related to AFL.
That week, Jordan Thompson had beaten Andy Murray in the opening round at Queens leading into Wimbledon.
“You know that’s the first time Andy Murray’s been beaten by an Australian?” McAvaney said.
“Really?” McLachlan said.
“Yeah, he’s played an Aussie 19 times [in ATP singles matches] — and he’s never been beaten.”
“I did not know that.”
When the pair were on air, McLachlan kicked off the discussion.
“Bruce, before we get to the football, as always we look around the world at all sorts of sports,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”
“Let me take you to Queen’s. The lead-up to Wimbledon. Jordan Thompson has been on the tour for a while and had his biggest win, beating Andy Murray …”
Before McLachlan could set up McAvaney for the killer fact he’d told him earlier, McAvaney kept talking.
“Now Hamish, you told me before coming on air that Andy Murray had never been beaten by an Australian. That is so interesting.”
Says McLachlan: “That’s Bruce. He wants you and the team around him to flourish before himself.”
He indicated to Gerard Whateley on SEN on the eve of this Olympics this could be his last. Maybe the last time he “calls anything”.
Let’s hope it’s one of those rare times when Bruce McAvaney called it wrong.
”I’m like literally the greatest person, but during competitions I don’t like anybody.” — Raven Saunders, who dressed as the Joker on the way to silver in the women’s shotput.
Um, that’s not how we were riding our Malvern Stars around the streets of Urunga. With its cash rolls, no-handed flairs and 360 windscreen wipers, the BMX Park event was something to behold, even more so when Logan Martin is winning gold, one of four won by Australians in one day.
Now THIS is heartbreaking: Irish boxer Aidan Walsh was forced to withdraw from his welterweight semi-final after injuring his ankle while jumping up and down in celebration after his win in the quarters. He gets the bronze.
It’s a big day 10 at the Olympics for … New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who will become the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics in the 87-plus division. Let’s see how the world reacts should she medal.
It’s an even bigger day 10 for … the Matildas, who meet Sweden in the semi-final of the women’s football. We’re still trying to dislodge our hearts from our throats after that 4-3 victory against Great Britain on Friday night.
* An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Aiden O’Brien rather than Aidan Walsh. The error has been corrected.
Never miss a medal or great sporting moment with our Olympic update emailed daily. Sign up for our Sport newsletter here.