By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_Innsbruck_2012_1It was back in January 2010 when it was announced that Channel 4 would broadcast the London 2012 Paralympic Games in a deal worth more than £5 million ($7 million/€6 million). The news came as a shock to most, particularly given that the BBC had shown every Paralympic Games since 1980 and invested several million pounds into promoting disability sport.

However, it was explained that the Channel 4 deal would provide the event and Paralympic sport the strongest pre-Games and Games-time broadcast coverage ever, as well as more marketing support than it had received before in the UK. Channel 4 has so far emphatically delivered on their promise with a number of Paralympic programmes, including "That Paralympic Show" and "Best of British", having proved hugely successful.

But it was clear that the broadcaster's biggest moment would come in appointing their lead television presenter for their peak time live coverage of the Games. The importance of the situation was magnified following Channel 4's disastrous coverage 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu.

It was not the standard of the production that drew criticism but rather Ortis Deley, the man appointed to lead the coverage of the event. It was just over halfway through the event when he was dropped as the main presenter after his inept performance drew a barrage of complaints from viewers.

Deley, best known as a presenter for the Channel 5 programme The Gadget Show, dramatically struggled to adapt to the live presenting role and made a series of significant errors in South Korea at what is the biggest athletics event in the world outside the Olympic Games.

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After being dropped as the lead for the event, Deley (pictured) continued to feature in the coverage of the World Championships in a dramatically "scaled back" role, but it was no surprise that he was omitted from the Channel 4 line-up of presenters for the Paralympics, which was unveiled earlier this week.

Instead, Channel 4 made the intelligent move to opt for veteran television presenter and sports journalist Clare Balding.

It was seemingly a no-brainer to select Balding, a Patron of the British Paralympic Association (BPA), to front the 2012 Paralympic coverage after the Deley episode.

After all, Balding has worked as a television presenter for the BBC for nearly two decades where she has featured on a number of major projects including the last three Summer Olympic and Paralympics in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

That sits alongside her work as BBC's lead on all live racing coverage, including the Grand National and Royal Ascot, as well as on sports including rugby league, three-day-eventing, show-jumping, swimming, golf, tennis, bowls and darts.

But the 41-year-old from Hampshire, a Cambridge graduate, admits that despite a long and stellar career, she is still nervous at the prospect of spearheading Channel 4's peak time live coverage of the Games alongside popular British Paralympic wheelchair basketball medallist Ade Adepitan.

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"I worked on the last three Paralympic Games and ahead of London 2012, I wanted be in a position to help the most amount people possible watch the Games, understand it and feel connected to it and obviously television is the best place to do that," Balding told me as we spoke in central London.

"I went freelance about three years ago, hoping that I would get picked up by another channel, so I'm really pleased that this has happened and to be part of such a special project.

"I'm just hugely impressed with what Channel 4 is bringing to the Paralympics in terms of preparation and approach. They are so revolutionary and they came out long ago with the bold mission statement saying that they were going to have 50 per cent disabled presenters working on the Paralympics. They have stuck to that and trained up brand new, exciting talent.

"As far as Channel 4 is concerned, this is their big event of the whole year. The whole summer is about the Paralympics for them and they have given it a genuine narrative by building up to it over the last few years.

"But it is a new challenge for me and I'll be very nervous by the time we get to the Paralympics. I said that to the young talent when I did a master class for them and they responded: 'If you are nervous, what about us?' But I explained that if I wasn't nervous, there would be a big problem. I have to make sure I get this right and ensure that everybody around me, particularly the young talent, feels relaxed and comfortable and also gets it right."

Balding admits that she may well be a steadying influence at Channel 4 after the Deley fiasco where he repeatedly referred to his printed script and continually had to correct himself after frequently misreading his lines and failing to pronounce the correct name of fellow presenters.

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His most embarrassing moment came during a studio discussion with London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe about Usain Bolt's 100 metre final disqualification when fellow presenter, American athletics legend Michael Johnson (pictured), was left to announce an advertisement break in lieu of an intervention from Deley.

Balding though, admits that she has sympathy for his situation.

"Sports presenting isn't easy," she said. "It is actually an incredible gift and only some of the very skilled people I have worked with make it look easy.

"In many ways, there is no preparation for it without having done it before and therefore it is always very difficult coming into an event for the very first time. It is a bit like with athletes. They always talk about training as much as you like in the pool or around the track but until you race competitively, you can't get the proper feel for it except by racing more. It is the same with presenting. You cannot get fully ready for an event like the Paralympic Games, to the same extent, until you have done one. I guess that is why I got the nod. I'm just thrilled that I did because I am a Patron of the BPA and it is a Movement I believe very strongly in."

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But despite being touted as the flawless veteran that will lead Channel 4 to undoubted glory, Balding feels she will make at least some mistakes in the Paralympic coverage.

However, she hopes that they will be enjoyed by the viewers.

"Just because I have been to the Paralympics and done it all before, it doesn't mean I don't make mistakes," she said.

"In fact, there is every chance that I might mistakes.

"I'm not exactly the fully polished, absolutely correct presenter and that is probably part of my style and my appeal.

"But joking aside, I really can't wait.

"The Paralympics is a very powerful event.

"I know from experience that it can be hard to define but I know that watching the Paralympics genuinely changes a person's life whether they are an athlete or not.

"That is a huge thing to hold in your hand as a presenter; a huge thing.

"I'm just lucky to have the opportunity to do so."

Tom Degun is a reporter for insideworldparasport