If I Ran Superstars...
Some of you may have recently been watching the current series of Superstars on Channel 5 here in the UK. While at least the producers have kept the classic, iconic theme tune and indeed got some of the competitors whom have took part and distinguished themselves in previous recent versions of the competition, the elongated team based show just for me doesn't work. It's not about an individual pushing themselves to the limit to beat all comers for two days and ten events, it's more about being tactical, being strategic, knowing who will do well for your team in certain events and making sure you make the most of the opportunities. While I'm sure that those involved are giving themselves a bit of a push, it doesn't seem as uber-competitive as it should be somehow, and I kind of miss that to some degree.
So, what would I do if I was the person who would bring back Superstars to its former glory, and how would I achieve it? Well, firstly, I'd make sure that it was an individual competition, where there'd be ten events over a two day weekend which would really showcase the talent on offer and also give them a chance to really push themselves hard at events which they may not have done before, along with bringing back the classic Superstars events. And I'm not just talking the gym tests (let's get rid of that rowing machine and cycling machine eh? That's rubbish isn't it?) either, but a full blown proper competition, involving real guts, determination and above all, the will to win as shown by many athletes even in BBC's 2003 reincarnation.
I'd base the whole competition in Manchester for definite. With its sporting heritage that certainly has gained a legacy from hosting the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the UK athletics championships often doubling as a trials for the Worlds or Olympics, and indeed the Paralympic World Cup, the most important annual event on their calendar. Crucially also the events themselves would be staged centrally at the Sportcity complex with only a couple of events being not so near to there, but as you can see, a bit of careful planning would mean that they'd be the first events of each day just to get everyone up and ready. So how would my ten events line up, and where?
Event One: Canoeing - There would be a 125 metre course which could easily be set in any of the basins in Salford Quays. Infact there's quite a wide strip of water which goes from Anchorage along to the Lowry, and I'm sure each section either side of the bridge in the middle would suffice, or indeed, the ship canal itself from Trafford Road bridge alongside Trafford Wharf. Have as many as you can alongside each other in the heats, with the four fastest people by time qualifying for the final. This way you could have the competition done in pretty quick time but also giving up to four athletes per heat a chance to really go head to head.
Event Two: 100 Metres - The Regional Athletics Arena at Sportcity, which has been used for national championships, would be the setting. It would be a case of restoring an iconic Superstars event back to where it belongs - the track. The BBC's version at La Manga didn't have a proper running track and I thought that running down a long wide pavement was somewhat not exactly inducive to proper times - at least Channel 5 got that right this year. Of course the "no specialist event" rule would come in as it should do, so Jason Gardener would not be able to run it whatsoever.
Event Three: Football Slalom - The football slalom event should be fast but effective, and on a real grass pitch. Thankfully the Regional Athletics Arena can fit a normal football pitch there, so this event can be set up in advance anyway. Alternate left right (or right left) through the slalom gates, and then take your best shot against a decent goalkeeper and see how you do - and time of course is the deciding factor as well. Often this has been won with three goals rather than a fast time, and maybe have a recently retired goalkeeper in net, maybe someone like Peter Schmeichel would be absolutely perfect to make scoring quite hard.
Event Four: Basketball - Go indoors at the regional tennis centre and set up a basketball court and net in there, shouldn't be too bad really. Unlike the recent Superstars, contestants have to bounce the ball all the time for five baskets, and instead of taking one shot, keep going till you score a basket. Five baskets in all, and with a ninety second time limit. No silly logo to step on but a cone to run around to make the skill when turning and with the ball just that bit more important. Speed and accuracy is utmost here, and John Sherwood's benchmark effort of five baskets in a mere thirty five seconds dead would be pretty hard to match, but that's what you would have to do.
Event Five: Gym Tests - No Superstars would ever ever be complete without the most iconic event of all - the gym tests. And no messing around either - a straightforward return to the old classic of arm dips and squat thrusts. Unlike recent series, once a competitor has touched the floor when leaving the parallel bars, they cannot get back on and go again during the minute, so it would be paramount to work out a balance of speed and energy use over the minute and driving yourself hard. Once you're off, you're off - end of story. As for the squat thrusts, I'd ditch the plank of wood and make sure that they were proper squat thrusts, where the knees must come up to the elbows and feet go back behind a white line to make sure that the thrusts would be of a reasonable distance and indeed to count. Sliding may be allowed but only with appropriate footwear (ie: no sliding in socks and doing feet damage a la Wayne McCulloch in 2003) and it would be the total score to win. In the event of a tied score, it would be the one who lasted longest on the arm dip bar who would claim the win. If that still didn't separate them then it would be a tie.
Event Six: Swimming - Start off the second day in the Manchester Aquatics Centre, and a straight forward fifty metre swim. No mucking around here, just proper blocks and starter and a run down the proper Olympic standard pool and to the end to make sure that the one who really does go through the water quickest would ensure that they would win the event in no time at all. Incidentally, if swimming wasn't an option, there could also be diving that could take its place as well.
Event Seven: Archery - Back at the Regional Athletics Arena, it would be fairly easy to set up an archery target some fifteen metres infield and have the contestants have a blast at hittng the targets. It would be a case of five shots scoring a maximum of 50 points, and if the leaders were tied, it would be a shoot off - nearest to the bull with one shot would win it. That way you could heighten the tension if there was a tie but also there would have to be calmness under pressure. If not archery, then the old favourite crossbow shooting could also make a return as well, which was quite popular back in the day.
Event Eight: Tennis - The National Tennis Centre would of course be perfect for this, and with courts indoors and out, it would work rather well either way the weather would go. Rather than play a full set of tennis each (which would be tiring) it would be first to seven points in a tiebreak-like situation, with serves alternating every odd point (after first point,third point etc) and of course they would need to win by two. Everyone would play each other in a mini league in either two groups or one group, with the top two either way going through to a final and before that a third/fourth place play off. Fifth place would be decided on number of points scored in the league situation. It'd be quick but the tiebreak situation would work out well.
Event Nine: Cycling - Over to the Manchester Velodrome where many world records have been broken and it would be a return to a banked wooden track, made famous by the Ahoy Stadium in Rotterdam which hosted the European Finals of Superstars back in the day. Each contestant would have a warm up lap and then a sprint lap, and it would be a 200 metre sprint just like the sprint cyclists do, with the fastest time winning. Of course the brave ones would come off the banking and peg it around and use the bank like Keith Fielding did in 1977 and Brian Jacks a year later. But the Velodrome would be an ampitheatre for such an event and I'm sure that it would be one to win.
Event Ten: Steeplechase - Yes, bring back this iconic event! It really is sadly missed by me and it would be a 600 metre run so you'd get two jumps over the water and in total seven obstacles over that 600 metre distance. Of course the race would be over in two minutes or so, but it would also be the one where finishing positions and points could be crucial, and like the mountain biking in 2003, one that drains the energy and really gives the contestants something to get their last reserves of energy from. It would be a perfect end to a perfect two days of competition.
Not just that, but it would also have to be financially worth it to the competitors as well. In later years of Superstars, it was sponsored with the likes of Ferguson getting involved as it gave them much kudos. I am sure that having it sponsored wouldn't lessen the event but at least give the competitors the added edge of prize money as well as pride to aim for, which would have to be something. I'd like it to be where competitors would actually want to take part and really obtain honour, pride and want to win the title, like it was when it was a must see event on the television.
And one last thing: I'd make the show a bit longer and no commercials if possible, so that the events could be shown with enough coverage to make it worthwhile. If I couldn't coax the legendary commentator of Superstars David Vine out of retirement, then no worries, I'd do it myself quite happily and introduce each event with the real passion and enthusiasm that I'd have for the show. I'd love to do it, and certainly the athletes involved would really want to show their mettle to the watching fans and millions alike.
So how about it, BBC? I've given you a template to work with - now get to it.