France Télévisions ups camera stakes for SPAR European Cross Country races

The 22nd SPAR European Cross Country Championships, which takes place in Hyères near Toulon in the South of France this Sunday December 13, will attempt to keep French athletics fans glued to their seats in front of their TV sets. The overall event includes six races, including the men and women’s junior competitions and the men and women’s senior race.

France 3, France Télévisions’ second TV channel, is the host broadcaster and will transmit the men and women’s senior race live on Sunday afternoon. The terrestrial free to air TV channel has planned a sizeable camera set-up along the circuit, which will be run partly in the Hyères stadium and partly outside the stadium in true cross country style, with athletes running over grass, across a pine forest and over sandy surfaces as Hyères is near the Mediterranean sea, with a few obstacles thrown in.

A total of 16 cameras will be placed along the race, offering a wide number of views and angles. «All the cameras are HD. We have around five cams placed on aerial lifts, five wide angle cameras, including one on a mini-jib crane, fixed on a 10 meter video dolly. The rest is a combination of portable and fixed cameras, including one which follows the winner of the race until he passes the post at the end of the race and all the way to the interview area,» describes Marie-Ange Graziani, the event’s production manager for France 3.

The large number of cameras, a mix of Sony and Panasonic HD cams, is quite unusual but essential to ensure the right coverage for this type of marathon-like competition, according to Graziani. «We want viewers to be able to follow the race throughout its different stages and see a bit of the countryside and the stunning landscapes as well,» she explains.

French service provider Euromedia supplies an OB van which will be used to transmit the international signal but which is also equipped for Graziani to package the live broadcast. «Most of the programme will be live, unless we have a French winner in one of the junior competitions. If that happens, we will include a pre-recorded interview as part of the footage. All in all, I have to produce an hour and a half of live coverage,» she indicates.

Apart from FranceTélévisions, nine other broadcasters will be showing the competition, including BBC 2 in the UK, where the women’s senior race should draw interest, as last year’s winner UK athlete Gemma Steel is expected to fight to retain her gold medal — while facing stiff competition from team mate Kate Avery who came second in 2014.

As the competition is a one-off for France Télévisions — it is the first time the European cross country championships takes place in France — and as security measures have greatly increased since last November’s terror attacks in Paris, a lot of preparation went into making sure the event goes according to plan. «We have a dress rehearsal on the Saturday before the event and our TV director Christophe Baudouin goes down on the previous Thursday to assess the situation, look at the race circuit and smooth out any remaining problems,» Graziani describes.

France Télévisions will dispatch two journalists to cover the races for France 3, Patrick Montel and athletics consultant Bernard Faure. They will also interview the winners and the French competitors of the senior races during live flash interviews, which are to take no more than three minutes each. But both journalists are a seasoned TV couple, who have been fronting athletics competitions on France Télévisions for a number of years together and are used to working in live coverage situations.

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