TriRadar’s Staff Writer Mark Robinson is in Budapest for ITU Grand Final weekend. Read his musings about life on the road as a sports journalist. It’s a job he wouldn’t swap for any other – except, perhaps, a role as Penelope Cruz’s manservant.
I touched down in Eastern Europe for the first time on Friday afternoon, full of excitement about the weekend’s racing and the prospect of exploring a city that I’d heard and read so much about.
The taxi journey from the airport didn’t disappoint and immediately gave me a feel for what Hungary and its neighbouring former Eastern bloc countries are all about: a blend of ancient palaces and Communist relics; grey, angular, decaying buildings in the outskirts that served as a reminder of the austerity of life as a Soviet satellite; and, as we reached the town centre, shiny new designer shops and smart wine bars, which suggest that prosperity is gradually on its way back to a country with a rich and glorious history.
The driver’s mood in the car on the way over can only be described as exasperated. Heavy rain, rush hour on a Friday and road closures ahead of the weekend’s racing meant that the city was gridlocked. He mopped his brow, cursed in Hungarian and lit up a cigarette more than once as we sat in multiple traffic jams. His mood only softened when we discovered our mutual love of Liverpool FC. Sport is a universal language.
I slept for ten hours on the first night in my lovely hotel room: the launch of our superb new website, the magazine’s deadline and a house move had taken plenty out of me in the preceding ten days or so. I awoke refreshed, ate a hearty breakfast and made my way into the city for the build-up to the elite men’s event alongside journalists and photographers from all corners of the globe.
As a journalist I was hoping for a titantic, climactic struggle between Frodeno and Gomez, who were battling to secure the world title. As you will have read from my race report, it didn’t turn out that way, but any disappointment was cancelled out by Alistair Brownlee’s stunning victory. There’s something about sporting comebacks that appeal to the romantic in me and, with the vultures circling with career obituaries at the ready, Brownlee’s performance in holding off Gomez was the highlight of the season for me so far. It was the perfect riposte to his critics – a display of real courage and tactical maturity from a young man who told me after the race that he still isn’t 100% fit after an injury-ravaged campaign.
After seeing his brother Jonathan lift the U23 World Championship later in the afternoon and a quick chat with Emma Moffatt, I headed out for dinner with a lady from a rival publication. I suppose it was a little like Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn going out together at the height of the Britpop craze – though there was less alcohol involved, fewer paparazzi and no Class A drugs. It was a really pleasant evening, the highlight being a traditional goulash soup. The dish tasted wonderful, nothing like the watery slop my uncle used to make in the 1980s when he was a devotee of perestroika from his student base – mainly to ‘impress’ some female colleagues.
Having interviewed a few British age-groupers for the magazine this morning, this afternoon it’s the turn of the elite women. It’s a race that should quicken the pulse even more so than the men’s. I’ll be reporting on it later, ahead of a celebratory final evening here involving a few well-deserved beers before my flight back home tomorrow.