Hannah England’s Transition To The Commentary Booth

By Kyle Merber

March 30, 2022

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Announcing track meets is a tough and often underappreciated job, in which a successful day at the office is marked by knowing everything, sharing just enough, and staying out of the way of the actual action. Well, for those of you out there who truly revel in the misfortune of ill-prepared track announcers without a rock-solid background in the sport, we’ve got some bad news. There’s a new announcer in town, you probably already know her name, and she’s really good at it.

I had the chance to chat with Hannah England, two-time NCAA champion for Florida State, and World Championship silver medalist at 1500m, about her newfound success behind the mic. There is a certain amount of pressure to be the one responsible for conveying the gravity and excitement of each situation, but like the veteran of the sport she is, Hannah has done it.

THE LAP COUNT: How did you get into broadcasting? Was this something that you always knew that you wanted to do while you were competing?

HANNAH ENGLAND: After I retired my goal was to find a way to stay connected to athletics, especially if that meant I could continue to watch it for free! It sorta fell into my lap during COVID, as there were some travel restrictions in place and therefore the opportunity came up. I have had the support of Steve Cram, Tim Hutchings, Geoff Wightman, and others who have done it before and remain incredibly supportive. Each time you’re on the microphone you learn more and the feedback that you receive is valuable for the future. This was my first global championship in the role and being in the energy of a packed stadium was incredible — it was a bit different than watching a screen and talking into the microphone from home.

THE LAP COUNT: I think the thing that stands out about your voice during broadcasts is that you have a general passion for the sport as a whole, it’s clearly not just about distance running for you. Did you have to develop those interests for the job?

HANNAH ENGLAND: My father was a physicist and he thought endurance running was the most boring thing in the world. He was much more captivated by the other events and so that inspired me to always be more aware of what was happening outside of the distance running world.

The diversity in our sport is the most unique and special part. Coaching a youth team, I have seen kids in all shapes and sizes come out for the first time and be able to find an event that fits them and their interests, no matter their abilities.

I am still learning how to describe the technical side of what’s happening in the field and a lot of that comes from learning through conversations with athletes. Once, when I was speaking with a shot putter, I referred to it as the spin or the shuffle and they corrected me like, ‘Do you mean the glide and rotation?’ So there is still room for improvement there.

THE LAP COUNT: What has been the hardest part of the job and is there a particular area that you have had to work on the most?

HANNAH ENGLAND: The best piece of advice that I ever received on commentating was from Steve Cram, who told me, ‘use the statistics to support what you are seeing on screen.’ I think that it’s easy to lean on the numbers, but especially to casual fans it can be less interesting than describing the nerves or the emotion. It’s a balance speaking to the experienced viewer and those who are newer to the sport. Also, becoming more concise has probably been the aspect I have had to work on the most, as I am definitely one for a chat.

First off, I am a fan of the sport, which is mostly a good thing. I follow along, but then it’s a lot of research leading into the competition. I take a lot of notes the days beforehand and then that equips me to hopefully know enough to convey it once live. It’s sort of like an open book exam, but you don’t want to become dependent on your notes. As the action unfolds I’ll maybe reference 30% of what I had written down previously, but using my experience to build-up what is happening in real-time.

And of course, there is the difficulty surrounding name pronunciation, as you never want to be disrespectful. However, at Worlds, I kept stumbling over Josette Norris’s name, which is not a hard one and I know how to say it, but it kept happening. I felt really bad afterward.

THE LAP COUNT: What have you enjoyed most about commentating? Traditionally this has been a male-dominated space, but we have seen more women thriving at it. Is that something you ever think about?

HANNAH ENGLAND: It’s been an opportunity to share athletes’ stories. My biggest concern is that I never want to be too critical of their performances, mainly because of my experience being in their shoes and understanding that I wouldn’t like that. Instead, I want to bring a different viewpoint and appreciation to what fans are watching at home, especially being a female voice. I think traditionally in sports there is a tendency to use women on the field for interviews, almost to say, ‘look at us, we aren’t just men.’ It’s a bit less common to have women in the studio calling races (or games) and providing analysis and commentary, but that’s changing.

I know there are probably some young girls who are listening and I hope that hearing me speak with enthusiasm resonates with them. But it’s not just about the diversity of sexes. We had Aled Davies on our broadcast team, who is a Paralympic champion in the shot and discus, and the way he approached describing the technical side of the field was so much different than anything I could have ever said. There are valuable perspectives to learn from everywhere.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.