TELEVISION / We have the technology, we can rebuild him

AS THE aerodynamic credit sequence sped us into the visual gymnasium that is The Contenders (BBC 1), the first item of information was the name of the narrator. Although this is the first television job in years in which Sean Bean has not been contractually obliged to remove his underwear, the implication of his merely vocal involvement is clear: if you train as diligently as the athletes you are about to see, you too can own a streamlined, gold-medal-winning posterior.

Or maybe you just want to run fast. This new series bills itself as a training manual that ordinary mortals can aspire to but, let's be honest, the physical specimens on show here have reached levels of fitness that are slightly less attainable than owning a pet giraffe or a palazzo on the Grand Canal. The hurdler Colin Jackson attributes his speed out of the blocks to going on the B of the bang - an easy formula to follow so long as you're not the type who falls out of bed on the M of the alarm.

In reality, The Contenders provided an insight into the way training has mutated into a science. Nowadays, unless you can do your jogging in a laboratory staffed by medical teams armed with cardiac monitors, you might as well keep your Nikes clean for the disco. Unless, that is, you can do it in a swimming-pool - the latest fad in fitness. The middle- distance runner Yvonne Murray does four miles inside a rubber ring in her local pool because it's easier on the joints. The only thing not explained here was why she always gets stuffed out of sight in major championships.

Let's put to one side the quibble that all this know-how is turning athletics into robotics. On a mental level, we're still dealing with human fallibility, and research clearly still needs to be done in this area. For example, there must be a common psychological profile of people who do essentially unnatural sports. In gymnastics, or pole-vaulting, the body has to be taught to ignore the sensible arrangements of gravity. Surely the men in white coats who pass for coaches these days could devise an IQ test to establish just how dumb you have to be to fly upside down over a stick six metres up.

While some athletes have to be stupid, their support staff have to truffle for knowledge in the most bizarre corners. The coach of the 800m runner Martin Steele has evolved a theory about biorhythms, from which he has determined that his charge runs well in summer. Luckily, the athletics season falls just at the right time. Apparently, all middle-distance runners not born at the end of September can hang up their spikes now.

The Contenders did console you with news that elements of the top fitness regimes are a doddle. 'As far as training is concerned,' muttered Bean sultrily, 'less is more. The art lies in knowing when not to train.' We could all make a start on that part right now.

The one part of the body an athlete can ignore is the face, the only area that the rest of us care about. In a bitty but lively study, The Mask (BBC 2) considered the fascism of physiognomies. An interview with the model Annabel Schofield highlighted the neurotic self-criticism of the absurdly beautiful, as a result of which she decided to submit her nose to the surgeon's knife. (Surely it's statistically proven that no one in the world likes their nose?)

It did seem a bit odd that the hospital footage was so intrusively good, and lo, when Annabel removed her bandages her nose was uncut. Conned by her looks, we had supposed her vain and stupid enough to go through with it. The credits revealed that Annabel Schofield had been acting, playing someone called 'Annabel'. If she's not as not dumb as she looks, she'll never be a pole-vaulter.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century