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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor