Sport on TV: Jonah has a whale of a time – shame about the rest of us
Sunday 09 January 2011
Chris Evans is no stranger to car crash television but Famous and Fearless (C4, Sunday to Friday) hasto go down as one of the slowest-motion wrecks of all time. The first episode was fully two hours long – 20 minutes tops would have sufficed – at the end of which Kelly Holmes performed a daredevil car-rolling stunt. She had just won a street luge contest despite being sent tumbling off the track halfway through. It was a case of the Dame meets the Dukes of Hazzard, and though she's no Daisy – more a shy, retiring violet – Evans was doing a fine impression of Boss Hogg, hogging the TV schedules for an entire week.
Perhaps it was Channel 4's answer to the Ashes: the only problem is, if you want to beat the ultimate form of sporting contest, the five-day Test, you can't make it better by simply making it last longer. This was just a Test of patience.
The "girls" team might not have known what they were letting themselves in for. While the "boys", featuring former All Black Jonah Lomu, got to enjoy a bit of BMX biking, the street luge was a different matter altogether. Invented in 1975 at Signal Hill, California, when some skateboarders found they could go faster by lying down, its aficionados can reach speeds of 100 mph.
Their instructor, Will Stephenson, said he had seen people break both legs because, you see, these tea trays on wheels don't have any brakes. Competitors have to slow down using their feet, and so they wear special boots called "hot heels". Perhaps the girls thought they were being invited to a trip to the sales to pick up some nice new shoes. Once Stephenson had shown them his bodysuit, with the arse ripped off by Tarmac and patched up with his sister's leather jacket, they may have been impressed by the "distressed" retro look but it was something they wouldn't be seen dead in – literally.
Holmes has been through the mill – and not just the run of it – in pursuit of sporting excellence, and so has Lomu, even more so in his case as he had to have a kidney transplant to save his life. So it was not just his size and strength that his opponents were up against, but a never-say-die attitude too. When a man like Lomu says, "Basically I'm trying to scare myself", then we should all be scared.
Like Gavin Henson in 71 Degrees North, the non-sporting celebrities (were they even celebrities?) must have wondered why they bothered to turn up, especially when Lomu sat down next to David Haye and made the world heavyweight champ look like Ronnie Corbett (well, almost – his jokes weren't as good).
As it happened, the oldest member of either team, 44-year-old Charley Boorman, somehow managed to beat Kelly Holmes to the title at the end of a long week. But it was great to see Lomu back in action of some sort or another – albeit in such spurious circumstances – and it was also good to see Clare Balding back in front of the cameras after she learned last week that she will require no further treatment, having contracting thyroid cancer in 2009.
One of the most versatile sports presenters, she has reportedly been miffed about her treatment by the BBC, so perhaps she is engaging in a new sporting challenge: ship-jumping. At least after Dame Kelly climbed out of her wrecked car, Balding didn't recommend a trip to the dentist.
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