Des takes charge of great leap backwards

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
YOU may have noticed a behavioural quirk common to all members of studio audiences on television programmes: a quick lean back with the head and a furtive upward glance, as if scanning the skies for imminent rain. Why do people always do this? Vanity. They are looking at themselves on the monitor screens, to check that they are looking their best. No one is immune from this urge, which meant that the Sports Review of the Year (BBC1) provided a comprehensive survey of nostril hair status among the nation's sports stars. And all very nicely trimmed they were.

The review was presented by Desmond Lynam, miraculously recovered from the flu that kept him out of the FA Cup third-round draw fiasco. It is an evening that never fails to bring out the best in our sporting dandies, and the sartorial stakes were a close-run thing between Frank Bruno's electric-blue number and Chris Eubank's exquisitely tailored black-tie kit in which the tie was cunningly integrated into the shirt collar. Chris also carried a swagger stick, which seemed odd now that he has precious little to swagger about.

New this year was the category for body decoration, won with ease by Martin Offiah with a fetching combination of a giant ear stud and partially shaved eyebrows. He looked like an exotic creature who had been tagged for future study.

The celebrity interviews were as insightful as ever. David Platt told us that as far as Euro '96 goes: "I think we've got to look to win it." It was good to know that our lads hadn't thrown in the towel yet.

Rob Andrew revealed that "Rugby is going that way - you've got to be big, strong and powerful." He wasn't, in fact, referring to the clout of Newcastle Rugby Club's bank account, but to the physical impact of Jonah Lomu, who was presented with the Overseas Personality award, and immediately revealed that, although he was certainly from overseas, his personality is still at the prototype stage. Since his value to advertisers is so immense, this is not a state of affairs that is likely to be allowed to continue. Image consultants are no doubt at work on some suitably irritating catchphrase for Jonah to learn. They had better make it short.

This brings us back to Frank Bruno, who, as Des put it: "Exemplified Rudyard Kipling's phrase: he waited; but he hadn't tired of waiting." Similarly, viewers have never tired of waiting for Frank to develop the ability to string two phrases together and make sense. He's working at it: he has acquired an endearing habit of listening to every question with an expression of acute concentration. But it's all show: the response is still the same old adorable gibberish.

On his victorious championship fight against Oliver McCall, for instance: "It got a bit Rocky, Des, you know, elbows and heads, but that's boxing, that's cricket." He did manage one confident prediction, though: "I'll knock out Mike Tyson. That's not being cocky or anything," he added, just in case we were wondering.

A recurring leitmotif in the programme was the Benetton mechanics' attempts to reconstruct one of their cars, which had previously been reduced to a pile of components. Damon Hill watched these clips with a wistful expression, no doubt wishing that they had been given the task as the green light glowed on the starting grid at every grand prix last year.

They managed the job in the nick of time, which made you wonder how they would have got on with a tougher challenge: rebuilding an Austin Montego, for instance, or constructing a wheelbarrow out of Meccano. By the by, isn't the Benetton team chief Flavio Briatore a dead ringer for Radovan Karadzic?

Sue Barker has established herself as a thoroughly competent presenter, and the Sports Review confronted her with the interviewer's Everest: Lester Piggott. But she plugged away gamely, and discovered that his favourite mount had been "Pam Shriver". At least I think that's what he said; he might have meant Sir Ivor.

Soon after the Benetton bunch had wheeled on their car (had they cheated and left the engine out?) there was some tomfoolery in a sandpit, which proved very little except that Britain's sports stars will jump at any opportunity to make twits of themselves.

What they were supposed to be jumping for was the world record for the standing long jump, an event last competed for at the Olympics of 1904. The BBC had assembled an intriguing line-up, two of whom - Jonathan Edwards and the heptathlete Denise Lewis - looked as if they were really trying. The three Steves - Ojomoh, Redgrave and Backley - had mixed results. Ojomoh fell over on his backside: 0.00m. Backley landed OK, but then turned and ran back out of the pit as if he'd landed on a particularly vicious-looking snake: 0.00m. Redgrave at least managed to land and stand up in one piece, but he hadn't gone very far.

The winner of the event was not, in fact, either Edwards or Lewis (who got two goes), but Martin Offiah, whose leap of 3.05m would have won him the bronze medal back in those far-off Olympics. The secret of his eyebrow- shaving was out: he'd been after greater aerodynamic efficiency.

And I think I can reveal another secret. This competition was the first part of a cunning BBC plan to revive sports of the past to replace all those they are losing to their competitors. Coming soon: chariot racing, with Murray Walker.