Arild Haugen is truly terrifying. Not to be confused, I think, with the Norwegian chess player of the same name (they could be the same person, but I somehow doubt it). The "Hulk" is 300lb of lean, mean lifting machine, and he utterly dominated his home leg of The World Big-Bastard Championship, aka The World's Strongest Man Super Series.
The World's Strongest Man is essentially weightlifting on angel dust, crystal meth and purest crack cocaine. There's the Super Yoke category, for example, in which two huge metal bars weighing around 900lb – 900lb! – are attached to the bottom of a frame that fits over the shoulders and are carried for 20 metres.
Then there's the Tyre Flip. By tyres, it must be stressed, I don't mean something you'd find on your average car, or even your 4x4, your people carrier or – let's be clear about this – a particularly large articulated lorry. These tyres are about as big as my house, and they have to be flipped over six times in 75 seconds. I reckon it would take six of me and half a dozen of you to raise them an inch.
Haugen, in fact, got off to an inexplicably bad start in the opening event, the Super Yoke, but rallied for the Deadlift (so-called, I can only imagine, because it would finish off ordinary mortals). Haugen raised 380kg (838lb) to knee height as if he was picking up a fluffy kitten.
"A look of disgust on his face – 'Is that all you've got?'" observed the commentator Nick Halling, whose pedigree of presenting American football has amply prepared him for a sport featuring men as big as bison. (You can see Haugen deadlift a 4x4 on YouTube, by the way.)
Next was the Viking Press, in which what looks like a snowmobile is lifted from shoulder height, and then the Tyre Flip. Most of them struggled; Haugen looked as if he was out for a summer stroll.
Then the Apollon's Axle, named after an old-time strongman who used to lift railway axles for a laugh. Haugen had a bit of trouble – "he was leaning like a tower in Italy," said Halling – but did better than the American Kevin Nee, who leapt away in agony clutching his arm. You could almost hear his biceps snap.
The climax was the Atlas Stones category, in which five increasingly heavy stone balls have to be lifted, carried a few yards and popped on to a shoulder-height ledge. It's rare for anyone to manage the fifth, but Haugen, as Halling put it, was "lifting these stones like they're paper". He did all five in a staggering 26 seconds, then spent the next couple of minutes encouraging his closest rival, his fellow Norseman Richard Skog, to manage that elusive fifth stone.
The programme, incidentally, was introduced by another big lad, Martin Bayfield. I don't know what Five are paying the former England and Lions lock forward, but for 10 seconds at the beginning and another 10 at the end, you can bet his hourly rate beats whatever he used to get paid by Northampton. (Trivia note: he was also Robbie Coltrane's body double as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films...)
Stop press: The world's other strongest men can relax! Haugen, it seems, has retired! At 23! Not enough money in it for him, it seems. But what's good news for incredible hulks the world over may be bad news for pugilists. Having apparently considered a move into dancing (sometimes the world is just too surreal) he's plumped for boxing. If he can deliver and take a punch like he can lift a car, he could be in for a glittering career.
Shearer joke machine goes into overdrive
Some things just can't be predicted. Alan Shearer – the dullest pundit in TV history – actually cracked a joke on Match of the Day. Ray Stubbs mentioned Rafael Benitez's remark that Liverpool were "80 per cent" certain of winning the title if they were still top after Christmas. "I'd have said it was more like 79 per cent," Big Al said, smiling, er, waggishly. Izzard, Rock, Dee, Gervais, stand aside. You're history. And I'm just popping off to hospital to have my sides reconstructed.