Sport on TV: Cold comfort for Ice Man's wife as Dutch courage turns to folly

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The Independent Online

It must be worrying as a wife in Amsterdam when your husband gets up in the middle of the night and says: "I'm just popping out for a while." It must be even more worrying if they don't bother putting on any clothes, but just go down and submerge themselves in a canal for half an hour.

This is how retired postman Wim Hof ends his days – in more ways than one, probably. As "The Ice Man" he has dedicated his life to proving that he can withstand extremely cold temperatures, confounding the medical world in the process.

In Daredevils: The Ice Man (Channel 4, Monday) he was attempting to run a marathon inside the Arctic Circle. It will take him at least five hours in temperatures of –16C. And he's only wearing a pair of shorts and sandals. Oh, and he's got a sprained ankle to boot.

One of the problems with showing extreme feats of endurance on TV is that the crux of the issue, survival, is pretty much guaranteed. The viewer does not have to worry that the brazen fool on the screen might keel over and die "live". That would exceed the boundaries of taste even now. And besides, you would have heard all about it long before the show went out.

Hof seemed so completely insane that it was hard to care about his fate (we're still talking about the Dutchman here, not "The Hoff" in 'Meet the Hasselhoffs', though the same applies). His story left you completely cold. But as well as being just another nutter in the picaresque freak show that is today's TV, he also fulfilled another of its common criteria, that of being a scientific anomaly. How we are learning to love all those women who are completely covered in hair and lads who are born with eight heads.

Hof claims to have mastered the art of mind over matter, so that after spending 25 minutes swimming in a frozen lake his blood pressure and pulse rate are the same as they were before he started. He is an odd one. But we already know this, having watched him squatting by the side of the road, merrily excreting in the middle of a blizzard and muttering: "Emotional things are hidden away... ugliness comes out." And who's to argue, especially while he's doing that?

And yet the Ice Man is also disturbingly normal. He does no fitness training at all for his five-hour race against death – apart from hanging around in an abattoir's deep-freeze. And when he crosses the finish line, the first thing he does is have a beer and a fag.

What Hof does show us is that ordinary people can have extraordinary powers, that perhaps we could do anything if only we could get up off the sofa. But if their chosen pastime is "searching for the line between life and death", as Hof's wife, Carolina, says, then it's probably best not to be married to them. A holiday in the Caribbean is out of the question, and even a cuddle in bed is a test of endurance.