Sport on TV: Cold comforts for Cracknell as bottom falls out of his world

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The Independent Online

At last week's Henley Regatta, gentlemen in the Members' Enclosure were allowed to take off their jackets for the first time in 33 years, so intense was the heat. Double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell may have allowed himself a wry smile. Six months ago he was trekking across Antarctica in the first race to the South Pole since Scott and Amundsen in 1911. It must have been tempting to tip the champagne bucket over his head as he mopped his brow with a sweaty slice of smoked salmon.

On Thin Ice (BBC1, Sunday) was the first instalment of his expedition with the ubiquitous TV presenter Ben Fogle and Hollywood actor Johnny Lee Miller. Cracknell and Fogle had already run across the Sahara and rowed across the Atlantic together. But race regulations stipulated that a third team member was required.

Their first target had been Gordon Ramsay, but he was too busy slaving over a hot stove. At least it meant that the programme wasn't just a succession of bleeps – there's no need to turn the Antarctic air blue. It's hard to believe he would have kept his cool, and he would have been furious about the dehydrated food. The others may have hoped he would rustle up something nice with some snow and, er, some more snow.

The first episode concerned training and recruitment. Cracknell was very proud of his wind-proof pants, which could come in handy in a small tent after one of those meals. As soon as he got inside the training chamber, he had to take a leak – in -40C. This is a dangerous business in the Antarctic, and a scientist duly piped up: "Unfortunately I've seen a man with a frost-bitten penis." Then they were plunged into a cold-water tank to experience hypothermia – with thermometers up their backsides. There was plenty of public school sniggering, but they soon piped down. "If we're not prepared, we'll probably die," said Cracknell. "That's the reality."

There was a surreal touch of the Alan Partridges hanging over the expedition. Miller was waiting to see if the new TV drama he had made in the US would be given a second series. If so, he wouldn't be able to go on the trip. It wasn't. There were no tantrums, no "Smell my cheese" incident, but Miller must have felt a shiver go down his spine as he saw his get-out clause disappearing over the horizon on Sunset Boulevard.

* We can forget about tennis for another year and concentrate on the real business of the summer, the Ashes. Sky Sports showed the Lions v Australia game as a gentle loosener, easing the viewers in rather than chucking us straight into that nerve-shredding first session. But there was no sign of Shane Warne, or any other Aussies, in the commentary box. Like their team, they only bother to show up for the big occasion.

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