Sport on TV: Bare cheek of the Brits as they peak far too early on mountain


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The Independent Online

After skating rapidly through 90 years of the Winter Games, detailing their controversial and often highly politicised climate – relations between nations have often been frosty; just look at the Cold War – Dan Snow concluded The History of the Winter Olympics (BBC2, Thursday) with a far more obvious observation: it’s actually a struggle between man and nature. Just don’t tell the Russians. They don’t like it when men have to wrestle with their true nature.

The event’s dangerous past is all set to be repeated in Sochi after several decades of relative triviality, what with the threat of terrorism and the global disapproval of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation. It seems like hell will freeze over before President Putin admits, amid all that homoerotic posturing with his top off, that he is in fact a big gay Russian bear.

Dan Snow is the ideal presenter for this story, and not just because of his name – think Alan Brazil and Rio Ferdinand at the World Cup, or Clare Balding interviewing the Charlton brothers – but because he is obviously a posh lad and this is essentially the story of how British Alpine pioneers blazed a trail to the top of the mountains before the rest of the world caught up. Since then we have been buried under an avalanche of everyone else’s medals.

It all began with one of the first travel agents, Henry Lunn, who formed the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club – no doubt those bastions of single-sex education with all their faggings and floggings never produced any gays – and launched the first package holidays to the Alps.

Then his son Arnold invented the downhill slalom ski race, beating the Scandinavians to it – probably for the last time. Racing on skis had, bizarrely, never been included in the Nordic Games, and the Norwegians were furious; they claimed it was like the Eskimos rewriting the laws of cricket. Lunn Jnr responded that it might not be a bad idea, because there would be fewer draws. Anyone who has tried to play cricket in April might agree the Eskimos could teach us a few things. They would be masters of sledging.

The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924, but in fact the Brits got there first too: the 1908 “Summer” Games in London went on for six months and lasted so long that the first winter event, ice skating, was staged in October. But that was before the two World Wars, before the rise of fascism and Communism, even before Tony Gubba. It’s all been downhill since then.

The Jump (Channel 4) has a comic-book apocalyptic feel to it –assuming that by this stage you can still feel anything in your frostbitten fingers. The latest batch of nonentity “celebrities” have spent all week trying out different Winter Olympics sports, with the worst pair having to perform a ski jump to decide who is eliminated.

It may as well be their own personal doomsday approaching, such is their desperation as they throw themselves down chutes of ice for one last hurrah in front of the cameras. In a comic book, of course, some of them would probably meet a grisly end, and there must have been a fairly good chance of that happening given that they were being coached for the jumps by Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards – who was so bad at the Games in Lillehammer in 1988 that he became a celebrity loser, just like this mob.

Perhaps soon we will see a version of the celebrity diving contest Splash! (which, incidentally, Edwards won last year), simply called Jump!, in which they fill the swimming pool up with concrete and invite the most desperate attention-seekers in Britain to come along and drink lots of booze. Then all those keyboard terrorist trolls can have an officially sanctioned outlet for their hatred, and we watch what happens.

Sadly, the Winter Games attract a small enough TV audience here as it is. After The Jump, there might be no viewers at all. Talk about “Touching the Void”.