Three men and the Colombian test card

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The Independent Online
HISS! went the screen. The picture seized up. "Ah, bit of a hiss on the screen there," said the commentator, David Duffield. "And we understand that you can't see any action just at the moment. We'll be looking into that." Eurosport's coverage of the World Cycling Championships in Colombia had run over another televisual tin-tack.

Hiss! "We'll be seeing if we can't contact the whirlybird up there, but in the meantime" - the screen went completely blank - "we'll be bringing you up to date on the action here" - the frozen picture returned, in an attractive shade of sepia - "the women's action which is coming up" - the picture was replaced by a rainbow of coloured bars, some kind of Central American test card, then a holding caption - "but first I think we'll take a break." Phew.

You had to feel for Duffield and his fellow commentator, Stephen Roche. The electricity had only been connected at the stadium the night before the championships began, and the organisers seemed to have scrambled the schedule of events. But then the screen cleared, and we were back with the action.

It was time for the men's sprint event. What action. Two burly cyclists balanced next to each other, at a standstill, wobbling a little as they tried to maintain the inertia. A man with a gun stood close by, watching them. Was it a stick-up? There was a brief silence. "Let's just go through what they mean by this standstill business," Duffield said, "for anyone who's just switched on." And is about to switch off.

Roche launched into an explanation - it was all to do with slipstreaming, and trying to get the other bloke to lead you around. Just then the man with the gun fired it. He was an official, not a bandit, and he'd spotted one of the cyclists going backwards, which is infra dig in cycling circles.

As the competitors cycled around to the restart, Roche for some reason delivered a monologue about a bike that he'd had at home. "It was a beautiful machine, y'know," he wittered. "But then somebody broke into my shed and stole it."

Soon it was time for the women's pursuit, in which riders start opposite each other and have to catch each other up. But the Colombians had a variation. "It looks like a lonely ride for the Finnish competitor," Duffield observed, as Kaila Vergara set off in dogged pursuit of no one at all. "Due to a little technical trouble we're not on the programme we were expecting."

As Vergara chased her phantom rival, Duffield gave us a sense of what it was like to be there in the stadium. "The atmosphere around the track is not too packed," he said. "As you might expect, because from a Colombian point of view it's morning." But he was upbeat: "Thirty-six million people in Colombia are very happy to get these championships," he continued. And 35,999,997 of them were still in bed.

The crowd was marginally more animated at the Saga International Open Bowls (BBC2) tournament in Preston, where the mighty Richard Corsie, of Scotland, took on Ian Taylor, a bowls-shop proprietor from Adelaide of mournful mien.

Taylor had a remarkable delivery action: he would stand with one leg cocked and then wiggle the hand with the bowl in it around like a baseball pitcher before stepping forward and releasing. Similar elaboration had gone into his hairstyle. Short of raw material, he had none the less contrived a serviceable fringe with much cunning combwork. Sadly, he had forgotten the overhead camera, complete with bomb-sight to gauge the positions of bowls and jack. As Taylor stood and considered his tactics, the bomb- sight zoomed in on the top of his head, revealing a kind of reverse Mohican, like a landing-strip in the jungle. Corsie won the match, too, which can't have improved the mood of the man with the Chunderdome.

A case of the bland leading the Brand on They Think It's All Over (BBC1) when the ample comedienne showed up on Gary Lineker's team. She immediately got into a good-natured spat with the bald comedian Lee Hurst on the opposing team. "I'd like to run my fingers through your hair," she taunted. "Fine," Hurst replied. "I'll take my trousers down."

Nothing so smutty on Oddballs (ITV), a collection of sporting cock-ups hosted by the oleaginous Eamonn Holmes. "Our next bunch of clips is called 'What a stupid place to put a camera'," Holmes said, so you can grasp the level of subtlety involved. Kriss Akabusi bounced on to watch some clips of himself: Kriss winning a race, Kriss playing tennis, Kriss wing- walking on a biplane, Kriss taking a custard pie in the face. "I enjoy my life," he explained, doing his irritating trade-mark clench-fisted wave. "I enjoy sport, and I enjoy my work in television." Akabusi would enjoy having his toenails extracted as long as someone was pointing a video camera at him.

The show was redeemed by, of all things, a bullfighting clip. One matador was making elegant passes at a good-sized animal when another matador stepped in prematurely. Instantly, caps and capes were flying as the two toreadors squared up. All their mates ran on to join the free-for-all, the crowd went bonkers, and the bull wandered off, bemused. To look for its agent, no doubt.

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