Sport plays a big part in many people's lives and the two single biggest events in the world are both sporting occasions - the soccer World Cup Finals and the Olympic Games. However, there's another side to this sporting life of ours - a rather daft side. This entry takes a look at the odd pursuits and weird endeavours that provide a sort of platform upon which we humans can demonstrate, once again, our essential eccentricity. Stupidity, even. Welcome to the rather disturbing world of unusual sports.
Man versus Horse
In Wales there's a famous race called the Man Versus Horse Marathon. A cross country course is laid out, and human competitors pit their stamina against that of a posse of chosen horses. The course is 22 miles long with many natural obstacles to overcome. The steep slopes are a great test of the endurance of both man and beast, and the tricky forestry, which a man may dart through but which a horse can only travel around, is equally difficult terrain.
The ultimate aim is to run the course and beat the first horse. This was recently done for the first time by a marine who had been training especially for the event. He won a large cash prize - a prize that's been getting bigger every year.
Office Depot Jousting
Equipment: Two office chairs, two garden hoes, two binders, people, and an endless number of halls to play in.
Players: Two for each team, one to sit in the chair and joust, and one to push the chair around if the other guy decides to run, or hold it still if players are stationary. A referee.
History: The telling of the history of this amusing office 'sport' is best left to of one our 'experienced' Researchers:
Well, my friend was in Office Depot (an office supply store) and he discovered, while riding around in a very expensive, brand new office chair, that the ladders used to reach merchandise high up had, for some unknown purpose, ordinary garden hoes hanging off of them. He then grabbed said hoe as he was whooshing past one and discovered it was weighted just right to stab at things. He then thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to get a bunch of guys together and practice this'. After a round or two, and many painful bruises, he discovered a shield was needed. Hence the binder.
Rules: Games last as long as you can manage to play before you get kicked out of the store. This can be a pretty long time if you're smart and stick to the back half of the store. The winner is the guy who takes the most hits with the fewest bruises. In some cases there are boundaries, ranging from one aisle to an entire store. Penalties ensue for one guy just turning tail and running away. This is considered cowardly and, for some reason, cowering in a corner attracts more attention than fighting bravely with your hoe. The ref is mostly there to call the start and to inform individuals when the group as a whole has been kicked out.
That's about all - so now go forth into the world and annoy as many managers as you can.
While this is not a well-known sport, it is a fun thing to do. Apparently. Two canoes race up river to a designated point. Once that point is reached by both canoes, the jousting then begins. The object is to submerse the opponent's canoe by whatever means possible, without the use of tools (ie paddles). While poles were used in the initial inception of the sport, they were proven too dangerous to use among friends. There is usually a judge on the river bank to decide when a canoe is submersed. While the judge is not always necessary, there have been some difficult calls. Scheduling of this event is usually difficult unless the participants have been drinking for the better part of the morning or the afternoon. There are no formal leagues as yet, but the popularity of the sport is growing.
Ditch snorkelling takes place in the Fenlands of East Anglia. People don wet suits and snorkels and swim up courses laid out among the drainage ditches that the Fens are famous for. As these ditches are very muddy, a mask is worn to protect the eyes and therefore competitors have little chance of seeing even their hands in front of their faces.
In the West Midlands of England, ditch snorkelling is known as 'bog snorkelling1'. The two sports are very similar; bog snorkelling involves wearing a mask and flippers, and competitors attempt to make progress, at full speed, through a peat bog. Exactly why anyone would want to do such a thing, is not immediately transparent.
As well as throwing gum boots like the Australians (what weird, weird people there are in this world), the Finns have the great honour of holding the annual Wife Carrying World Championships. What you do is simply grab a hold of your significant other, and carry her (or him) to the finish line faster than the other competitors. Cool.
The games are hosted in the small town of Sonkajärvi in upper Savo, in the eastern part of Finland. The rules say nothing at all about the weight of the wife, only that she can be yours as well as somebody else's. Also, the winning record time for 1999 was apparently included in the Guinness Book of Records.
The Wife Carrying World Championships website explains the rules further and has an official entry form. The site also says that this year's World Champions were a couple from Estonia and that the Estonians actually swept the board, leaving no medals at all for the poor Finns. Oh dear.
Also, the originators of the sauna wouldn't make do without the annual Sauna World Championships. 'Competitors' have to try and stay in a steaming hot room longer than anyone else without passing out.
Todd River Regatta
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia is sited on the banks of the Todd River. Each year a regatta is held on the river. You may not think this is so strange. The thing is, the river bed is dry. Like many rivers in central Australia, it only flows when there has been torrential rain. The rest of the time the water actually flows beneath the sands. Groups get together and make 'boats' which they then race down the river bed.
In Port Lincoln, South Australia, there is an annual competition of tuna throwing. Dean Lukin, the Olympic Gold medalist weight lifter, is a also a champion tuna thrower. He grew up on tuna boats and did some of his Olympic training while on the boats hefting around fully-grown tuna fish. Incidentally, a tuna fish can weigh in excess of 50kg - nearly as much as an adult human.
These sports have long been the bane of large picnics in the USA, such as those for corporations or large clubs. They are played by both children and adults and both groups are entertaining to watch. The children are entertaining because of their general lack of co-ordination, and the adults are entertaining because of their gradual inebriation... and subsequent lack of co-ordination.
Wheelbarrow Race: Two players to each team. One player gets on all fours and the other player takes up that person's legs. Thus you have one person pedalling along the ground with his hands and another player carrying his feet directly behind him. The winners are the team that reach the finish line first, ie that team that falls over the fewest times.
Three-legged Race: Two players to a team again. They stand side-by-side and tie their adjoining legs together. The winners are, again, the team that falls over the fewest times or manages to drag their fallen partner through the grass the fastest.
Potato Sack Race: This is an individual event. Players step into an old burlap potato sack and pull up the sides with their hands. Racers hop to the finish line, and, of course, fall over.
No, American readers, this is not what you think. This is not a barfing competition. Or a technicolour-yawn competition. This is a very popular game played in Ireland. It can best be described as sort of like field hockey, and on first glance, it appears to be a sport bereft of any rules. It is, in fact, a tough, physical game, which requires a lot of skill to play properly and is regarded as one of the fastest field games in the world. Here are the basics:
Two teams, 15 men on each team. Each player has a hurley, which is an ash stick with a wide, flat end - sort of like a hockey stick, only lighter and wider at the end.
Small ball, known as a sliotar (pronounced slitter), about the same size as a hockey ball.
Goals are 'H' shaped. If you hit the ball above the crossbar, you score 1 point. If you hit the ball below the crossbar, you score a goal, which is the equivalent of 3 points.
The game lasts for 70 minutes, 35 minutes each side. Players can hit the ball on the ground, or rise the ball by lifting it into their hand using the hurley. The player may also hit the ball in mid-air with the hurley. It is possible for a player to run with the ball balanced on the end of his hurley - a technique known as a 'solo run'.
Tackling is done in a number of ways. A player can shoulder charge his opponent, or he can clash hurleys with his opponent in order to get the opponent's ball. Punching and kicking is forbidden.
Fouls are rewarded with a 'free' or a penalty, just like soccer. The player rises the ball and hits the ball in mid air, either towards another team player, or towards the goal.
Hurling is played all over Ireland, but it is most popular in the southern counties of Munster and Leinster. The main teams are Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Offaly, Limerick, Clare and Galway. The principal game of the hurling championship is played in Dublin in mid-September. It is known as the All Ireland Final. Attendances can reach over 70,000 people for this game. The governing body is the Irish Gaelic Athletic Association, or the GAA. They are also responsible for Gaelic Football, which can best be described as soccer without any rules.
Cheese chasing is an event whereby members of an English village called Brockworth in Gloucestershire, send a good-sized cheese down a steep hill whereupon all the cheese-chasing contestants chase after it. The local council has at times banned the event due to too many people getting injured. They usually get really drunk, build up a good head of steam and then tear down the hill after the tumbling cheese. The cheese always seems to win.
The village of Falmouth2 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, holds goat races every year. This year's poster for the event reads something like:
The 21st annual Falmouth Goat Races will be held on Saturday, 23 Sept from 9am - 5pm in Governor Stable Park in Conoy Township.
The annual event raises money for the Falmouth Civic Association which uses the funds to pay for a citizen of the year banquet, a community Easter egg hunt, and a New Year's Eve celebration. Recent races brought in more than $5,000.
The event also has a lot of carnival attractions such as greasy food and games for the wee ones. They even have a tobacco-spitting contest in which participants spit a long line of chewing tobacco juice at a target on a hot stovetop. Closest to the target is the winner, though they also have a spitting for distance category. And for the kids, they give them Tootsie Rolls and let them spit the gooey chocolate juice for distance and accuracy just like the grown ups with their tobacco juice. Also, the event features some fun games like putting little kids on sheep's backs and seeing how long they can stay aboard.
The legend of the races is traced back to some long-time village residents sitting around the Village Store, idly chatting. It seems that John Devaney was a little down on his luck at the horse race track. Seeing as they all had goats as family pets, Glen Hipple remarked that John might as well bet on goats. Now goat racers from miles around come to the tiny village in the shadow of Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station to try their luck. There are even goat rentals for those who want to get in on the action at the last minute.
All in all, it's fun for the whole family - like a redneck Olympics.
Haxey Hood is a strange game played out on 6 January each year on a field between the towns of Haxey and Westwoodside in North Lincolnshire, England. Each team tries to get the hood (usually a piece of rolled canvas or leather) to their own pub. What happens is a huge ruck and scrimmage with however many people have bothered to turn up to play for either side. The game doesn't really have any rules - although women and children don't usually play - or a time limit.
The game of underwater rugby is played in a swimming pool of approximately 4m depth. Two teams of 11 players aim to make a goal by getting the weighted ball in the opposing team's basket. Each basket is at the bottom of the pool. This is quite an exciting game as normal gravitational rules do not apply to any of the manoeuvres or tactics you might instinctively seek to employ.
Underwater rugby. Whatever next?