Back in the late 19th / early 20th century Britain was a world leader in codifying and popularising sports for mass participation and consumption.
The likes of football, rugby, tennis, golf and cricket were exported round the world and taken up by dastardly foreigners who would often turn out to be better at them.
What we also excel at are the quirky, ridiculous and, on occasion, downright dangerous sports. Some of which have also gained fame or notoriety around the world.
If you’ve ever had a desire to call yourself a world champion and revel in the adulation of the public, here are some options for you. Not all of them require the toned physique and athletic ability of an Olympian.
And no, quidditch isn’t one of them. ‘Cos its not real.
The Man vs Horse Marathon
Ok so this one does require some serious training.
Think you’re pretty quick? Think you can outrun a horse?
I’m not saying we’re all unfit, lazy slobs, but on behalf of us all I’m saying the answer is: no. They’ve got double the number of legs we do, and there’s a reason why power output is measured in “horsepower.”
That doesn’t stop an argument in a pub from turning into an annual effort to prove otherwise.
The current route is a 22.5 mile cross country slog through the hills and valleys of Wales. First held in 1980, its been run (and galloped) every year since, other than for a couple of covid related exceptions. It took until 2004 for the first human victory.
In all there have now been a grand total of four occasions when man has triumphed over beast.
That includes both 2022 and 2023 which saw two legs good, four legs bad.
Maybe the horses have become complacent.
Prize money rolls over year on year and is only awarded if a human comes out on top. If a horse wins the £500 is added to the following years prize. Which worked well for the first ever human winner who took home £25,000. But less well for this years champ who only got £500, which will be the prize money on offer again next year.
So maybe you’ll want to leave it to build up for a few years to make it worth your while if you’re thinking of taking up the challenge.
The winning horses? They get nothing.
Other than the pride in getting one over their human overlords. And maybe an extra carrot and sugarlump for breakfast.
If horse racing doesn’t appeal to you, not to worry, as the same village of Llanwrtyd Wells provides another opportunity for glory:
The World Bog Snorkeling Championships
Still time to get your entries in for August when the 36th annual contest takes place.
Entrants propel themselves down two 60 yard lengths of a muddy water filled trench cut into the Waen Rhydd peat bog. Flippers are a necessity as forward propulsion can be achieved only by use of the legs. Snorkel and goggles or mask are also a necessity in the murky brown water.
Fancy dress is optional but encouraged.
In 2022 there were 170 participants from as far afield as Australia, China, South Africa and USA- truly a world class event.
Dorset Knob Throwing / Black Pudding Throwing / Welly Wanging
The throwing events. Pick a random item, preferably something with strong regional recognition, come up with some basic rules: and you’ve got yourself a world championship. Holding it in a town or village with a quintessentially British name helps as well.
Dorset Knob throwing is a relative newcomer to the pantheon of sport, the first Championships were held in 2008.
Though in UK slang, a knob is also a penis or a contemptible person. Both of which would bring a whole new dimension to the event.
“Black pudding,” meanwhile, is a type of blood sausage with a history going back to at least the 1400s. With the knowledge of what it is, you may agree with the inclination to throw rather than eat it.
The Black Pudding Throwing World Championships are held in Ramsbottom in the county of Lancashire.
It differs to the others in that accuracy rather than distance is the key.
Participants must knock down as many Yorkshire Puddings as they can with three Black Puddings. This has its roots in the rivalry of neighbouring counties; Lancashire / Yorkshire going back to the Wars of the Roses, and possibly beyond. The contest has been held in its current form since 1984.
The Welly Wanging World Championships are held annually in the Yorkshire village of Upperthong.
Welly is short for Wellington Boot, or as you may know it:
To ‘wang’ is to throw in the Yorkshire vernacular. Tournament rules dictate that the welly to be wanged must be a green Dunlop size 9. Competitors do have the choice of whether to go with the left or the right boot. Statistical analysis does not appear to be available to back up whether one conveys an advantage.
The World Gurning Championships
This is one for those of a more sedentary lifestyle. No athletic ability required, though years of training does still go into it.
Gurning is the ancient art of face pulling.
While wearing a horse collar to frame the face.
It’s all about what is judged the biggest transformation, rather than simply pulling the freakiest face. No performance enhancing implements, such as false teeth, are allowed, its got to be all natural.
Though four time champion Peter Jackman got round this and showed his commitment to the sport by having teeth removed to allow for greater flexibility.
The championships are part of Egremont Crab Fair which dates back to 1267. The crab refers to Crab apples rather than the crustacean. While other Fair traditions such as cock fighting and bull baiting were consigned to history, gurning has been part of the fair since the mid 19th century at least.
Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling
The pinnacle of deranged abandonment. It may sound innocuous but this is sport at its most dangerous.
It’s a simple premise. Intrepid, some might say idiotic, participants line up at the top of Cooper’s Hill in the Gloucestershire village of Brockworth.
The launching of the 3kg wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is the signal for them to hurl themselves down the steep uneven slope in pursuit. There’s no way of actually catching the cheese as the 1:2 gradient sees it reach speeds of 70mph on its way down the hill.
First to cross the finish line at the foot of the hill takes home the cheese as their prize.
On one hand, running downhill is easy. Take a couple of steps and let gravity do the rest.
Which is where the problems start. It’s difficult to assert any control or prevent yourself cartwheeling and somersaulting down the incline. The most effective way of stopping is to allow the foot of the hill to break your fall.
Which is pretty much what happened to the winner of this year’s female race.
Delaney Irving from Canada crossed the line unconscious, having hit her head as she tumbled to victory.
Overall there were six hospitalisations for broken ankle, broken leg, concussions, breathing difficulties and a suspected seizure.
Which is nothing out of the ordinary and is unlikely to put a dampener on future participation. If anything the annual casualty list entices even more foolhardy entrants.
Unsurprisingly health and safety has tried to spoil the fun / relieve the pressure on ambulance crews and local hospitals.
In 2013 the cheesemaker was warned by police that she could face legal liability by facilitating the event.
That was because local authorities had pulled the plug in 2010 due to 15,000 people showing up to spectate in 2009, massively exceeding capacity.
That’s right: it wasn’t the lunatics hurling themselves downhill that was the issue, but the number of people turning up for the spectacle.
None of which stopped the event which locals continued to organise on an unofficial basis. That warning in 2013 did result in the cheese being replaced by a foam replica.
But the cheese wheel has since reverted to the real deal.
The first written record of the event is from the 1820s. But it’s believed it may have happening for hundreds of years before that.
According to the Visit Gloucester website, some believe it started as a way of claiming grazing rights on the local land
Others believe that it could have been a fertility ritual.
The only way I can think that would work is akin to the Darwin awards by removing the stupidest of the populace from the gene pool and leaving the rest of the villagers to procreate.
There’s plenty more of these events; wife carrying, coal carrying, worm charming, tin bath racing, nettle eating, etc etc.
Anyone have any weird and wonderful local sports or has anyone actually participated in one around the world?
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