The Hopping Race, Trevelez, Spain

This is an extract from the book Sports the Olympics Forgot

Trevelez is a beautiful village in the Sierra Nevada mountains just to the south-east of Granada. This village is situated around 1,500 metres above sea level, making it the highest in Spain. Some of the streets in the village are narrow and others are extremely steep, which is why Trevelez hosts a unique hopping event that tests people’s leg strength and balance to the limit.

On the last weekend in August hoppers from all over the world flock to Trevelez where they take part in the Trevelez Hopping Extravaganza or the THE as it’s known in the English-speaking world.

The first event is the hopping marathon from Lanjaron to Trevelez, which takes place on Friday. Competitors can hop using either leg but they must come to a halt before changing legs and they must draw the attention of the Switching Judge to this change before proceeding. This is to stop people skipping along the road. Crafty contestants switch legs at the water stations along the course. It is also not allowed to tie both legs together and hop using both feet at the same time; this rule was introduced in 1934 when a hopper, Ferran Alberts, tripped over the kerb, hurtled down a steep embankment and was caught by the legs in an olive tree breaking both limbs.

The record for the course is 4 hours 45 minutes by Lanjaron native Fernando Villa in 1969, one of the five times that he won the event during his career. Fernando switched legs every two miles and also held his other leg for the first two minutes after each change in order to stretch the leg and prevent cramping. The ladies record is 5 hours 14 minutes by Angela Steuben from South Africa, set in 1998; she trained for the race by hopping up and down Table Mountain three times a day for three months.

Even though it’s a marathon race the Lanjaron – Trevelez is not the hardest race of the weekend. The Blue Ribbon event takes place on Saturday and it’s called the Backwards Hop race, where competitors hop around Trevelez five times in reverse. In this contest only one leg can be used for the entire race; to ensure this rule is strictly enforced the other leg is tied. Competitors can use wing mirrors attached to their shoulders to help guide themselves around the course; they must not be guided by a coach and can’t attach guide dogs to their bodies.

The steepest part of the course is at the southernmost edge of Trevelez where one 400-metre road connects the lower town with the upper town; this is the part of the course where the race is won and lost because most people have difficulty walking down this road in a forwards direction in dry weather. In fact most competitors spend more time on this section of the course than on the rest of the course altogether. Grooves are cut into the surface of the road to make gripping the surface slightly easier but even then it’s horrendously difficult going. Most injuries are caused when people overbalance on the later laps due to tiredness. Even the strongest hoppers can spend ten minutes negotiating this road.

The rest of the circuit is through narrow streets, past bakeries, shops, and cafes – the downhill section is fairly gentle and allows racers to gather their strength before the uphill.  The person who has won this race most often is Benjamin Ortega from nearby Juviles with eight victories between 1948 and 1963; he trained for the race by hopping backwards up Alcazaba the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada three times in succession. His advice for hopping backwards up the steep hill during the race was to take small hops and always keep the back straight so as to avoid overbalancing.

The fastest race is the final race of the weekend on the Sunday – the 10 lap forwards hopping race where the hoppers head down the steep hill and around the village. Strangely this race has had the worst accidents of the whole weekend, usually when a racer trips at the top of the hill and rolls downwards knocking over the other hoppers like bowling pins. Edinson Suarez from Cordoba has won this race five times during his career including a hat-trick between 1978 – 1980 – his fastest time was 2 hours 23 minutes and 18 seconds in 1979. He retired in 1984 after suffering an Achilles tendon injury when he was flattened from behind by a tumbling hopper on the hill.

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