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This is an excerpt from the Anti-pope Games story in my book, Sports the Olympics Forgot
The next oldest race is the Greyhound Race that dates from 1621. Here the artificial hare is chased around three laps of the track by greyhounds dressed in monk’s costumes. The hare wears a Papal Crown and carries a Papal Staff. Again this is a toned-down version of the original where a real hare, wearing a mitre, was hunted to death by greyhounds. Nowadays, the winning greyhound and owner receive a kennel for the dog that is modelled on the Pope’s Palace at Avignon. A greyhound named Luther has won the race the most times with seven wins in the period 1898 – 1905.
Dating from 1645 the oldest athletics event is the Papal shot-put where contestants have to land their throws in a Papal mitre that is placed 15 meters and 17 centimeters from the rim of the shot-put circle. Each contestant is allowed six attempts at this accuracy contest and the winner is the person who lands their put in the hat the most times. Hugo Benjamin Draxler won the event thirteen times between 1794 and 1831. Draxler has been an important figure in the Games as he also lobbied the organizers to introduce a spear throwing contest where the aim and the rules were literally the same as those of the shot-put contest. After the success of the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris both a discus and a hammer contest were introduced in 1925 with the Papal Mitre situated 60 meters and 68 centimeters from the throwing circle. No one has ever won the Discus event and the Hammer event has been won just once in 1958 by the Soviet Anatoli Timofftichuk.
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When the Handstand games resumed after World War I Yashin realized that he should try and include some throwing events. The discus proved impossible to include and the javelin far too dangerous, but there was more success with the shot putt and hammer.
Yashin allowed athletes to wear shoes with semi-circular indentations in the soles so that when the feet were placed together a shot putt would fit neatly in the hollowed out area. The thrower could then bring their knees gently towards their chest before powering the shot away with all their leg strength. After the shot has gone the thrower’s feet can hit the ground as long as they don’t touch down outside the circle. The record for this event is 34 feet 7 inches by Maxim Borisov in 1973.
The hammer throw uses an 8lb ball and is the most dangerous event to watch as timing is the key attribute rather than strength. The athlete stands on their hands and then the Hammer Judge places the hammer over one of their feet. The thrower then gyrates their foot so that the hammer spins around, faster and faster. When the athlete is ready they point their toe towards the open part of the hammer cage and hope that the hammer goes in that direction. Even the most experienced hammer throwers only get one out of every three throws heading in the right direction. Accidents are common and most competitors have been hit by their own hammer many times. Oleg Kirilenko set the record, 146 feet 9 inches, in 1987 although this was wind assisted.
The most balletic event is undoubtedly the 400-metres hurdles introduced in 1965. There are only 9 hurdles, 2 feet 6 inches high and 40 metres apart, in the handstand hurdles. At the start the hurdlers stand on their hands and head towards the first hurdle; when they get a suitable distance away, they spring over the hurdle and land on their feet; they must then do a handstand again before continuing the race – this process is repeated at each of the remaining 8 hurdles and then the athlete sprints to the line. The record is 1 minute 58 seconds by the Bulgarian athlete Maxim Dimitrov in 1983.
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