Take the kids to … High Sports climbing centre, Brighton

With indoor climbing set to be part of the next Olympics, interest in the sport is on the ascent. This place offers a fun but professional introduction for kids

Sports the Olympics Forgot – Donkey Jousting

This is an excerpt from the Donkey Jousting story in the book, Sports the Olympics Forgot

The sport of Donkey Jousting has taken place under the walls of Caernarvon Castle in North-West Wales since 1300 when King Edward I was building the castle that’s seen today by thousands of visitors. The original jousters were Welsh soldiers who were trying to tempt the English knights into a skirmish. As all horses had been commandeered by the English the jousters had to use donkeys instead and this just drew ribald comments from the knights who found the whole scene comical. To compound matters, the Welsh had to use willow branches instead of lances.

Realising that the English weren’t going to be tempted into a fight, the local Welsh people decided to enjoy themselves. To further parody the English knights the Welsh jousters dressed up in highly coloured garments and decorated their donkeys with rags and flowers. Some of the animals spent more time trying to eat the flowers than trotting around the jousting ‘field’ specially created for the occasion.

The tournament was run on a round robin basis where each jouster took on every other opponent over the best of three jousts. A point was scored if the willow branch touched either the shield or the armour of their opponent.

The biggest problem that riders had was making their donkey gallop at any speed; most donkeys trotted at best and often decided to nuzzle the opposing animal rather than running by. This led to the jousters hitting their opponents many times rather than just once, so quite often the counting judges had a problem counting the blows each had scored. Quite often one donkey would chase another donkey out of the field and in this instance both riders would be disqualified for failing to control their animals.

Sports the Olympics Forgot – The Anti-Pope Games from Avignon

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.

Sports the Olympics Forgot – The Skipping Games

This is an excerpt from the Skipping Games story in the book, Sports the Olympics Forgot

The Skipping Games take place in Skipton on the last Saturday of September. As the name suggests all the events require the contestant to skip rope during the race. The rope must be in use at all times and can never be carried otherwise the contestant will be disqualified.

The Skipping Games began in 1894 when one of the local worm-charmers, Agnes Smith, devised a technique for bringing worms to the surface of her fields by dancing on the spot using a skipping rope to keep a steady beat on the ground with her feet. This was quite a tiring exercise and she used to train by running around the field, skipping as she went. Her two sisters, Anne and Bronwen, used to try to keep up with her and soon a competitive edge was introduced when their father, Herbert, declared that the fastest sister over a 100-yard race would win a pint of best Yorkshire bitter. Anne won the race in 13.6 seconds and that night downed the prize in one go. Her father also had a few pints to drink and by the end of the evening had challenged all comers to a racing contest in his top field the following weekend.

So began the Skipton Skipping Contest.

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.

The Tandem Tour, Hungary

The Tandem Tour in Hungary is the world’s only organized sporting event for cyclists on the same bike. The first event took place on May 10th, 1957 to commemorate 6 months since the forces of the Soviet Union brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising. The idea is to show that although the socialist ideals of helping each other are perfectly embodied on a tandem you also need freedom to enjoy that socialist ideal. What better freedom could there be than riding to the four corners of Hungary in a two-week long race that tests teams’ endurance to the limit.

In the 1957 all the teams were from Eastern Bloc countries apart from the Soviet Union – all the entries from teams in that country mysteriously disappeared due to an administrative oversight, which kept repeating itself until 1990.

The tour starts in western Hungary at Sopron with a short time trial to Gyor. The next stage is to the town of Balatonfured. This is just a warm-up for the hardest day of the tour – a double circumnavigation of Lake Balaton including sixteen separate sprints where time bonuses can be won.

Stage four takes the riders to Esztergom on the Danube Bend before they head into the Matra Hills for three days of riding between Salgotarjan, Ozd, and Eger. Next it’s into the Hortobagy National Park and a series of time trials between Miskolc, Tokaj, Nyiregyhaza, Mariapocs, and Debrecen.

The penultimate day’s ride takes the teams across The Great Plain to Szolnok via Bekescsaba. The last day’s riding takes the tour to Budapest for the finish in front of the Houses of Parliament by the River Danube.

The unique feature of the Tour of the Tandem is that both professional and amateur teams take part in the same race. Time trials are always organized so that the fastest teams go first thus reducing the chances of accidents. On the race around Lake Balaton the road is always wide enough for the faster teams to lap the slower ones.

There is also a prize for the unlikeliest bike to have completed the race. This is usually either a specially altered Penny-farthing bicycle or an extended mountain bike with smaller wheels.

Sports the Olympics Forgot – Beagle Chasing, UK

On Easter Monday in Atherstone in Warwickshire an unusual sports event takes place that attracts hundreds of competitors. It’s the annual Beagle Chasing extravaganza,which dates from the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

The chasing takes place over a number of distances and comprises individual and team events. There are no separate races for men and women and no age-group categories. The main reason for this is that all contestants wear a hare costume and must carry a vegetable in their hand during the race, in deference to the diet of the hare. The beagles chase after an artificial scent laid by a dragsman, who wears a fox’s costume.

The scent is made from animal droppings or human urine, aniseed, and fixative. The dragsman pulls it along in a bag to create a cross-country trail. The oldest event is the Replace the Collar contest where individual hares chase a beagle across country, replace its collar, and return to the start all without dropping their vegetable on the ground. Each hare chases a different beagle and the dog is always given a five-minute start over the hare. The beagles are allocated to the hares by means of a lottery as are the vegetables that are carried. These must never touch the ground or be placed in the hare’s mouth, but they can be thrown into the air should the hare have difficulty in removing the collar and require both hands for the task. Indeed, the best collar removing hare of the 19th century was Simon Reynolds, who was a professional juggler and so could accurately throw carrots and lettuces high into the air for a good ten seconds. The vegetable can also be balanced on the nose or on top of the head if the hare  so chooses.