What better way to say: ‘I love you’, than to actually say: ‘Hold tight honey, as I run through this pit of mud with you clinging upside-down on my back…’? Well, trust those ever-romantic Finns to take a break from being amazing rally drivers and eating reindeer and host the annual ‘wife-carrying’ race in Sonkajarvi. The rules are simple. A man must complete the obstacle course in the fastest time possible, while his wife (or his neighbour’s) clings on to his shoulders, usually upside-down (aka the ‘Estonian carry’). The wife must be at least 49kg, otherwise she must then carry a weight-filled sack. The overall champions are the couple who cross the line in the fastest time, and are awarded with what is possibly the greatest prize any sport can offer – the wife’s weight in beer. Bottom’s up!
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (headquarters: New York City, USA), hands out the coveted mustard-yellow belt to whoever can take the concept of gluttony to stomach-punishing new heights. Food-scoffing competitions, held around the world (mostly the US and Japan), pit several competitors (eaters) against a pile of food – usually hamburgers, pies, hot dogs or pizza, a time limit and each other. Basically: eat more food, faster. As a ‘sport,’ there are obviously rules and tactics that govern the state of play. Some eaters adopt the ‘chipmunk’ technique, stuffing as much food into the mouth first and then working it down, second. Others will ‘dunk’ (dip foodstuff into liquid) before eating, but only when ‘picnic-style’ rules are in play. Vomiting, or ‘reversal’, is strictly forbidden and excessive table debris will see points deducted. When the final buzzer sounds, whoever has forced the most food down their gullet is the winner. Simple. And, if you’re wondering, Timothy Janus ate 6.3kg of chilli spaghetti in 10 minutes. That deserves a spot in the Pantheon.
Bo-Taoshi (aka Japanese pole pull-down)
This could perhaps be the greatest sport ever. Bo-Taoshi is an obscure Japanese practice that is part-military exercise, part-sport and a whole lot of crazy. Two teams of 75 (seventy-five!) compete, one attacking, one defending. The defending team are to protect a large pole and keep it upright, while the attacking team attempt to being the pole down, to at least a 30-degree angle. The ensuing spectacle is chaotic, loud and immensely entertaining. Dozens of attackers fling themselves at the defensive throng, showing utter disregard for their personal safety, while defenders scramble about punching, kicking, shoving and tearing clothes in an effort to repel the kamikaze attacks from the other team. Once it’s all said and done, those still alive all then turn and raise their hands and seemingly praise the pole. It’s just a few digitally-enhanced abs away from being an epic ancient battle film.
Cardboard Tube Fighting
Who hasn’t taken the long cardboard roll left from a poster and felt the insatiable urge to hit somebody with it? Well, thankfully a Seattle man by the name of Robert Easley founded the Cardboard Tube Fighting League, which governs and hosts formalised battles where participants live and die by the rolled-up cardboard sword. The basic objective is to break your opponent’s tube before they break yours, and competition takes place in two forms: duelling tournaments, where combatants square-off in a mano-e-mano swordplay contest; and full-scale battles, which are essentially orgies of wild, flailing cardboard violence. Those who prove themselves most valiant on the battlefield are rewarded with the prized ‘Legendary Cardboard Tubes’, namely: Thor’s Hammer, d’Artagnan’s Sabre, Heaven’s Will, and the mighty Suffusca Mors. Toilet-roll daggers are forbidden in contest.
Synchronised swimming is another one of those sports better categorised as ‘performance art.’ Or better yet, ‘performance art with creepy smiles.’ A team of a dozen or so, clad in sparkly onesies and nose plugs, perform a choreographed aquatic dance routine and score points based on style, timing and synchronisation. That’s what it says on the packet. In reality, it’s a splashy mess of flailing legs and incredibly unnerving grinning faces emerging from the depths.
Long distance running is lung-bustlingly torturous enough, so there must be a special spot reserved in Hell for the evil mastermind who thought of adding some hurdles and a giant puddle to the equation – for no other reason than to try and befall the exhausted. Actually, steeplechase races originated from British county races, where runners ran from one village’s steeple (church) to the next, contending with the various streams and small stone fences in-between. Why it was converted into an official athletics discipline is a mystery, however. There was even some thought put into the design of the water-pit, which is sloped like a ramp to reward those who can jump further and therefore not get slowed down by deeper water. The water pit also provides extra motivation for those competitors wearing suede shoes.
What happens when a Belgian man drinks too much sangria on holiday in Spain? He formulates a game that involves trampolines, jumping castles, volleyball and Brazilian dance-based martial arts, and calls it Bossaball, derr. This rather flamboyant sport is best described as beach volleyball played on a giant inflatable bed… with a couple of trampolines in the middle. The rules are almost identical to volleyball; two teams of up to five players bat the ball about over a net and try to get the ball to land in their opponent’s side of the court. The main difference is the presence of a trampoline on either side that gives rise (hehe) to ridiculous, gravity-disregarding spikes and smashes of the ball. Players can touch the ball with any part of their body, and judging by photos found online, the more time spent upside-down, the better.
Originating from Switzerland, Hornussen is said to be a little like golf, a little like tee-ball and a little like a poorly-organised protest demonstration. The sport, created by bored Swiss farmers in the 17th century, is played between two teams of up to 18 players over a large field. A player from one team will belt a little, rubber puck off a ramp using a scarily flexible, fishing rod-esque stick with a small mallet attached at the end. The puck – called the ‘hornuss’ (after the hornet-like sound it makes as it whips through the air) is then launched at speeds of up to 300 kph down the field where the other team await, scattered over the field donning helmets and square placards on sticks. In order to stop the hornuss-launcher from scoring points, they are to knock the projectile from the air, theoretically with the placards, but often with their faces, chests, backs, necks or other tender fleshy parts of the body. The tiny hornuss is hard to spot as it tears through the air, meaning many of the paddle-wavers simply throw their placard up and flee in terror.