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Spectator sports have been a mainstay of society since days of yore when ancient cultures built arenas and coliseums to stage events for the elite as well as commoners to enjoy. One of the more popular competitions in both ancient Greece and Rome, for example, was the Chariot races. It was a very dangerous sport for it was not uncommon for both driver and horse to either suffer debilitating injuries or be killed in the chaos that would inevitably ensue during a rigorous race.

Rome was also home to the legendary Gladiators who would either fight each other or compete with wild animals such as lions and tigers (and possibly bears – oh my!). The declared winner of the competition was the guy (or creature) who managed not to die.

Ancient Mayans were not as barbaric. They played a game which consisted of a harmless rubber ball. The object of the game was simple: two teams would pass the ball around using no hands and then get the ball to pass through a ring. Just a bunch of guys, a ring, a ball and a deep motivation to win because the leader of the losing team was put to death after the game. Okay, maybe they weren’t so enlightened, but that’s for another discussion.

All I can say is, thank goodness in these modern times we enjoy much more civilized forms of entertainment. Like those centuries-old contests, we still have a need to celebrate the guy or gal who could run the fastest, jump the highest, throw the furthest, and hit the hardest, but we have evolved into a society that doesn’t punish our losing athletes by sacrificing them to the gods of mediocrity. We just take away their million-dollar endorsements and banish them to live in obscurity. There are no skirmishes with ferocious beasts, gnashing flesh and blood-soaked arenas. Just a simple contest between two or more competitors determined to win either for gain or glory.

Extreme Ironing Wall Calendar available on Amazon.com

Today we have meaningful sports. Modern diversions offering us refuge from the day-to-day vicissitudes of life. Golf? Pshaw. Easy. Hit a ball. Follow the ball. Try to put it in a tiny hole. No, I’m talking about real challenges. Like Extreme Ironing, an Internationally-recognized sport where competitors iron laundry in extreme conditions like skydiving, on a highway, or underwater in freezing temperature. According to Wikipedia, the world’s most accurate source of obscure information, EI was founded in England, no doubt by a faction of extremely bored butlers. A branch of EI includes Extreme Bungee Ironing which combines the thrill of bungee jumping and a well-pressed shirt.

Or how about Chess Boxing? Though, like EI, Chess Boxing was developed in England but has since branched out to hosting tournaments in Iceland, Siberia, Holland, and Germany. CB is a hybrid sport that combines boxing with chess. It’s kind of like Bobby Fisher meets Sugar Ray Leonard. Competitors play chess for a four-minute round, then duke it out in the ring for two minutes alternating between the board and the bouts for 11 rounds. Athletes even have spiffy names like Lepe, the Joker and Luis the Lawyer.

Not into contact sports? Too barbaric? Well, you’re in luck. This year the 2nd Annual Beard and Moustache Championship will take place in October in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home of the Amish. Cash prizes totaling $5,000 will be awarded for the best facial hair in America. Yes, that’s FIVE THOUSAND dollars. Last year at the World Championship in Norway, Team USA fell one gold medal short of retaining its position as the top bearding nation in the world. Over 200 hirsute challengers competed for top honors in various categories, like Moustache, Full and Partial Beard, Musketeer and Free Style (I don’t want to know). Reigning champion and three-time Best Beard winner Elmar Weissler is a hairdresser by trade.

And if none of the previous interests you, perhaps you may be able to find some entertaining value in these other somewhat obscure, yet oddly popular competitions.

Wife Carrying, a Finnish sport. Need I say more?

Midget Throwing a.k.a. Dwarf Tossing a.ka. Dwarf Throwing a.k.a. Midget Tossing. (in the process of being banned)

Air Guitar Championships, where the website once read “competitors are hand-picked and invited solely on ‘airness’. Transgendered and Drag Queens welcome”

Floor Swimming, where contestants race by “swimming” across a wood or linoleum floor.

Ostrich Racing, practiced in countries where there are ostriches (not Emus). Like Africa and Australia.

Cheese Rolling, competitors come to Gloucester, England from all over to roll cheese down a hill. It’s a thrill a minute. Afterward, they cut the ceremonial cheese. (Sorry I had to go there).

Gurning, is also an English sport (do we see a trend here?) whereby people make a funny face and win prizes. I don’t know about you, but I know a few people who won’t have to train too much to compete.

And for the Trekkies in my audience …. Klingon Beauty Contest.

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