The Weird World of Sports

New Sports in a Classic Olympic Setting


Matthew Pasko, Staff Writer

Last July, in the middle of the quarantine, I was surfing through different TV channels looking for something (anything) to watch. Since the MLB season had been cancelled, there wasn’t much to watch in the way of sports. Or so I thought.

I turned to one channel and beheld the 2020 American Cornhole League (ACL) Championships. The format of cornhole perfectly suited the Covid-19 safety measures: social distancing, masks, and no physical contact. I was intrigued by competitive cornhole, and the advanced level at which the players competed. This profound experience made me realize that I had severely limited myself as far as sports entertainment. I watched football, baseball, and occasionally basketball, but why stop there? In this article, I will outline some of my favorite obscure sports that you may have never heard of or watched. Competitive cornhole might just  be the tip of the sports iceberg.

Marble Racing 

Marble racing might not seem like an exciting sport to watch, but I assure you the races are among the most exciting you will see. Jelle’s Marble Racing is a Youtube Channel that hosts the annual Marble League. Last summer, HBO Comedian John Oliver teamed up with Jelle in order to finance the tournament. The channel streams each marble race, and an enthusiastic announcer takes the races incredibly seriously. In fact, each marble has its own backstory and fan base, as well as off the course drama, just like a real athlete. The courses themselves are extremely complex and exciting, meaning that every marble race is captivating and unique. Jelle’s has grown since the summer and now regularly posts marble races. 

Extreme Ironing

Extreme ironing is less organized than marble racing or competitive cornhole, but no less intriguing. In the 1990’s people began to partake in ironing their clothes in extreme situations: underwater, while surfing, in the sky, on a mountain, and wherever else you can find. In 1999, Extreme Ironing International was created, and now occasionally hosts Extreme Ironing World Championships. This sport is easy to do as long as you have an ironing board and a spirit of adventure. 

Cheese Rolling

This next sport has its origins in a Pagan New Year ceremony in which objects were rolled down a hill to encourage a better harvest. The modern format in Gloucester, England is slightly different. A 7-9 pound wheel of cheese is rolled down a steep hill, followed one second later by dozens of participants. The first person to get to the bottom of the hill wins the cheese, or an intact version of it. This sport can be extremely dangerous, since the cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 mph and hit spectators or racers. Several ambulances attend each race to treat broken bones or bruises. While the 2020 race was cancelled due to Covid-19, the officials are hopeful that the event can return later this year.

Finally, I would like to add a word about the 2020 Summer Olympics (now occurring in 2021). While some of the opening ceremony torch relay participants have dropped out of the event, the Japanese government is hopeful that the Games will still take place this summer. This year, the Games will include several new sports. While these sports aren’t necessarily as strange as those previously mentioned, they are interesting additions to the competition.

The first new event is Sport Climbing, which itself is divided into three categories: speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing. Speed climbing is essentially an upwards sprint up a 15 meter wall. Bouldering is more complex, with athletes having to figure out a way across a longer wall in a certain amount of time. Finally, lead climbing involves a longer climb, and the athlete who gets the highest up wins. Think of these climbs as track events, with speed climbing as the 100m, bouldering as the 100m hurdles, and lead climbing as a 400m.

Surfing is making its first appearance at this year’s Olympics. Surfers will ride real waves at Japan’s Shidashita beach. Judges will score surfers on the size of the waves they ride and their technique during the event.

In another shift towards a more modern Olympics, Skateboarding will be an Olympic sport this year. Similarly to surfing, judges will score athletes based on their skills and execution of different tricks. Taking a page from the X-Games playbook, there are two arenas for this competition: street, which emphasizes jumps, slides, more like street skateboarding, and park, which is more of a skatepark setting and focuses on jumps and midair tricks.

Last but not least, this year’s Games will feature Karate. This competition will be divided into two sections as well. “Kata” (forms) emphasizes movements that an athlete does along, similar to a Karate Kid training montage. On the other hand, “kumite” (sparring), is the traditional karate in which two athletes compete against each other and earn points for the number of strikes they land on their opponent. 

This summer’s Olympics will still be impacted by Covid, but hopefully these sports, as well as the classics, will be just as exciting as ever. I encourage you to watch the Olympics and support our athletes, as well as check out some of the strange sports I mentioned earlier. Who knows? Maybe in a few years the US will be winning gold at extreme ironing or marble racing.