The UK’s highly unusual athletic games
The annual World Bog Snorkelling Championship takes place at the Waen Rhydd peat bog in Mid Wales in late August. (Press Association)
Great Britain gave the world a number of modern sports, including football, hockey, boxing, badminton and even – controversially – America’s favourite pastime, baseball.
But while many of these games will take centre stage at London’s summer Olympics, there are several rather unusual British sports that will go unrepresented in 2012.
As the world’s attention is fixed on Greco-Roman wrestling, preparations will be underway for a different grappling event – the World Toe Wrestling Championships, taking place on 25 August in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Invented in a pub in the 1970s, toe wrestling plays out very much like a traditional arm-wrestling match. Two barefoot participants sit opposite each other on the ground, lock toes, and at the judge’s cry of ”Toes away!”, attempt to force their opponent’s foot to the ground. A 1997 attempt by the Toe Wrestlers’ Association to have the sport included in the Olympic Games was unsuccessful.
The traditional game of conkers has been played in British schoolyards for more than 150 years. The seed of a horse chestnut tree is threaded through with string, then players take turns swinging and hitting another’s seed, or “conker”, until one breaks. The player with the last intact conker wins. In 1965, the game emerged from the playground as an established event in the small town of Oundle in Northamptonshire, where the world’s foremost conkers competition takes place on the second Sunday of October each year. In 2011, the event was cancelled by organisers because forecast high winds rendered the event ”simply too dangerous”.
A rather muddy alternative to Olympic synchronised swimming is bog snorkelling. Here, the object is to swim through thick, filthy water along two 60-yard lengths of a flooded peat bog trench, using only the paddling power of two feet and a snorkel to breathe. The annual World Bog Snorkelling Championship takes place on 26 August at the Waen Rhydd peat bog near Lanwrtyd Wells, Wales. Rather amazingly, the event attracts more than 200 competitors each year.
In Gloucestershire, the common athletic pursuit of sprinting is enlivened by the addition of a steep grassy hill and an 8lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. The concept is simple: the cheese is rolled down a hill and runners attempt to catch it, which is no mean feat as the wheel can reach speeds of up to 70mph. Cheese rolling has been going for 200 years, and its support continues to grow as thousands of locals and international visitors flock to the town of Coopers Hill to take part every 4 June.
The World Alternative Games, starting 17 August in Llanwrtyd Wells, will take place at almost the same exact time as the 2012 Olympic Games, and will feature events such as wife-carrying and rock-paper-scissors. Or, traditionalists might prefer Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpicks, a sporting festival with highlights such as tug-of-war and shin kicking that has been held annually since 1612. This year’s 400th anniversary event begins on 1 June on the hill above Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds.