Hockey and American football certainly have their brutal moments. But for all of the bone-crunching spectacle, both sports pale in comparison to some of the other athletic competitions held during the fall and winter months around the world. Some carry the high potential for physical injury while others are merely bizarre – but all of the entries on this list, we can agree, are certifiably insane.
Eton Wall Game
Origin: United Kingdom
This soccer-rugby hybrid is a long-standing St. Andrew’s Day tradition at England’s Eton College, where students have played it on the same field since the early 18th century. Players line up against a brick wall and attempt to move the ball toward the other team’s ‘calx’, or goal area. Pushing and shoving are a given (as with rugby or soccer), but participants must also contend with being shoved against the wall – thereby incurring all sorts of bumps and scrapes – throughout the contest.
Also known as wife carrying, this annual competition gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘supportive husband’. Male competitors must navigate an extensive obstacle course with their bride slung over their shoulders the entire time. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds), and all participants are required to “have a good time” (per the official rules). The flagship competition is annually held in the Finnish town of Sonkajärvi, where Taisto Miettinen (who is probably considered the ‘Michael Jordan of Wife Carrying’) has won for the last four years.
During the last week of September, hundreds of men, women and children annually converge on the small Australian town of Wooli to take part in some good ol’ fashion goanna pulling. Goanna is a local name for the Australian monitor lizard, but the activity does not involve animal torture. Instead, two opponents essentially play tug-o’-war with a leather strap fitted around both of their heads. Other contests at the festival include wood-chopping, brick carrying, whip cracking and canine obedience – you know, something for everyone. The following clip was filmed during a goanna pull competition at an Australian wedding; we can only presume this took place after the couple’s dance.
Two teams square off on opposing sides of a rectangular field. Each squad sends one member, known as a ‘raider’, across the centerline; this player’s objective is to tackle as many opposing team members as possible before returning to their side. Doesn’t sound too crazy, you say? Well, we should mention that the raider must hold their breath the entire time, or else face disqualification. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the raider must also continually chant the word ‘kabaddi’, a Tamil phrase that translates to ‘holding hands’.
Scandinavians are credited with inventing the winter pastime of skikjøring, which involves cross-country skiers being towed by a team of sled dogs or horses. Over the last half-century, a more extreme version of the sport has emerged, in which the participants are led by snowmobiles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles or small automobiles. Though the clip below was filmed in 1955, motorized skijoring still takes place throughout snowy regions of the world.
Royal Shrovetide Football
Origin: United Kingdom
This massive football match has been annually staged in the town of Ashbourne for nearly 1,000 years – and hundreds of participants attend every year. During the match, which is more accurately described as a citywide scrum than an organized game, contestants basically push and shove each other for possession of the ball (which, according to legend, was originally the severed head of a recently executed criminal). Things get so rowdy during the Royal Shrovetide match that game officials were forced to add ‘no murder or manslaughter’ to the list of regulations.
If you thought the luge was dangerous, try to imagine racing down an ice track headfirst. That’s the insane concept behind skeleton, which has been practiced in Switzerland since the 19th century. Racers can reach a speed of 80 miles per hour as they careen down the course without steering or braking mechanisms at their disposal. Skeleton racing was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Tar Barrel Racing
Origin: United Kingdom
Look, we’re sure that the mud run you completed last summer was pretty ‘intense’ – but chances are it doesn’t hold a candle to the race held every November in the British hamlet of Ottery St. Mary. Contestants run from one end of the city to the other while carrying a tar-soaked whiskey barrel over their heads. Oh, and the barrels are on fire. The competition originated more than four centuries ago, and roughly 20,000 spectators attend the festivities every year. Injuries have plagued the race in recent years (we were surprised too), and the 2012 race was nearly canceled.
By Brad Nehring