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Game of shin kicking, anyone? World’s oddest championships

Shin kicking championship, anyone 

Unlike football and the majority of mainstream sports, there’s no specific season for Oddball events. However, at this time of year, those of us with a passion and penchant for sports extremus can reap a bumper harvest; whether it’s toe wrestling, wife carrying, naked running, worm charming or hot-dog eating. However, when it comes to picking a favourite sporting oddity, the adage “‘the old uns are the best uns”’ tends to ring true. An event that ticks every box is one with that perfect mix of old fashioned pageantry, athleticism and a less than subtle hint of brutality. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of shin kicking.

It’s hard to think of an area in England more beautiful than the Cotswolds. From the highest point, at the top of Cleeve Hill, the view across the colourful, rolling hillside with its layers of flora and fauna almost makes you want to pack your bags, head for Changi Aairport and jump on the first flight back to the south-west of England. Almost.

Shin kicking, which is about as complicated as the name suggests, forms the centrepiece of the annual Cotswold Olimpicks – and no, that’s not a typo, they do things a little differently in that part of the world. The first ever Cotswold Olimpicks was held way back in 1612, but, despite the insistence of some locals to the contrary, the DNA profile of this event doesn’t marry with the sporting behemoth that is the modern Olympic Games. Mind you, if shin kicking was added to the decathlon or heptathlon roster, could you imagine the viewing figures? TV gold.

The founder of the Cotswold version of the Games was the flamboyant English lawyer, Robert Dover, who transformed a small Whitsuntide feast into an extravaganza of extreme sport with a wee bit of pageantry thrown in. In honour of Dover, the venue for the Olimpicks is now known as Dover’s Hill; a National Trust-owned area above Chipping Campden that overlooks the Vale of Evesham, and has extensive views of the plains of the Avon and Severn rivers and the foothills of the Welsh mountains. 

In 1616, the fifth year of the Olimpicks, a fella going by the name of William Shakespeare was in attendance, although rumours that he stormed off in a strop after failing to win a prize on the tombola are unfounded. However, his subsequent plays The Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It, contained elements of inspiration from Dover’s event.

The Olimpicks continued until 1852 – apart from a short sabbatical during the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell saw having fun as the ultimate sin – when it was suddenly scrapped after locals complained that the event was attracting ruffians from the newly industrialised Midlands.

Just over a century later, the Olimpicks was revived, and it now attracts thousands of spectators every year, including, we’re led to believe, the odd ruffian. Events include tug of war, the Olimpick five-mile race, bungee trampoline, the wheelbarrow race and virtual paintball, but the undoubted blue ribbon event is the World Shin Kicking Championship.

“The easiest ways to describe it is it’s a bit like wrestling but with a lot of contact below the knees,” says judge James Wiseman. “The idea is to throw the person to the ground, but to do that you’ve got to unbalance them by kicking them first. Stamina is just as important as speed and agility.”

Bouts are judged over three rounds, and no martial arts moves are allowed – in particular, any sweeping kicks. It’s all about how much power you can generate with your feet while gripping your opponent’s shoulders. It’s also about how much pain you can absorb – shin guards are allowed, though many prefer just to stuff their socks with straw to soften the blows. These fellas put the “uff” in tough.

Last year’s event threw up a surprise winner when first- timer Zac Warren, a 23-year- old stone mason from Pershaw in Worcestershire, shocked hardened shin kickers by claiming the treasured crown as the sun began to set on an unusually balmy June day. But what is it that attracts thousands of people to a field in Gloucestershire year after year?

“It’s basically the same instinct that made people attend hangings and guillotines back in the day,” added says Wiseman. “People like to see pain and like to see others getting hurt.”

Book the flights for 31 May, gentlemen, but bring plenty of painkillers and leave the steel toe-capped boots at home.

ATHLETICISM: 4 out of 5
CREATIVITY: 3 out of 5
TACTICS: 3 out of 5

If you’re looking for thrills and spills of a different kind in June and July, why not try these instead…

Coney Island, New York, 4 July 2013

How many hot dogs can you eat in ten minutes? Joey Chestnut, the six-time world champion and current holder of the title, managed a barely comprehendible 68 during last year’s victory. I’ll stick to the Fullerton brunch, thanks all the same.

ATHLETICISM: 1 out of 5
CREATIVITY: 3 out of 5
TACTICS: 2 out of 5

Sonkajärvi, Finland, 6 July 2013

Fancy carrying the missus on your back for 253.5 metres while simultaneously negotiating an army-style obstacle course? If so, head to Finland and fight it out for the winner’s prize of a mobile phone and, more importantly, your wife’s weight in beer.…

ATHLETICISM: 5 out of 5
CREATIVITY: 5 out of 5
TACTICS: 2 out of 5

Blatherskite Park, Alice Springs, Australia, 13 July  2013

Yet another iconic, quirky and unpredictable event from Australia as these magnificent ships of the desert lollop around the famous Alice Springs track.

ATHLETICISM: 5 out of 5
CREATIVITY: 4 out of 5
TACTICS: 3 out of 5