Germany: Luge

Luge is one of the fastest and most dangerous sports in the Olympic games. Luge originated in Norway and has become a popular sport throughout Northern Europe. It has become an international sporting interest with over 50 member countries and has been an event at the Olympics since 1964.

A luge is a small one or two person sled on which athletes slide face up and feet first. Athletes, called lugers or sliders, lie down on the luge and race down an icy track traveling at up to 90 miles per hour!  The lightweight sleds are steered by athletes shifting their body weight and pulling on reins.

The equipment involved is pretty minimal. It involves a sled, a racing suit, gloves, boots, and a helmet. Every piece of equipment is aerodynamic and is made for minimal friction and top speed.

The sled is made of fiberglass and steel and is custom built for the athlete based on their height, weight and proportions. The sled weighs between 50 and 60 pounds and runs from the athletes’ shoulders to his or her knees, providing no head support.

The rules are pretty straightforward:

  • Since weight could be an advantage, male sliders must weigh at least 198 pounds, and women must weigh at least 165 pounds. Athletes that weigh less must attach extra weights to themselves to make up the difference.
  • Single sleds must weigh no more than 50.6 pounds and doubles sleds cannot weigh more 59.5 pounds. Racing suits cannot exceed more than 8.8 pounds.
  • Sleds cannot have mechanical brakes.
  • The steels on the sleds cannot be heated.

In the 1964 Winter Olympics 12 countries participated in luge. Germany won the most medals with five. In the 1968 Olympic games, Germany’s women luge team finished first and second. The women were later disqualified and stripped of their medals for heating the steels of their sleds. Despite the incident in 1968, Germany has dominated luge since the beginning with the most overall medals for both men and women.

Like mentioned before, luge is one of the fastest and most dangerous sports in the Olympics. Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvii died after a crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics. He crashed into both walls near the bottom of the track while traveling 90 miles per hour before being thrown from the track and hitting a metal pole. Although some argue it is an extremely dangerous sport, CNN says luge dangers are exaggerated.

There have been several different variations of the sport ice luge. One variation is street luge. Street luge does not involve ice; instead it uses asphalt roads for the track and a wheeled skateboard-style platform for the sled.

Another form of an ice luge is a party ice luge. I have seen these at fraternity houses and at parties. A party ice luge is a large block of ice with two narrow channels carved through it. A person stands at the top of one channel and dispenses liquor and a mixer into the channel. Another person stands at the bottom of the channel and receives an icy cold drink.

Whatever kind of luge you prefer, ice, street, or party, it is sure to be fast and dangerous!

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Canadian Logrolling

Logrolling, also called log birling, is a sport that originated from northeastern United States and Canada. Logrolling was traditionally a way to transport logs. After the logs were felled in the spring, the logs would be put in the water, and rolled down to the city. After bringing their logs downriver, lumberjacks would have a competition to see who could balance on a log the longest while it was still rolling in the river. The contest involves two lumberjacks, each on one end of a log floating in the river. One lumberjack starts “walking” or “rolling” the log while the other is forced to keep up. Logrolling involves attempting to stay on the log while attempting to cause your opponent to lose their balance and splash into the water.  The cardinal rule of logrolling is ‘never take your eyes off your opponent’s feet’.

Every year for the past 53 years tens of thousands of spectators gather in the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin for the Lumberjack World Championship. It is three days of challenge, determination and pure strength for both men and women competing in events that began in the forests of America. Lumberjacks and lumberjills from around the world including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Czech Republic come to compete for the gold. Men’s logrolling and woman’s logrolling are just two of the several events at the World Championship.

Logrolling has been in the media through commercials. The commercials are very funny and involve champion logrollers. The first commercial was done by the Men’s World Champion Roller Darren Hudson for Berocca. The second commercial was for Kool Aid.

Logrolling has also been incorporated into campaigns. The Republican congressional candidate Sean Duffy, a former world-class competitive lumberjack, used logrolling as a metaphor for what is wrong with Washington in a campaign commercial. The ad shows a “career politician” logrolling with a construction worker, a child, and an elderly woman and spinning them off the log into the water. The campaign ad is titled “Get America Rolling Again!”

Logrolling can also be found in cartoons and comics in Canada. The following cartoon clip is based on the song “The Log Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth and is a lighthearted tale about a young girl who loves to dance  chooses a log driver over his more well-to-do competition. Driving logs down the river has made the young man the best dancing partner to be found. Log drivers could be compared to great dancers because driving the logs down the river requires balance and agile feet.

Jamie Fischer, professional logroller and owner of Lumberjack Enterprises, says “Logrolling is a great form of exercise when you get the hang of it, and at the end of the day the camaraderie you build, and the people you meet are a lot of fun to hang out with.”

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Japan: Sumo Wrestling

Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and is one of Japans most beloved traditional sport. Sumo originates from ancient times when it was a performance to entertain the Shinto gods in hopes of a good harvest.

Many of the Shinto rituals are still followed today in a traditional ceremony. Each sumo wrestler wears a colorful Shinto garb and marches in the arena accompanied by two assistants. In the picture above, the participants are stomping to keep evil spirits from the ring. Tossing sacred salts also is custom to appease the Shinto gods.

The referee wears a luxurious kimono and wears a strange hat. After performing a series of opening rituals, the contest begins.

The rules of sumo are simple: the first wrestler to touch the ground with anything but the soles of their feet or goes outside the circular ring loses. The elevated ring, called a “dohyo”, is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. The fights generally last only a few seconds and in rare instances up to a minute. Wresters can slam, slap, and throw their opponent. A few basic techniques include pulling the opponents legs to grabbing his belt and trying to throw or carry the opponent out of the ring.

Most elite wrestlers are highly trained athletes between 20 and 35 years old. They are required to live in communal sumo training stables, called heya in Japenese, where they learn from experienced mentors called the “stable master”. All aspects of the wrestler’s life is controlled by the stable master such as sleeping, eating, training and free time.

Weight gain is an essential part of sumo training as most wrestlers weigh 400 pounds. There are no weight restrictions or classes in sumo, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. A traditional dish for sumo wrestlers is chanko nabe, which is a stew that contains ingredients such as octopus, fish, fatty meat, fried tofu, squid, mushrooms, onions, and clams. See the video below for the ingredients and how to make the stew.

There are six tournaments are held every year, each one lasting 15 days. Three of the tournaments are held in Tokyo and the rest are held in Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Each match provides an opportunity for sumo wrestlers to move up or down in the complex ranking system. At the top of the sumo wrestlers’ hierarchy stand the yokozuna, meaning the grand champion, who can be distinguished by the large white rope they wear around their waist. Once a wrestler becomes a yokozuna he can not lose his status but is expected to retire when his results begin to worsen.

Before you decide to become a sumo wrestler, here are ten things you should consider:

1. You’ve got the right body

2. You’re male

3. Putting on a few pounds doesn’t scare you

4. You don’t mind the boot camp life

5. You’re ok with bruises

6. You’re flexible

7. You don’t mind sporting a samurai ‘do

8. You’re comfortable in a loin cloth

9. You’re determined

10. You don’t plan on living to 100 years old

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Ireland: The Fastest Game on Grass

Hurling is more than just a game to Ireland, it represents the country’s national passion. Hurling highlights the best of Irish culture including its work-hard and play-hard virtues and its community-based values. One of my professors visited Ireland and got the chance to attend a hurling game. He said that the fans are very passionate about hurling and some would tear up just talking about the game.

Hurling is believed to be the world’s oldest field game. The Celts arrived in Ireland approximately 700BC and continued their migration until about 400AD. During this time the Celts influenced new culture, music, language, script and pastimes on the country. One pastime that is hugely popular today is the sport hurling which has been played in Ireland for more than 800 years.

The game is said to be the fastest game on grass involving 170 skills in the game! Hurling is often compared to hockey and lacrosse, but there are many differences. Hurling is an amateur game and is only played by men or boys. For women, a similar game is played called camogie.

The stick or “hurley” is made from a single piece of wood and is curved with a flat end. The lower end, or blade, is flat on both sides. Metal bands are often used around the blades to stop the wood from splitting. The ball or “sliotar” is similar to a baseball, which is about the same size and covered in leather but is much softer.

Each team is made up of 15 players (shown above). The object is to get the sliothar into the opponent’s H shaped goalpost either over the post or under the post into the net for a goal. A goal is worth three points and over the post is worth one point.

Hurling players can catch and carry the ball in their hand, but can only pass it by whacking it with the stick. An impressive hurling skill is the ability to bounce or balance the ball on the hurl while running at full speed. The game involved great speed and the ability to catch and control a small hard ball traveling up to 90 mph!

Hurling can be a dangerous sport. Tackling is allowed and hitting another player with the hurley can happen in the heat of play although it is not permitted. Helmets were not commonly used until the last decade, but are still not required.

Although the risk of injury is great, it isn’t as common as you would think. The reason is because the game is played honorably. Players still play hard, but they do it fairly and are careful of injuring players. The referees are strict and respected. Once the game is over, the game is left on the field and the players hang up their hurley and return to their working lives.

Most games are played on Sunday afternoon in the spring and summer. This is because the the best players compete for a spot on the county team that plays a concurrent season. These county teams play against other counties within the province and the winners compete in the All-Ireland championships.

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Australian Daredevil Takes the Plunge

On October 14, 2012 Felix Baumgartner completed a record setting jump.  Baumgartner, also called B.A.S.E. 502, was born in Salzburg, Austria and currently resides in Switzerland and the United States. Along with skydiving and B.A.S.E. jumping, Baumgartner’s profession includes stunt coordinator, freefall camera, and commercial helicopter pilot. Baumgartner consistently challenges his personal limits while pushing the physical boundaries of human flight.

On Sunday, Baumgartner jumped off a platform located at the top of the stratosphere – 23 miles above the New Mexico desert. During the descend, Baumgartner was plummeting so fast he was barely a speck on the infrared camera tracking him. For 35 seconds of the fall, he was spinning out of control. Many people feared it could cause him to lose consciousness. He finally managed to regain control, deploy his parachute, and somehow landed perfectly on his feet.

The supersonic skydive, termed the Red Bull Stratos mission, was overall a success for the 43-year-old Australian daredevil who shattered three out of the four records he was aiming to break.

  1. The first of the three he accomplished was the record for highest manned balloon flight which he set at a maximum height of 128,097 feet above sea level.
  2. The second goal was to have the highest freefall distance, which he easily surpassed with a total free fall distance of 119,846 feet.
  3. The third and biggest record Baumgartner set was being the first free-falling human to break the sound barrier, which he did easily. To break the barrier you have to travel at or above 761.2 miles per hour and his top speed was calculated at 833.9 miles per hour.
  4. The fourth record the Australian daredevil was trying to break still remains unbroken after 52 years. Baumgartner failed to beat Kittinger, his mentor, in the longest freefall duration. Baumgartner fell for 4 minutes and 20 seconds before pulling his parachute. His freefall distance was more than a minute short of the 5 minutes, 35 seconds that mission planners had anticipated and was just 16 seconds shy of his mentor’s 1960 record of 4 minutes, 36 seconds.

Seven years ago, Bamgartner partnered up with Red Bull and created the Red Bull Stratos mission with the potential to provide valuable medical and scientific research data for future pioneers. The Red Bull Stratos team consisted of the world’s leading minds in aerospace medicine, engineering, pressure suit development, capsule creation and balloon fabrication. The planning process required more than seven years of development, two practice runs, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on developing Baumgartner’s helium balloon and safety equipment.

To combat the challenges of the mission, the Red Bull Stratos team produced a space suit specifically tailored for Baumgartner. At such high altitudes, with less than 1% air pressure, Baumgartner’s suit and helmet had to be pressurized. The creating of this suit and the prove that it could provide protection is valuable for aerospace safety researchers. With a few improvements like mobility and personalized adjustments, this full-pressure suit could be what the next generation of explorers wear.

Now that the mission is complete Baumgartner is retiring from jumps. He plans to settle down with his girlfriend, limiting his daredevil skills to flying helicopters on rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and his native Austria.

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India: Ball Badminton

The game of ball badminton is a mixture between volleyball, badminton, and tennis. It is a racket game played with a yellow ball made out of wool on a 12 by 24 court. On the court is two teams with either five players each, two players each, or one player each. Players can be substituted throughout the match. Each team is allowed three substitutions per game.

The players serve the ball similar to tennis, serving from either the right court or left court of one side to the diagonally opposite court of the other side. The difference is that the ball is served underhand and below the waist. The ball shall then be returned and play continues until there is a fault.

The match consists of three games. The team that scores the twenty-ninth point wins the game. The team that takes the best of three games is the winner of the match.

The game is typically played outdoors during the day. In recent years, some games have been played indoors with flood lights because of weather conditions. Typically tournaments are played indoors.

The fast-paced game of ball badminton requires skill, quick perception, good judgment, agility and the ability to control the ball with proper movement of one’s wrist.

Ball badminton is a sport native to India and originated in Tanjore, in Tamil Nadu. The game was first played in 1856 by a royal family. It soon became very popular, particularly in southern India. Previously, ball badminton attracted rural boys since it required minimum equipment and costs. Today, the game has the greatest popularity in India and is as well known as cricket.

Ball badminton has been played for over three decades since the Ball Badminton Federation of India was formed in 1954. This year the Federation was recognized by the Government of India. Ball badminton can now be included in school games and University games.

Also new to India this year is Telugu TV news channels’ sudden interest in ball badminton. Previous to this year local television channels were not known to show any interest in local sports activities, but recently these local TV channels have been showing unscheduled coverage of ball badminton-related news and interviews.

The reason for this sudden change of heart is because Ch Rajasekhar, the Hathway cable operator for the state, has recently become the president of the Ball Badminton Federation of India. He has become the most powerful person as far as electronic media is concerned because no channel can survive if he doesn’t show it on his cable, which has the largest network in the state.

TV channels now feel the pressure to give coverage to the game and more importantly give live interviews from Rajasekhar. A channel failed to give the interview of Rajasekhar immediately and was taken off air. The channel later had to apologize and broadcast the interview.

Ball badminton is becoming a big part of Indian culture. With the acceptance of the government and being broadcasted on local television stations it will continue to grow and dominate Indian sports.

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China: Dedication and Innovation in Table Tennis

China is a force to be reckoned with. At the 2012 London Olympics, the Chinese sweep all four Olympic gold medals in table tennis. Athletes all around the world travel to China to be able to train with exceptional coaches who train the Chinese team. The talent level is so high that some athletes that are named the best players in the world are not able to secure a spot on China’s national team. What once started, as a recreational sport is now a highly competitive sport that China dominates.

Table tennis was invented in England in the 19th century as an after-dinner pastime for elites, who used the tops of cigar boxes for paddles and books for nets. In 1901, the game was introduced by Westerners who settled into China. The Chinese people loved playing the recreational game and played regularly. Their dedication and natural ability led them to be able to compete in their first World Championship in 1953. Six years later, China earned their first World Championship title in any sport. China enjoyed the fame and recognition, so they started dedicating extensive resources to training.

Training is long and hard with practice lasting around 7 hours a day, with only twelve days off per year. The primary center for training is in Beijing. Training includes both table play and physical training away from the table. Unlike other table tennis teams the Chinese train nearly year-round together as a team. Most European teams and the USA team only train as a team a few days out of the year. Because of collectivism training, China’s athletes have the greatest fitness, the best basics, and the best techniques and strategy.

In addition to the four Olympic gold medals China won in London this year, China also swept all five events at the recent World Championship. The national team is said to have more depth than any other team in the world. The team is made up of 96 players – 24 men, 24 women, 24 boys and 24 girls. The team is said to have depth because if a player is not working hard, there always is another talented player waiting to replace them. Like mentioned above, some of the world greatest players can not make it on the team and have to become citizens somewhere else to be able to compete.

In the Olympics this year China’s depth was definitely visible. Trying to take away the supremacy from China was South Korea. In the final though it was China who completed a clean sweep, 3-0, to take the gold. The win only enhanced China’s stranglehold on the world game.

In table tennis news, Japan’s Olympic silver medalist Kasumi Ishikawa had to be pulled out of a World Cup table tennis event because Chinese organizers could not guarantee her safety. China and Japan have a long-standing dispute over an uninhabited group of islands in the East China Sea. The dispute has carried over to other sporting events. A Japanese cycling team was kicked out of a race in China and China withdrew their badminton team from an event in Japan but refused to give a reason.

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