The World's Strangest Contests
Humans are competitive beings - some people like to excel and be the very best at something, even if that something seems quite eccentric. Many odd contests seem to germinate in small villages across the globe, perhaps as a means to garner some notoriety for their region or it could be just the formal expression of an age-old local custom or tradition.
In some cases, the competition spreads to become a much larger phenomenon, as happened with the World Beard and Moustache Championships but however these odd contests evolved, you can be sure they are, in many cases, every bit as cutthroat, tense and serious as any mainstream sporting event. Below are a few samples of some of the more offbeat competitive events to be found around the globe
The Biggest Nose in the World Competition
Are you proud of your enormous proboscis? Perhaps you should consider entering the Biggest Nose in the World Competition, run every five years by the Big Nose Association in the rural area of Langenbruck, Germany.
The competition has been running for over forty years and reputedly began after local farmers got into the habit of poking fun at each other's big noses. One evening at the Lagenbruck pub, they got together with the local minister and decided they may as well turn the jibing into an 'event'.
Measuring of length and width is carefully undertaken with a special 'nose measuring gauge' and while it's apparently acceptable to assume any facial expression possible to enhance nose size, performance enhancing drugs are strictly prohibited. There's also a minimum nose size for entry.
Competition is stiff, with the current 2011 male world champion's nose measuring in at a whopping five inches while the female champion trails behind at a mere four inches. The next championship is due in 2016, allowing hopeful contestants plenty of time to get those noses in tip-top shape.
The World Beard and Moustache Championships
Brighton England, Trondheim, Norway, Anchorage, Alaska and Höfen-Enz, Germany [home of the first competition in 1991] are just some of the countries around the globe that have been host to the male-specific official biennial World Beard and Moustache Championships and boy do those gents take their facial hair seriously - don't even think about entering unless you are utterly obsessed with hairy perfection.
The association boasts members in eleven countries and every two years competitors brush, wax, preen, condition and style their gorgeous facial hair into some of the most impressive beards and moustaches in the world and all are judged by a seven member jury. However, although the facial hair must be bang-on magnificent, the contest is also about overall costume style and presentation and the wrong 'look' can sadly quash a hopeful contender's chances.
Full Beard, Partial Beard and Moustache are the three categories of facial hair in the competition, with each section broken up into around eighteen sub-categories which include such delights as "Imperial Moustache" and " Natural Goatee". For a full list of categories, check out the official website:
Wife Carrying World Championships
From the outside, this event seems to hark back to primeval days when cavemen dragged their wives around like a sack of potatoes or perhaps it's meant to be a metaphor for female dependence - in any case the Wife Carrying World Championships, held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland, is all about strength and endurance, as competitors must carry their loved ones around a difficult obstacle course.
The competition has been running since 1992 and while it might seem like an advantage to have a light-weight wife, any such benefit is negated when you consider the prize, which is the winner's wife's weight in beer. There's also a minimum wife-weight of 49 kilograms.
According to the official website, the wife-carrying reflects local history. In the 1800s it was evidently quite common in Sonkajärvi to steal wives from neighbouring villages. At the same time, there was a brigand in the area, who would only accept into his troops those men who could prove themselves on a challenging obstacle course - somehow these two tidbits of Sonkajärvi history melded together to inspire the formation of the Wife Carrying World Championships.
World Gurning Competition
What is 'gurning' I hear you murmur? Well a gurn is a very quaint old English word to describe a facial expression designed to distort the facial features - it might be a grimace, a projection of the jaw, cross-eyes or any sort of weird and wonderful look. Believe it or not, there's actually a World Gurning Competition held annually at the Egremont Crab Fair and the contest dates back hundreds of years.
Gurning contests are a rural tradition in English villages and in some places the tradition dictates contorting your face through a horse collar as a kind of frame, known as gurnin' through a braffin. Strange people, the English.
The Edgemont affair is the biggest contest of the lot and rumour has it those contestants who are bereft of teeth often do the best as they are able to extend their lower features into more flexible distortions. Some contestants even go to the extraordinary length of having their teeth removed, as was the case with four time winner, Peter Jackman, who became a minor celebrity due to his superior gurning skills.
Crying Baby Competition
Take a few trainee sumo wrestlers, some cute babies and an enthralled, pumped-up crowd and you have the annual Japanese Crying Baby Competition, held at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo and known in that country as the Nakizumo Festival.
Every Spring, parents hand over their babies to strongman student sumo wrestlers who, facing each other off, do their level best to make the babies cry as loudly as possible. The wrestler who has the loudest crying infant wins.
Cruel? Well not from the Japanese perspective, as the wailing contest, dating back some 400 years, is meant as a kind of prayer for the future good health of the babies. The competition is presided over by a priest , who gesticulates with waving arms and shouts as the distraught babies are held up high, toward the heavens.
World Shin-kicking Championships
Ouch! This competitive combat sport is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Known as the "English martial art" the shin-kickers must compete in pairs and hold each other by the collar, attempting to knock each other to the ground by landing some forceful blows to the lower legs of their opponents.
Shin-kicking originated in Britain as far back as the 1600s and was included in the original Cotswold Games which began around 1612 and ended in the1850s. Over time shin-kicking became a popular sport among coal miners and it was included in the the revival of the Cotswold Games in the early 1950s. The event is extremely popular, drawing significant crowds every year.
In the old days, some competitors were rumoured to have worn steel capped shoes, while others attempted to 'harden' their shins by hitting them with blunt objects in preparation for the event. However, the Brits have got soft and these days, competitors must wear padding and definitely no steel-capped boots. Ambulances are also on standby in the event of an over zealous bout of shin-kicking.
World Gum Leaf Blowing Competition
Australian aboriginals have been practising the art of gum leaf blowing for thousands of years and skilled blowers are able to imitate a host of bird calls just using air and a gum leaf. Check out Uncle Herb Pattern, who has thirteen bird calls up his sleeve, imitate a black cockatoo:
Amongst the non-indigenous population of Australia, gum leaf blowing gained novelty appeal during the 1920s and the leaf-blowers suddenly appeared at amateur hours, in harmonica bands, stage-shows and country fairs.
As a uniquely Australian musical genre, in the 1970s it was decided to include the official Gum Leaf Blowing Competition in the Golden Wattle festival, held each year in Maryborough, Queensland. Contestants must use only fresh gum leaves picked from a native tree and a wide range of tunes have been played by the winners over the years, including Aussie classics, Waltzing Mathilda, and The Wild Colonial Boy.
The first champion of the competition was an 82 year old man, Wally French from NSW, who had been making tunes on gum leaves since his youth. Traditionally first prize means a $1000 and a gold gum leaf trophy.