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5 Winter Sports The Olympics Are Missing

Winter sports fall into three convenient categories: Hockey, Things That Claim to Not Be Hockey But Aren't Fooling Anyone (bandy, ringette, broomball, etc.) and Things That are Not Hockey. If you're scanning the latter group for a way to stay fit this winter, you may be disappointed by the apparent dearth of options that don't require snowmobile ownership or expensive ski lift tickets. Before giving up entirely or resorting to hockey, consider trying one of these underappreciated snowy-day activities.

1. Skijoring

It only takes one ill-fated ski tour or impulsive NordicTrack purchase to expose the true nature of cross-country skiing. It's hard, grueling work. Although its proponents tout the sport as a wonderful way to experience the sights and sounds of winter, these sights usually involve fogged goggles while the sounds are the skier's own grunting and repeated calls of "Dude, can we take another little break? I just need to catch my breath. Yes, again." The whole endeavor would be so much more enjoyable with some sort of pack animal to drag the skier.

That's where skijoring comes in. Instead of powering themselves along using their own legs like a bunch of common animals, participants hitch themselves to a dog or two and glide through the winter weather. Although this activity sounds like the invention of people who wanted to get into sled dog racing but were too cheap to buy a sled, the sport supposedly originated in Scandinavia several hundred years ago as an easy reindeer-powered way to get around during the winter. Its recreational popularity steadily increased, and the horse-drawn variety earned a featured place as a demonstration sport at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which still holds annual equestrian skijoring races as part of its century-old White Turf series. [Photo courtesy of Canada's Guide to Dogs.]

2. Skibobbing

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"Lousy bike! I could ride you in the winter if your tires were replaced by skis!" Millions of frustrated bikers find themselves muttering these words every snowy day. Little do they know that skibobbing could solve all of their problems, or at least the ones unrelated to cursing inanimate objects. At its core, skibobbing entails riding a bicycle-like frame with skis instead of wheels down a mountain. Really, that's pretty much all it entails.

The sport traces its origins to 1892, when American J. Stevens received a patent for his "ice velocopide." This catchy name somehow failed to trigger widespread use of the device, though, and according the Skibob Association of Great Britain, the sport only gained momentum in the 1940s when patents by German Georg Gfaller and Austrian Engelbert Brenter were combined to form the modern skibob. Enthusiasts competed in the first international race in 1954 and formed the Federation International de Skibob in 1961.

Since the rider's center of gravity remains lower than in regular skiing and the feet and skis combine for four potential points of contact with the ground, skibobbing is relatively safe compared to other downhill sports, and prospective riders can supposedly get the hang of it fairly quickly. Riders shouldn't expect to look cool while doing it, though; the American Skibob Instructors Association recommends wearing a fanny pack of maintenance supplies when skibobbing. [Photo courtesy of Disabled Sports USA.]

3. Snowball Fighting, Military-Style

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History lessons on the American Civil War tend to focus on its depressing aspects: a divided country, rampant gangrene, and Ken Burns appear prominently in most classes. However, despite schedules packed with receiving shoddy medical care and standing still for minutes on end to have their photos taken, some Confederate soldiers found the time to stage what sounds like one of the most strategically sound snowball fights in history.

On January 28, 1863, two feet of snow covered a large contingent of Confederate troops camped in Virginia's Rappahannock Valley. Rather than complaining about the cold weather, the First and Fourth Texas Infantry put their military training to work. On the morning of January 29, they launched a major snowball offensive against their comrades in the Fifth Texas Infantry, who somehow repelled their attackers before deciding to join them in a snow assault on the Third Arkansas Infantry, which surrendered quickly beneath a slushy barrage. The conquered Arkansans joined forces with the victors, and together they set out to pelt the encampment of the nearby Georgia Brigade.

This combined expeditionary force rolled into the Georgian camp armed with bags of snowballs and decorated with battle flags, but the Georgia Brigade had received advance notice and managed to put up a valiant fight for over an hour before eventually falling. The defeated Georgians joined their conquerors and attacking another division. By this point, upwards of 9000 troops were engaged in ice combat that grew increasingly more dangerous as rock-centered snowballs entered the mix.

After hours of this melee, the Texas Brigade apparently won a Pyrrhic victory in which many soldiers sustained slight injuries. In response to the upheaval and the disfigurement of a few troops, General James Longstreet, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, reportedly banned snowball fighting.

4. Wok Racing

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Most people look at a wok and see a cumbersome Chinese cooking vessel they probably shouldn't have put on their wedding gift registry. In 2003 German TV host Stefan Raab looked at one and saw not just a pot in which he could create a delicious stir fry, but also a valid form of downhill conveyance. I don't want to resort to hyperbole and use the word "hero," but, well, the facts speak for themselves. Fans hail Raab as the father of the sport in which single contestants or four-man teams ride reinforced Chinese woks down a bobsled track in timed runs that can exceed 60 mph.

As part of a bet, Raab organized the first wok world championship races at Winterberg in Novbember 2003. Not surprisingly, he also won the first world championship in the sport he'd just made up. Raab's reign at the top was brief, though, as fellow German and three-time Olympic luge gold medalist George Hackl brought his considerable riding-things-down-an-icy-tube prowess to the sport and grabbed the next two world championships. The Jamaican Bobsled Team has also made appearances at the annual championship, thereby igniting speculation that the team probably didn't invest the royalties from Cool Runnings all that wisely. [Photo courtesy of TV Total, via The Sports Pulse.]

5. Shovel Racing

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Unfortunately, there are significant barriers to entering the wild world of wok racing. Not everyone has a spare wok, and even fewer potential racers have access to an Olympic bobsled track. For those who are completely hell-bent on outrunning their friends while riding a household item, shovel racing may be the answer.

Ski slope workers around Angel Fire, New Mexico supposedly began shovel racing in the early 1970s in an effort to get down the slopes quickly after the lifts had closed for the evening. The logic behind why they chose to stick a shovel handle between their legs and slide down the mountains on their rears rather than using skis seems to have been lost to history.

However, it is known that in 1975, Angel Fire Resort began hosting the World Shovel Racing Championships, which offered competitors the chance to square off in two divisions. In the Production group, racers got a regular old hardware-store shovel, waxed it up, and took off down the slopes using only their arms for steering; riders of these stock shovels could hit speeds over 60 mph. In the Modified division, racers turned their shovels into enclosed aerodynamic crafts that bore little resemblance to their cousins used to clear suburban driveways. These 500-pound vehicles could top out over 70 m.p.h. while shooting down the thousand-foot course.

While it may seem difficult to believe, riding a shovel at such high speeds is somewhat dangerous. More specifically, it's incredibly dangerous. In super-modified shovel racing's lone appearance at ESPN's Winter X Games in 1997, leading racers Gail Boles and John Shrader experienced separate horrific crashes in which Boles was knocked unconscious and Shrader broke his back in three places. The sport was not invited back to the games. Even the birthplace of organized shovel racing was forced to abandon the sport; resort administrators eventually cancelled Angel Fire's annual championships in 2005 due to liability concerns. Still, if you've got a shovel, a snowy hill, and no qualms about sticking a shovel handle between your legs, you might want to give it a shot. [Photo courtesy of Enchantment.]

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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