15 Unusual Athletic Competitions That Are Actually Real

Sport is the pinnacle of human athleticism. Many competitions test physicality, while some also test the mind. When we think of world-class sports, we conjure images of the Olympics or World Cup finals, where the competitors are pushed to their limits.

However, many sports are considered more niche worldwide. Others are simply bizarre and unlikely to take off globally.

It’s all part of the tremendous sports landscape, and it wouldn’t be complete without the more unusual competitions that most of us have no idea exist.

1. Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling — Gloucester, UK

The Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake
Image Credit: Dave Farrance – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Many of these bizarre events occur in the UK, home to many of the world’s eccentrics. At Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester, on the last Monday in May, competitors race down a steep hill, intending to catch a giant wheel of Double Gloucester cheese.

The winner is more likely to be the first person to follow the cheese past the winning post. The steepness and unevenness of the surface lead to many injuries. One competitor, Canada’s Delaney Irving, claimed the winner’s event in 2023 despite being unconscious as she passed the finish line.

2. Chessboxing

Chess Boxing Match
Image Credit: WCBO, Own Work – CC BY 3.0 de/Wiki Commons.

The ultimate test of physicality and mental skill, chessboxing combines the challenges of both sports. While it originated in the 1970s, the first official chessboxing match occurred in Berlin in 2003.

Competitors alternate between a round of boxing and a timed session of chess. Matches can be won by knockouts or decisions in the ring or by checkmate on the chess board.

3. Pesapallo — Finland

Image Credit: Santeri Viinamäki – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Pesapallo is the national sport of Finland, and it enjoys a following in other countries, too, but most of the world has yet to catch on to it. The sport resembles baseball, with a batting team looking to score and run between bases while the fielders aim to stop them.

The difference between the two sports is that the pitch in Pesapallo is delivered vertically rather than horizontally at great speed. This results in heavier scoring in the Finnish version.

4. Quidditch

UCLA vs Arkansas at the Quidditch World Cup
Image Credit: Ben Holland Photography, Own Work – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

The game the Harry Potter film series made famous has now become an internationally-recognized sport. Quidditch uses many of the rules from the fictional world, although flying through the air would give teams an unfair advantage.

However, the broomstick is a vital element of the game, and players aim to get the ball, known as a quaffle, through opponents’ hoops. Since 2022, Quidditch has been officially known as Quadball.

5. Bog Snorkelling

Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Originating in Wales in the 1970s, bog snorkeling sees competitors navigate a water-filled trench in the shortest time possible. Naturally occurring peat bogs offer the best conditions for this bizarre sport, attracting entrants worldwide.

Contestants wear wet suits, snorkels, and flippers. Bog Snorkeling has had a world championship since 1985.

6. Rock, Paper, Scissors

Image Credit: James Bamber, Own Work – Wiki Commons.

We all remember this as a playground game, but rock, paper, scissors has developed into an international sport with a governing body and officially recognized tournaments.

Outsiders may see it as a game of chance, but a level of skill is involved. Players analyze an opponent’s playing style while attempting to read expressions and second-guess their next move. In that respect, there are comparisons between rock, paper, scissors, and poker.

7. Cow Chip Tossing

Image Credit: Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw
and Festival Committee.

It’s a simple sport: Take a piece of dried cow manure and aim to throw it as far as possible. A pastime among farm workers for years, cow chip tossing is now a popular sport, with a world championship held annually in Beaver, Oklahoma.

The rules state that the chips must be more than six inches in diameter, and there are categories for men, women, and team participants.

8. Bed Racing

The Great Knaresborough Bed Race
Image Credit: Knaresborough Lions Club.

Knaresborough in North Yorkshire hosts the annual bed race, which has been in place since 1965. As the name suggests, competitors guide a bed over a three-kilometer course to finish in the fastest time.

Teams consist of seven people, and one must always be on the bed. Those teams must also cross a river among steep inclines and other challenges as they aim for glory.

9. Reindeer Racing

Image Credit: Sámi Musihkkafestivála.

Animals and humans work together in many sports, so we shouldn’t be surprised that reindeer racing is famous worldwide. It’s prevalent in Scandinavian countries, including Finland and Norway. A thriving reindeer racing scene has also been established in Russia.

The creatures reach up to 37 miles per hour, making for an incredible spectacle. It’s unusual to see reindeer pulling sleds on a competitive basis.

10. Extreme Ironing

Image Credit: The Red Rocket – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

The adrenaline rush linked to extreme sports meets an everyday household chore in this unusual pastime. Extreme ironing requires the competitor to iron a piece of clothing in a dangerous location.

Participants have ironed clothes while skiing, on a mountain, and in the middle of the closed M1 Motorway in the UK. Ironing is not a sport for the faint of heart, and extreme ironing isn’t recommended, even if you end up with a nicely pressed shirt.

11. Octopush

Image Credit: Wouss – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Octopush is inspired by hockey, but the sport occurs underwater. Two teams aim to move a puck along the bottom of a swimming pool with a stick to get it into the opponent’s goal.

The first Underwater World Hockey Championship occurred in Canada in 1980, and the sport is growing. It’s fun to participate in, but I can’t imagine it’s great for spectators, with so much action below the surface.

12. Mud Pit Belly Flopping

Image Credit: Love What You Do.

The Redneck Games, once held in East Dublin, Georgia, gave the world some great sports. Sadly, the world wasn’t paying attention, so the likes of Dumpster Diving and Armpit Serenading have faded into the history books.

Perhaps the most bizarre sport in the games was mud pit belly-flopping. The rules were simple: Fall forward into the mud pit, and the person with the biggest splash wins the day.

13. Poohsticks

Image Credit: Motmit, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Poohsticks was a game made famous in the Winnie-the-Pooh series of books by A.A. Milne. From there, it became a popular childhood pastime for many and has now developed into an international sport.

The aim of the game remains the same. Competitors drop sticks from a bridge and rush to the other side to see who is in the lead as it rushes downstream. As a sport, Poohsticks originated in the 1980s, and the world championships are at Witney in Oxfordshire, UK.

14. Shin Kicking

Image Credit: David Stowell – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Also known as purring, shin kicking is the world’s most unusual combat sport. Two competitors, with hands on each other’s shoulders, attempt to kick each other’s shins, forcing them to the ground.

Shin-kicking is an ancient sport that dates back to medieval times. While it’s another British invention, ex-pats stirred up local interest in the United States, where it has a following.

15. Camel Jumping

Image Credit: Ilex Foundation.

It genuinely claims to be the oldest bizarre sport in the world. Camel jumping originated as a way for ancient Yemeni tribes to demonstrate their speed and agility.

Camels line up, and the aim is for the athlete to jump across them. The jump is not legitimate if any part of their body brushes a camel.

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