Meet the World Record Break­ers

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Cover - BY HE­LEN O’NEILL

For some peo­ple, mak­ing it into the record books is a se­ri­ous walk on the whacky side. For others, it’s just a lot of fun try­ing

FASTER. HIGHER. LONGER. STRONGER. There is no ques­tion that the quest to ex­cel runs deep. That is why, sev­eral months ago, I leapt on the chance to help break a na­tional record. This was no Olympian-style en­deav­our – it in­volved learn­ing the steps to a dance, dress­ing up as a zom­bie and head­ing to a town called Lith­gow, in the Blue Moun­tains, west of Syd­ney.

The event was part of Lith­gow’s ­Hal­loween cel­e­bra­tions, and an of­fi­cial at­tempt to smash the Aus­tralian record for the largest num­ber of cos­tumed peo­ple danc­ing in uni­son to the Michael Jack­son song ‘ Thriller’. It stood at 450 dancers, ac­cord­ing to the town’s web­site, and with thou­sands ex­pected as griz­zly ghouls from ev­ery tomb, what could pos­si­bly go wrong?

When the big day came the crowds were huge and the at­mos­phere elec­tric. Jason Jack­son, billed as Aus­tralia’s top Michael Jack­son trib­ute artist, per­formed a high-volt­age set of Michael Jack­son songs and read­ied him­self to lead the ‘ Thriller’ record-break at­tempt.

Sadly, things did not go ac­cord­ing to plan. Jack­son and his dancers strode on­stage to lead the at­tempt but too many in the au­di­ence seemed un­aware that this was no run-through – it was the real thing. Be­fore you knew it, the mo­ment had passed. “We tried our best,” said a disappointed Jack­son af­ter­wards. The ‘ Thriller’ record would have to be bro­ken an­other day.

Some record-break­ing at­tempts fail far more spec­tac­u­larly. When me­dia com­pany Buz­zFeed broke Face­book on­line viewer records by live-stream­ing its em­ploy­ees putting rub­ber bands around a melon un­til it ­ex­ploded, others found them­selves in­spired to re­peat the stunt. One at­tempt by a Chi­nese duo went winc­ingly wrong, leav­ing one man in hos­pi­tal af­ter a piece of fruit hit him in the face while hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple watched on.

Face­book has turbo-charged other, more laud­able, record at­tempts. Last Novem­ber Aus­tralian ac­tor Sa­muel John­son used the Face­book page of Love Your Sis­ter, the breast can­cer fundrais­ing char­ity he launched when his sis­ter Con­nie was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal breast can­cer, to an­nounce that it was time to tackle a new world record. John­son al­ready had skin in the game. In 2014, he com­pleted the long­est

Didga, a cat from Tweed Heads, be­came a world record holder for per­form­ing 20 tricks in a minute

ever uni­cy­cle jour­ney, ped­dling 15,955 kilo­me­tres around Aus­tralia over 364 days and rais­ing al­most $1.5 mil­lion for can­cer re­search.

This time the idea was Con­nie’s: to break the world record for the long­est line of coins us­ing four mil­lion five­cent pieces. For that they would need al­most $196,000. Within 24 hours, sup­port­ers had do­nated al­most $160,000.

“I can’t get this silly grin off my face,” wrote Con­nie on Face­book about the phe­nom­e­nal sup­port for their world record at­tempt. “It’s pos­si­ble that I am not only the hap­pi­est can­cer pa­tient in the coun­try right now, but that I am the hap­pi­est per­son, full stop.”

RECORDS COME IN ALL SHAPES and sizes. In 2016, Ade­laide’s Dul­wich Bak­ery cre­ated the world’s biggestever cus­tard slice, an enor­mous sweet treat measuring 1.94 me­tres by 6.04 me­tres, with a depth of 55 mil­lime­tres and a weight of over 804 kilo­grams.

This year Didga, a cat from Tweed Heads in New South Wales, be­came a Guin­ness World Record holder for per­form­ing 20 tricks in a minute – the high­est num­ber ever of­fi­cially es­tab­lished. The tabby, which can do every­thing from high- fiv­ing, spin­ning and rolling on com­mand to jump­ing over a bar while on a mov­ing skate­board, be­longs to Robert Doll­wet, a for­mer Hol­ly­wood an­i­mal trainer who claimed that she has since bro­ken her own record by an­other four tricks.

Per­sis­tence and in­ven­tive­ness are cru­cial. In 2016, Aus­tralian rugby player Drew Mitchell, hav­ing made

a new year’s res­o­lu­tion to get his name on the record books, failed at an ul­tra- fast bis­cuit-eat­ing chal­lenge and an at­tempt to put on more than 48 socks in 60 sec­onds. Suc­cess even­tu­ally came all on the same day – March 3, 2016 – when he se­cured four world records by crush­ing 14 ap­ples with his bi­cep in a minute, pass­ing a ball to fel­low player Matt Giteau a record 98 times in a minute, scor­ing the most rugby drop goals ever recorded in three min­utes (29, in tan­dem again with Giteau) and then smash­ing the 100 m record while wear­ing clogs in just 14.43 sec­onds.

THERE MAY BE MORE TO COME. Chayne Hult­gren, an Aus­tralian ex­treme cir­cus per­former, broke his first world record in 2008 by swal­low­ing 17 swords at the same time. He now holds 44 Guin­ness World Records (GWR), mak­ing him Aus­tralia’s most pro­lific GWR holder. “I am hooked on the record-break­ing bug,” he says. “I just love it.” Asked for re­cent mile­stones, he reels off a breath­tak­ing list. “The long­est elec­tri­cal man-made light­ning bolt to strike a swal­lowed sword,” he says. “The high­est chain­saw jug­gling, the most swords swal­lowed on a uni­cy­cle … the most swords swal­lowed un­der wa­ter (that’s four)… There are a few.”

“While we pre­fer peo­ple to break ex­ist­ing records we will look at new ideas and think, ‘Do they ful­fil our cri­te­ria?’”

Hult­gren be­gan uni­cy­cling at age eight, grew up fas­ci­nated by the Guin­ness Book of Records and says he al­ways wanted to be in it. Since 2008 he has been in ev­ery is­sue. The per­former stresses that he goes into each at­tempt with a lot of prepa­ra­tion, has bro­ken pre-ex­ist­ing records and also cre­ated new ones. He de­scribes the first record he in­vented as “the most weight dragged with hooks in the eye socket: a cart with six girls in it and a pile of ce­ment slabs. The to­tal weight was 411 kilo­grams and I had to drag it for a min­i­mum dis­tance of ten me­tres.”

Asked if any­one has since bro­ken that record, he laughs and says sim­ply, “No.”

Guin­ness World Records ed­i­tor-inchief Craig Glen­day sus­pects Hult­gren’s aim may be the GWR’s world record, held by Amer­i­can Ashrita Fur­man, who has around 200 stand­ing records to his name. Hult­gren has a way to go, he says, but any­thing is pos­si­ble.

The ap­petite for record-break­ing seems un­quench­able. “We get about 1000 ap­pli­ca­tions a week from all over the world and at least half of them will be peo­ple sug­gest­ing new ideas,” Glen­day ex­plains. “While we pre­fer peo­ple to break ex­ist­ing records so we’re en­cour­ag­ing com­pe­ti­tion … we will look at new ideas and think, ‘ Do they ful­fil our key cri­te­ria?’”

Achieve­ments must be mea­sur­able, prov­able and break­able but also in­ter­est­ing, he says, adding that while this is sub­jec­tive it also means ap­pli­ca­tions ar­rive from all walks of life.

“You can be in with Usain Bolt even if you can peel an ap­ple well; we’re say­ing that’s as im­pres­sive in a dif­fer­ent way,” he says. “The Olympics is an ar­bi­trary se­lec­tion of sports … but why are they any bet­ter that some­one who can ‘space hop­per’ 100 me­tres?”

Records are be­com­ing more ­ex­treme and also re­flect changes in so­ci­ety, with the lat­est book in­clud­ing selfie-tak­ing and twerk­ing. A record­breaker him­self ( he once held the record for the long­est stretched Curly Wurly, a chewy choco­late bar), Glen­day says that for some peo­ple it is a “bucket-list thing … a life­time ef­fort.” For others it can be “a bit like tat­too­ing – once you’ve had one world record, you want an­other”.

Hav­ing worked at the GWR since 2002, has he come away think­ing that some peo­ple are sim­ply bonkers?

“Yes but in a good way,” he replies. “They’ve a good sense of hu­mour and a sense of per­spec­tive. They’re try­ing to be for­ward think­ing, bet­ter­ing them­selves and try­ing to bet­ter the hu­man race, even if it’s in a very small way like jug­gling chain­saws.”

Life should be about hav­ing fun, he adds. “If that’s how you want to do it, by break­ing records, well great, be­cause it means you are mak­ing peo­ple happy and mak­ing them think.”

Chayne Hult­gren is Aus­tralia’s most pro­lific Guin­ness World Record holder

Left: Ac­tor Sa­muel John­son and his sis­ter Con­nie John­son both chased am­bi­tious world records – for a good cause. Below left: Skate­board­ing tabby Didga made the record books for her tricks

This 12-me­tre-high beach sculp­ture was built by US artist Rusty Croft in Niteroi, Brazil in a bid to be the world’s high­est sand­cas­tle

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