The lure of bog snorkelling

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

To­day I was go­ing to look at the English premier league – and Manch­ester United in par­tic­u­lar – but that can wait a week. There is a more press­ing sub­ject – bog snorkelling.

I was amazed while in Bri­tain re­cently to note the at­ten­tion the world bog snorkelling cham­pi­onships in Wales at­tracted. The ma­jor daily news­pa­pers cov­ered the event, which also fea­tured on tele­vi­sion.

The list of sports the Bri­tish have given to the world is im­pres­sive. It in­cludes lawn bowls, curl­ing, bad­minton, bil­liards, rugby union, rugby league, ta­ble ten­nis, squash, cro­quet, netball, golf, cricket, darts, foot­ball and ten­nis. It is pos­si­ble base­ball orig­i­nated in Bri­tain. But bog snorkelling? The world champs, which have been run­ning since 1985, are al­ways held in Llan­wr­tyd Wells, said to be the small­est town in Bri­tain. Its pop­u­la­tion is 601.

The sport was born dur­ing a pub dis­cus­sion in 1976 and, con­sid­er­ing how ab­surd it is, has grown amaz­ingly.

At the world champs last week, there were 155 com­peti­tors, in­clud­ing en­trants from Aus­tralia, France, Ger­many, North­ern Ire­land, Swe­den, New Zealand, Eire, Mali, the United States and Zam­bia.

Com­peti­tors don a wet­suit, mask and flip­pers, at­tach a snorkel and swim along a 55-me­tre trench cut in a bog. They do two laps, so they cover 110 me­tres.

There is a catch – they can progress only by us­ing their flip­pers. Con­ven­tional swimming strokes are not per­mit­ted. Swim­mers can raise their heads above the sur­face only for ori­en­ta­tion pur­poses.

In terms of spec­ta­tor sports, bog snorkelling ri­vals un­der­wa­ter hockey as the most chal­leng­ing. Those watch­ing see very lit­tle of the ac­tion in the muddy wa­ter un­til the swim­mers emerge at the end of the trench and turn around.

The Brits go in for the bizarre. A few weeks ago I men­tioned Stu­art Ket­tell, who gained at­ten­tion by push­ing a brussels sprout up the high­est moun­tain in Wales us­ing his nose.

Bog snorkelling is only marginally more sane, but against all odds, has taken off.

The world cham­pi­onships are tra­di­tion­ally tied in with the Al­ter­na­tive Games, a good fit.

But there are also pock­ets of bog snorkelling en­thu­si­asts and lo­cal com­pe­ti­tions in Aus­tralia, North­ern Ire­land and Swe­den. The big com­pe­ti­tion in North­ern Ire­land is al­ways held on July 27 – World Bog Day.

The sport has its leg­ends, most of them women – in bog snorkelling women gen­er­ally out­per­form men.

The three fastest times at Llan­wr­tyd Wells last week were recorded by women.

North­ern Ire­land’s Dineka Maguire won the world ti­tle sev­eral years in a row, but was beaten this year by English­woman Kirsty John­son, whose ‘‘world’’ record of 1min 22s was 11 seconds faster than the men’s win­ner, Haydn Pitch­forth, man­aged.

Bog snorkelling is a fam­ily af­fair for the Pitch­forths – daugh­ter Emma won the ju­nior sec­tion.

It is dif­fi­cult to think of a more ridicu­lous sport than bog snorkelling.

Imag­ine young­sters as­pir­ing to one day be bog snorkelling stars.

Yet the Bri­tish have man­aged that too, be­cause two branches of the sport are now gain­ing some trac­tion – moun­tain­bike bog snorkelling and triathlon bog snorkelling.

The Bri­tish are bril­liant at in­vent­ing sports, but not al­ways so good at win­ning them.

Per­haps in bog snorkelling they have fi­nally dis­cov­ered a sport in which they can rule the world.

Photo: REUTERS

Dirty work: One of the bog snorkelling hope­fuls in the world cham­pi­onships in Wales.

JOSEPH ROMANOS

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