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