Monday, September 30, 2013

Sport stacking

For about a year now, my 10-year-old has been into table tennis, or Ping-Pong, as it is colloquially called in these parts. This summer, his coach suggested he take part in the AAU Junior Olympics, a grand-sounding but sadly hyperbolic event conjured up by its grand-sounding but sadly hyperbolic organisers, the Amateur Athletic Union. For when we arrived at the venue to register him, we were disappointed to discover not athletes from the four corners of the Earth, but rather young people from the four corners of the United States.

Megalomanic monickers aside, the list of sports in which medals were up for grabs at the Junior Olympics was equally strange. Sure, there were typical Olympic disciplines like track and field sports, swimming, several martial arts, gymnastics, hockey (the non-glacial kind), weightlifting, wrestling and, as I mentioned at the outset, table tennis. There were also more Americocentric sports like bowling, cheer-leading, rope-jumping and baton twirling which, although not necessarily featured at the Athenian Games, are, at least, energetic and athletic in nature. For some odd reason, cricket also made the line-up, though I can't for the life of me imagine that they managed to scrape together more than two teams because NOBODY plays cricket in the US. So I guess the winning team got gold, the losing one silver and ... hey, who cares about bronze anyway?

And then there was sport stacking.

Sport stacking could only exist in a country that proudly and enthusiastically holds annual Rotten Sneaker contests (to find America's smelliest shoes), a beer pong "world series" (bouncing table tennis balls off various objects and finally into disposable beer cups), suite-jumping (photographing yourself leaping strangely on hotel beds), and hot dog-eating tournaments. Indeed sport stacking is so undeniably sporting that it has to remind you thereof in its very name - in case you didn't realise.

So what exactly is this sport that the International Olympic Committee has so shamefully overlooked since probably the dawn of time? In a nutshell it's this: contestants are presented with three piles of plastic cups. But these are not mere beach party plasticware like the cheap stuff used for beer pong. Oh no, these are state-of-the-art rigid plastic cups with holes in the top as approved by the World Sports Stacking Association and supplied by the only authorized manufacturer and, coincidentally, the governing body's official sponsor: Speed Stacks Inc, a link to whose site is helpfully provided in the top right-hand corner of the WSSA Web site.

The rules are as follows: the cups in the three piles must be arranged into a pyramid - "up-stacked" - and then disassembled into their original piles - "down-stacked" - as quickly as possible.

And that's it.
Stack 'em up!
To be fair, that's not quite it because at the start and finish contestants have to hit a bar containing a stopwatch - the so-called "StackMat" - which, not surprisingly, is also sold by Speed Stacks. And sometimes there are nine cups, sometimes twelve, and contestants either stack against the clock, against other stackers, individually or as a team. But it's not exactly rocket science, and certainly comes nowhere near the complexity of the offside trap in football or the intricacies of who attacked whom first in fencing.

But that's precisely the point: the rules are simple, the victors obvious. Just like there cannot be a draw in baseball or American football games or a coalition in US government (and don't get me started on the "us" and "them" of international relations), the winner in sport stacking is the person who hits the timing mat first.

Not surprisingly, therefore, sport stacking is extremely popular. In fact, it dwarfed all other sports at the AAU Junior Olympics in sheer numbers of competitors - all of whom, naturally, had to pay the organisers to take part. But
I'm always suspicious of monopolies, especially when money is involved. I therefore strongly suspect that the founder of Speed Stacks, a certain Bob Fox, is probably as rich as the inventors of other fads, like Silly Bandz and Beany Babies.