Could log-rolling become an Olympic sport?

Champion log-roller Abby Hoeschler hopes the growing popularity of log-rolling coupled with the rise of artificial logs could help expand the sparring sport into the Olympics one day. Courtesy of Abby Hoeschler

Sports enter and exit the Olympics all the time. Baseball and softball became medal sports in 1992, were kicked out after 2008 and are lobbying hard to get back in by 2020 in Tokyo (where baseball is a Japanese national pastime). Wrestling has been in the Olympics since the ancient games in Greece, but was oddly temporarily booted out after 2012 before being voted back in for 2016.

Tug of War was in the Olympics until 1920. There are movements to get squash, ballroom dance and chess in the Olympics, as well as log-rolling.

Yes, log-rolling. While I would much rather see baseball back in the Olympics, I definitely would choose log-rolling over ballroom dance or chess.

"We're pretty realistic. I definitely don't think that I will be competing in the Olympics but hopefully I will at least be one of the coaches," champion log-roller Abby Hoeschler said. "I think it could take 20-25 years, but you look back at where snowboarding was in the late '70s, and things happen a lot faster these days."

Hoeschler's mother, Judy Scheer, grew up in Hayward, Wisc., where she fell in love with it 9she became a seven-time champion) and passed that love onto her children.

"My siblings and I were big ski racers, tennis, soccer -– we did all those normal sports," Hoeschler said. "Log rolling was something we did in the summer. It definitely set us apart. It was a fun sport to train for."

I grew up in a town built on the logging industry (my high school team was the Lumberjacks) and each Fourth of July there were log-rolling and pole-climbing competitions. Log-rolling is definitely fun to watch.

"It's such an intense sport. It's a sparring sport," Hoeschler said. "You're on this log in the water with an opponent and you can't touch them. There's a center line you can't cross. It's sort of like boxing with your feet. You're doing maneuvers to dislodge your opponent. As a female, there aren't many opportunities where you can compete in sports that are intense like that.

"You step on the log, and if you make one wrong move, you've lost. You don't know if it will be 15 seconds or five minutes that you have to stay on. It requires a serious amount of focus and concentration. You can't let up."

One of the obstacles to the sport's growth was that the western red cedar logs used in elite competitions are not cheap (perhaps $1,000) or easy to obtain, and very difficult to transport -- they can weigh 500 pounds, or more than an Olympic weightlifting champ could lift. And competing in heavy cleats on the wood quickly wears out the log.

"It really holds the sport back," Hoeschler said. "It's really difficult to get this wood. If you don't have access to it, you can't train on it. It's expensive. The cleats are heavy and cumbersome, and you can't buy them off the shelf. You have to have someone make them for you."

Carpeting the logs so you could compete in regular athletic shoes helped make the sport more accessible, Hoeschler said. What she hopes will really open the sport to growth are the artificial key logs her company, Key Log, manufactures.

The key logs are polyethylene, weigh 65 pounds, much cheaper and, Hoeschler says, they are much more consistent than natural logs. "More people have learned to roll on the key logs in the past two years than in the past 150 years of the sport," she said.

Hoeschler, who lives in the Twin Cities, says when she and her sister are training on Minneapolis' Lake Calhoun in the summer, runners and walkers frequently stop to watch and ask about the sport.

"People are really taking to it," she said. "We're at several Big Ten universities. We're working a lot with colleges and universities in their intramural and rec programs. We're getting clubs going, starting tournaments, programs in Australia and Canada."

Whether it can grow to Olympic heights remains to be seen.

"Of course, I would love to see log-rolling in the Olympics in my lifetime. I'm really positive it could happen," Hoeschler said. "But even if it doesn't happen, I can see so much growth in the sport right now that I think it's on the verge of something big here."