<
>

Beyond The Ocho: The best sports you've never heard of

Sol Neelman for ESPN

In every corner of the planet, from sleepy rural villages to hectic big cities, people are celebrating fun and creativity, passions and tradition. Sports are a huge part of those traditions -- but in some places, the ones they play look far different from professional games. These are Weird Sports -- sports which anyone can do, which everyone wants to do, and which bring together like-minded people, expanding a community that many didn't even realize they were already a part of.

Weird Sports have been going on for so long, they often don't seem unusual to the locals. (Stilt racing, we're looking at you.) Often they start as a boast, to see who could, say, race downhill the fastest chasing a wheel of cheese. Sometimes they're more practical, like canal leaping in the Netherlands.

What would surprise many is that Weird Sports are rich in history. Shin-kicking dates back to the 17th century. Soccer played on motorcycles has quietly been going on for nearly 90 years. And Calcio Storico, a brutal form of rugby in Italy, dates back to the 1500s. After you learn the history of these sports, make sure to catch other obscure and fascinating ones on The Ocho all day on ESPN2. Here's the full schedule.

At the annual cheese rolling event in Gloucestershire, England, racers stumble down Cooper's Hill in a hopeless effort to catch up to an 8-pound wheel of cheese traveling at what seems to be 80 mph. "I like to think it's a rite of passage for the villagers of Brockworth," local organizer Sara Stevens said. Each race has its shares of injuries, from twisted ankles to broken bones. If they're lucky, the worst racers will experience only a bruised ego. "Don't feel embarrassed if you feel you've got to go on your bum," Stevens said.


The main event at the annual Cotswold Olimpick Games is the World Shin-kicking Championships. Held in the picturesque town of Chipping Campden, England, the sport dates back to the 17th century. Not surprisingly, steel-toed shoes are banned. The only protection is hay, which is provided to fighters to pad their shins.


The concept of shin-kicking is simple: Kick your opponent's shins until they cry for mercy from the pain or they lose their balance. Players advance in the tournament by winning two out of three throws, with a referee, known as a "stickler," determining the score. Competitors sport white coats to represent the traditional shepherd's smock.


Cycle ball, also known as Radball, is a form of soccer played on bicycles that dates back to the late 19th century. Teams of two players try to control the ball while riding a fixie bike. As in soccer, only the goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands. Möhlin, Switzerland, hosted this year's Cycle Ball European Championship, which was won by defending champion Austria.


At the 52nd annual World Custard Pie Championships in England, teams of four players face off. Contestants must throw the pie with their left hand and points are scored based on where their toss connects on their opponent. While not mandatory, some teams practice tossing pies leading up to the event. "I threw a few with my left hand, that was about it," said Laura Wilkins (not pictured), of nearby Maidstone. She then acknowledged that her target practice was aimed at her teammate and husband, Paul.


Wife carrying is a timed event in which a man carefully shoulders his spouse through an obstacle course. (And yes, there are penalties for dropping your wife.) The sport originally started in Finland, though now there are several tournaments around the world, including the Wisconsin Wife Carrying Championship held on the Fourth of July outside of Madison. Prizes often include the amount of money and beer based on the winning contestants' weight.


A Dutch form of handball known as Kaatsen is played in the northern province of Friesland, Netherlands. Resembling lawn tennis, the game is played on a long, narrow field by two teams of three players, with several matches often going on at the same time alongside each other. A hard leather ball that resembles a hacky sack is served barehanded to the opposing team, which tries to knock it out of its zone. With complicated rules for scoring based on where the ball ultimately lands, Kaatsen is considered to be one of the world's oldest ballgames.


A form of soccer played on motorcycles with a very large ball, Motoball is a popular sport in a handful of countries dating back to the 1930s. Teams from Holland and France battle it out during tournament play at this year's European Motoball Championship in Germany.


Calcio Storico is a violent form of rugby played in Florence, Italy, that originated in the 16th century. Games last 50 minutes and fighting begins as soon as the ball is tossed into play. Players can punch, kick, head-butt and choke their opponents. However, because of deaths over the centuries, kicks to the head and teaming up on a single player are now outlawed. Each of the four local teams that compete represent a different district in Florence, with a semifinal round determining which two teams will play in the championship game.


The popular draw at the annual Potato Days in Clark, South Dakota (population 1,139), is Mashed Potato Wrestling. It started in part thanks to an offering from a potato company manager who had a bunch of unwanted reconstituted potatoes. It took a while for the community to embrace the sport due to its zaniness, according to Clark native Greg Furness, who created the event. "It was a lot of fun though," he said. Over the past 15 or so years, everyone from local high school wrestlers to state and regional politicians have grappled in a pool filled with 150 pounds of mashed potatoes. "It's definitely a unique event," Furness said.


A combination of pole-vaulting and long jump, Fierljeppen -- or canal leaping -- is a sport played in the northern Dutch province of Friesland. It started with local farmers who used poles to leap over drainage channels while navigating around their fields. What began as a fun pastime with wagering opponents has evolved into a highly competitive activity as prize money has increased over the years. Kids at younger ages have started competing, and the top players now will train year-round.


The World Series of Beer Pong is a wild tournament held over five days in Las Vegas. Contestants compete for cash prizes, with the championship team splitting $12,500.


Patience is often tested at the annual 5K Llama Rama Race in Fairplay, Colorado, a former gold mining town in the Rockies. The race is for a good cause: raising awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation. Participants include teams from hospitals and those positively affected by organ transplants. The event is part of the town's annual Burro Days, which just celebrated its 71st year.


Schieti (population 396) is an ancient Italian castle village that hosts an annual stilt race known locally as Palio Di Trampoli. Also featuring food, drink, music and crafts, the weekend festival pays tribute to the days when area farmers and workers would sport stilts to cross the nearby Foglia River on their way to Schieti for a night out.


Two-year-olds line up on the medal podium after the winning Strider Cup bike racers pose for photos by proud parents in Minneapolis, one of many such sponsored events across the globe.


During the 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Daymon Woodruff rides through a Wall of Beer, made of 30 cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon at Camp Zero, a part of the Buffalo Chip campground. "The impact was harder than I thought. It bent the frame," said Woodruff, the son of the campground's founder, Rod.