Guests: Brian Blessed, Sean Lock, Ross Noble
Aired: 29th December 2011, BBC Two
The signature event of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is the ‘Ear Pull’: two competitors face each other with a two-foot-long loop of leather behind their ears. At the signal, the competitors lean backwards in a 'tug-of-war of the ears' until one of them gives up or the string slides off. The best out of three wins, using alternate ears. The victor demonstrates he/she can withstand pain, a trait needed to survive the harsh realities of the North. But the event is not without controversy as it can cause bleeding and competitors sometimes require stitches. It was dropped for health and safety reasons in 1982, but has since been reinstated. There's also the Indian Stick Pull: two competitors attempt to pull a greased stick away from each other without jerking or twisting it. This is supposed to replicate the grabbing of a slippery fish.
Other events include the Blanket Toss, or Nalukataq, where a competitor is tossed in a trampoline made of walrus skins. Heights of 30 feet have been recorded. The judges look at balance, height and movements in the air. A similar technique
was traditionally used to spot game over the horizon.
In the Four Man Carry each competitor carries four men as far a distance as possible. This supposedly replicates the carrying of shot animals.
In the Two-Foot High Kick an athlete has to launch himself from his feet, keeping them parallel, and kick a sealskin ball suspended on a string, before landing on both feet. The men’s record is 8 feet 8 inches. It was originally a signal to the village by a returning messenger that a whale had been caught.
The first World Eskimo Olympics was held in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1961, and has been held annually ever since. Its symbol is six interlocked rings, representing the major tribes in Alaska - Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Tlingit, Eskimo, and Tsimpsian. In 1973, the name was changed to 'World Eskimo-Indian Olympics' to more accurately reflect the ethnicity of the participants. (The use of the word 'Eskimo' is a minefield – the Aleut, for instance, don't much care for the word, while the Yup'ik don't mind - as a basic guide, you can use the term in Alaska but not in Greenland or Canada). The games are designed to display the required skills for survival in the Arctic: strength, agility and endurance.
The Esquimaux aren’t the only northern people with a tradition of tough-guy sporting contests; in 'eukokanto', the Finnish sport of wife-carrying, you have to carry a wife of at least 49kilos over a 250-metre obstacle course, though the good news is that she doesn’t have to be your own wife. The winner’s prize is the wife’s weight in beer.Stephen's Cards
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