Column: Welcome to the Island of Misfit Sports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Like a fish out of water, Elisabeth Hammerstad tracks down a uncomplicated back garden hose to wash off the sand and drench herself in a bit of reduction from the blistering Alabama heat.

The honest-skinned Hammerstad, her hair tied again in a French braid, has just served Norway to an uncomplicated victory over Australia.

In seaside handball, of all athletics.

Hammerstad sees practically nothing uncommon about her Arctic homeland standing out in an obscure sport that would look greatest suited to warm-weather nations.

“We have summer in Norway way too,” she explained with a wry smile.

A person other detail: What is seashore handball?

Those people type of queries occur up routinely at The Entire world Video games, a form of Island of Misfit Toys for a fascinating array of sports that are on the exterior on the lookout in at the Olympics, enviously hoping for their chance to someday shine on the greatest stage.

From air sports activities (parachuting and drone racing) to wushu (a Chinese martial artwork) — and fairly a lot every thing in involving — this 11-day, Olympic-model competitors is being hosted by a U.S. metropolis for only the second time in its four-decade-extended existence.

Birmingham looks a curious option for a levels of competition that was delayed a calendar year by the COVID-19 pandemic, since its sporting background mostly commences and ends with higher education football and a wide array of unsuccessful pro groups.

But for a town hoping to display how significantly it truly is arrive from an unpleasant purpose in the American civil rights motion, this is maybe the best party to exhibit its tolerance for a large selection of athletics that most locals have in no way viewed — or even fully grasp.

Consider seashore handball, which options gamers flinging by themselves into all types of twirling, twisting contortions to shoot for objectives that are truly worth two details.

It was staying held on two land-locked courts stuffed with sand in the shadow of Sloss Furnaces, a remnant of the extended-forgotten era when this was the Steel Metropolis of the South.

Then you will find korfball, which can best be described as basketball without the need of all the dribbling and dunking, played on an indoor court with a pair of hoops that have neither a backboard nor a web.

If you consider Stephen Curry has it difficult from beyond the 3-stage stripe, you ought to see how complicated it is to knock one down in korfball.

“It is tough,” Belgium participant Julie Caluwe claimed. “It’s 3 1/2 meters (about 11 1/2 ft) large. You have to move from your opponents because or else you can’t shoot. And there is no backboard for a intention. So you have to shoot it appropriate.”

Korfball actually stands out when you observe the make-up of the groups — 4 gentlemen and four gals on every squad, all on the court docket at the identical time. The sport’s very long-shot hopes of finding in the Olympics are mainly based on its inclusive nature.

“We are the only (group) activity with boys and girls, so it would be very wonderful if it is in the Olympics,” Caluwe explained. “The notion at the rear of the Olympics is also what korfball is about.”

Thomas Bach, president of the Intercontinental Olympic Committee, stopped by the Birmingham-Jefferson Conference Middle to view a korfball recreation between Belgium and his native Germany.

“It demonstrates the variety of athletics,” Bach stated, standing just off the court docket. “You can experience sports activities which are not normally on everybody’s intellect. But you see the exact passion of the athletes, just like other sports on the Olympic plan. “

In a bid to reach a more youthful, hipper viewers, the Olympics have picked off several Globe Video games events more than the many years, which includes badminton, rugby sevens, taekwondo, trampoline and triathlon.

Then there are athletics that haven’t attained lasting Olympics status, these as karate, softball, sport climbing and breakdancing. They are all on the software in Birmingham.

Climbing and breakdancing will also be Olympic sports in Paris, though other athletics are producing a large drive to be on the method at Los Angeles in 2028.

Flag football’s debut at the The Planet Video games is also the kickoff to a significant-profile marketing campaign — backed by the NFL — to be additional to the Olympics in La La Land.

“Today, the dream feels closer than at any time for us,” claimed Pierre Trochet, president of the International Federation of American Football. “Flag soccer is a single of the world’s swiftest-developing sports for a explanation. It is really rapid, it truly is imaginative, it really is skillful. … It’s also a activity that is genuinely accessible and certainly inclusive. Flag can be played by anyone, almost everywhere.”

Some sports drew sparse crowds in Birmingham, but other people proved hugely well-liked.

There had been reports of tickets staying scalped for hundreds of pounds for sumo. A lot more than 8,000 turned out to look at the Americans conquer Japan 3-2 for the gold medal in softball, an on-again, off-again Olympic activity. Even some athletes became enamored with other sporting activities.

“Have you seen beach handball?” Haudenosaunee lacrosse participant Jacelyn Lazore asked. “That sport is outrageous!”

Crazy? Let us test in on tug of war, which old-timers might most effective recall from “Battle of the Community Stars.”

But this isn’t really Workforce Telly Savales vs. Staff Hal Linden nope, it is really a legit sport matching hulking athletes on each conclusion of a thick rope, yanking and pulling right up until 1 facet is hauled more than the line.

The Swiss adult males, their just about every shift coordinated with the precision of — yep, we are going to say it — a high-close enjoy, romped to a gold medal in the 640-kilogram class on the grass infield of the athletics track at UAB.

The Olympics must give major thing to consider to reinstating tug of war to its system.

Yep, we explained “reinstated.” Tug of war was really an athletics occasion at 5 Summertime Game titles from 1900 to 1920.

Though quite a few Earth Video games activities are accompanied by raucous new music and boisterous announcers, there is at least a single sport for all those who choose the serenity of a library.


The only obvious sounds within the ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel will come from the clacking of the balls. Absolutely everyone spoke in hushed tones. The players scarcely spoke at all. A white-gloved, tuxedoed formal racked up the balls in advance of each and every video games.

With the air-conditioned room producing a enjoyable contrast to the sweltering heat just exterior the doorways, it took a little bit of effort to steer clear of dozing off for a speedy nap.

Billiards is the excellent activity for South Africa’s Aden Joseph, who took notice of his portly body stuffed into formal, all-black apparel — gown pants and shirt, accompanied by a silky vest and bow tie.

“I enjoy this activity initially of all, simply because it really is indoors,” Joseph said, chuckling. “I’m not truly created for nearly anything outside the house.”

He does look longingly at the uniforms of other athletics, which are plainly a lot much more at ease than what is worn in billiards.

“Unfortunately, it can be section of the activity,” Joseph quipped, rapidly including what he would like to be wearing, “a usual T-shirt. A pair of khakis. That would be awesome.”

As with lots of other global gatherings, Russia and Belarus have been banned from The World Game titles for the invasion of Ukraine.

But Ukraine sent a delegation of much more than 100 athletes, including a staff in the group competition of aerobic gymnastics.

This is one more element to The Globe Game titles application: disciplines within just an Olympic-permitted activity — gymnastics, in this scenario — that have not received a advertising to the massive time.

In among posing for selfies with her Ukrainian teammates, Anastasiia Isaienko created her pitch for aerobics at the Olympics.

“It is a sort of sport that contains dance, acrobatics, an ingredient of gymnastics, some factors with music. It can be wonderful,” she mentioned, sounding downright persuasive.

For now, The Entire world Game titles will have to do.


Paul Newberry is a national sports activities columnist for The Related Press. Produce to him at pnewberry(at) or at


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