It’s obvious that soccer is growing in popularity in the United States, but so are lesser-known sports like rugby and curling, along with a new annual competition, the CrossFit Games, which feature competitors from 20 to almost 70 years old in brackets based on age and sex. The athletes learn about what they will compete in only hours in advance of the events: This year’s games, in July, included “the burden run” (carrying logs, pulling sleds), “the zigzag sprint” (dashing 50 yards while avoiding obstacles), and “2007” (rowing 1,000 meters, then doing five rounds of pushups).
The big winner this year, as in 2011 and 2012, was Rich Froning, the “fittest man on earth.” He trains for up to eight hours a day, going through an intense regimen that includes power lifting, running, rowing, box jumping, and tire flipping. Froning’s preparation also includes Bible study. He has written verses about Jesus’ crucifixion on his shoes, so when he feels like giving up, he looks down and remembers what Jesus endured for him. Tattooed across his right torso is “Galatians 6:14”: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Froning competed in his first CrossFit Games in 2010, finishing 12th among 16 contestants. The loss compelled Froning to re-evaluate his commitments: He said he had “put CrossFit on a pedestal and it had become who I was, and I needed to remind myself that Christ is who I am, and not CrossFit.”
Regarding rugby: USA Rugby now has registered 450,000 players, including more than 65,000 high-school students. Rugby will return to the Olympics after a 92-year absence: The 2016 Olympics will feature rugby sevens, a popular version of the sport with seven-man teams. During fast-moving and hard-hitting games each team tries to get the ball past the opposing team’s goal line. It’s like scoring a touchdown in football, only with no forward passing and no helmets or significant padding.
Oddly, the United States is the reigning Olympic champion in the sport, because the U.S. team in 1924 beat France. Olympic officials then dropped rugby from the Games for a combination of reasons including fan violence, lack of popularity, and the length of recovery time rugby teams needed after the physically grueling and sometimes brutal matches.
Ireland’s oldest native game, hurling, is also gaining popularity in America: Schools including Purdue, Stanford, Indiana University, and University of Connecticut have formed teams. Hurling, dubbed “the fastest game on grass,” is a high-octane sport combining the skills of baseball, lacrosse, and hockey. Players use a wooden stick, similar to a hockey stick, to hit a small ball through their opponent’s goalposts. Players, who wear no protective padding, can kick, strike, slap, or balance the ball on the stick as they move down the field.
Hurling, older than Ireland’s recorded history, may have been played for more than 2,000 years. While there are no professional leagues in America, the North American Gaelic Athletic Association is working to promote hurling, along with several other Gaelic sports, by hosting tournaments such as the Gaelic Games that were held in Cleveland in late August. Journalist Denis O’Brien detailed the rise of hurling in America in Hurling USA, published last year.