Males are naturally drawn to competition. Whether for food, mates, territory or just for sport, often you’ll find men ready to accept a challenge at the drop of a hat. But every sport has its place in the pecking order, and while the world’s fastest tandem bicyclists are no doubt phenomenal athletes, they’re not likely to cause people to turn and whisper upon entering the bar. The following contests are some of the best measures of manliness – some are displays of strength or athleticism, some a mastery of technical skills. Some are simply a display of sheer will (and or gluttony). Whichever may be true, these are some of the world’s best ways of answering the question: “Who’s The Man?”
Highland Games (above)
An event with origins that predate recorded history, the Highland Games were purportedly a large influence on Pierre de Coubertin’s creation of the modern Olympic Games. Consisting of traditional sports like the caber toss, stone put and sheaf toss, the games also showcase other feats of strength; the Maide Leisg consists of two men pressing the palms of their feet against each other and attempting to lift their opponent out of a sitting position using only the staff that they grip between them. While still very traditional in garb and style, the games have spawned numerous offshoots across the world. You could attend the largest Scottish games – held in August in Dunoon, Scotland – with some 3,500 other spectators. Or take a trip in July to Linville, North Carolina – their Grandfather Mountain Highland Games has some 50,000 visitors each year.
Arm Wrestling Championships
One of the most iconic images of male competition, two men arm wrestling is the best way to settle matters of pure machismo without resorting to blows. Although little can be added to such a pure sport, there are nevertheless modern tweaks that have created a field of competitors worthy of their own governing body and world championship series. World champions like John Brzenk use a variety of grips to turn the tables on their opponents – and sometimes experience outweighs young guns. At 47, Brzenk looks just a little older than when an audience caught a cameo of him in Sylvester Stallone’s 1987 arm-wrestling movie “Over the Top.”
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
While appearing to be a simple hot dog stand on Coney Island, Nathan’s Famous is the host to the highest-profile eating competition in the world. Featuring men and women attempting to eat as many hot dogs and buns as possible within ten minutes, ordinary-looking people have consumed ungodly amounts of food. The current rivalry between Japanese eating legend Kobayashi and American Joey Chestnutt has proven especially heated, with Kobayashi being banned from competition due to contractual disputes; he had two judges record him eating in time with the competition at a different location. Chestnutt won the official contest by eating 62 dogs but Kobayashi claimed to have eaten 69.
National Finals Rodeo
An overall display of cowboy knowhow and mastery of semi-wild beasts, the National Finals Rodeo is possibly even more American than apple pie. Held annually in Las Vegas, the event draws almost 170,000 fans over its ten days of competition. With contestants scoring in fields as diverse as Team Roping, Steer Wrestling and the ever-famous Bull Riding, the winners are determined by overall purse winnings throughout the year. The “World All-Around Rodeo Champion Cowboy” is the individual who earns the most money in purses in at least two different categories through the year – that title currently belongs to Ryan Jarrett, a native of Georgia (and only the second champion in history to come from east of the Mississippi River).
Iron Man World Championship
One of the most grueling physical activities a person can perform, the ironman truly measures an athlete’s all-around skill. Created to settle a dispute between athletes (truly a competition about competition) the championship course and event hosted in Hawaii consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a final run of 26.2 miles. Current champion Craig Alexander of Australia also holds the world record – an impressive eight hours, three minutes and fifty-six seconds.
Combining the precision of bobsledding with the gutsiness of extreme sports, Skeleton has exploded in popularity after being reinstated to the Winter Olympics. Invented in 1887, the first skeleton riders were merely soldiers tobogganing headfirst. The dangerous variant took its name from a modified sled invented in 1892 – L.P. Child’s bare-bones frame (originally called “The America”) was compared to a skeleton, and the rest is history. Today these daredevil sledders take on the same tracks as luge athletes, except for the fact that they are travelling headfirst and at speeds approaching 90 mph – almost as fast as the heavier bobsleds.
The Iditarod is the ultimate dog-mushing race, and while the trip from Anchorage to Nome requires only a standard level of physical fitness on the part of the humans, they must still survive freezing tundra winds, traverse heavy snows and care for a pack of dogs that will ultimately decide the fate of their victory. Of course, one thing separates the Iditarod from most of the other competitions here – there is no gender divide in the competition. What’s more, women have shown they have just as much fortitude and skill in the wilds of Alaska as the men. Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the race in 1985, followed shortly by four-time winner Susan Butcher in the 1990s.
World’s Strongest Man
There are few spectacles on earth quite as masculine as the World’s Strongest Man competition. Owing some debt to the Highland Games, the strong men will even compete in a caber toss now and then. But other feats of strength have been designed for pure machismo – carrying the frame of a car over a set distance, or tossing kegs over a steel wall. And while being able to squat a certain amount of weight will win you a medal at the Olympics, there’s something much more impressive about seeing a man pull an airplane over his shoulder.