Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Hardest Sport

What is the hardest sport?

I am glad that I got this question, because it was the topic of discussion on Coast to Coast AM at one point, and I did not like the reasoning the callers were using. I can remember one guy said that it was baseball because of how hard it is to hit something so small that is traveling so fast with a little ashwood stick. I know that what he says is correct, as I saw a show in which they were trying to make robots hit a baseball and it was almost impossible. People are amazing, and it is good to reflect a while on how many remarkable things you see every day without thinking about it. That being said, a lot of people can hit a baseball. I can hit a baseball, and I have hit baseballs that were thrown by college players at high speeds, so it can't be the hardest sport.

I have two criteria for a sport being hard:

1. Hundreds or thousands of people try to master the sport.
2. Almost nobody does.

The reason for the first criterion is that there are some sports that only about eight people have tried. For a sport like that, maybe the reason nobody really mastered it is that no skilled people have dedicated adequate effort into trying. The reason for the second criterion is obvious; if there is something that seems really hard if you look at the physics of it, such as hitting a baseball, but thousands of people can do it, then it can't be the hardest.

That being said, I don't think you can say there is a hardest sport. In this age of extreme sports, probably any athletic competition that can done anywhere can be taken to an extreme level that only a handful of people can compete at. Take holding your breath, for example. Kids compete at it all the time. Probably anybody who has access to a swimming pool has tried this sport at one time or another. On the international level, though, there are very few people who can hope to compete. Most people know about magician David Blaine, who combined intense self-discipline and excessive self-promotion to make himself famous by breaking the record for extreme submerged breath holding (17 minutes and 4 seconds) – a record that was broken by less well-known Stig Severinsen in 2012 (22 minutes).

Extreme sports qualify for the title of “hardest sport” for the reasons I gave, but also because you can die competing in them. In one famous example, extreme diver Nicholas Mevoli died soon after a dive to a depth of 236 feet.

Another example of an extreme sport that many athletic and dedicated people try is the ultramarathon. Perhaps the most grueling is the Badwater Ultramarathon, which is 135 miles run in Death Valley in July. I live in Mesa, AZ – which is HOT, but not as hot as Death Valley – and it is hard for me to imagine running water, much less running a race, in July. Everyone who competes in this race is an ultramarathoner who has trained years in various extreme conditions, but very few people complete the race. I know sometimes baseball players can't finish a game, but it would be an entirely different sport if almost the entire team didn't make it through the ninth inning.

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