101 Ways to Become a World Champion is the assurance that anybody has the potential to be the world’s best, no matter the age, ability or inexperience. Happer, currently the planet’s 27th best coal carrier, has spent the last two years researching, and sometimes competing in, some of the most bizarre (or incredibly ordinary) competitions. The end result is a how-to guide on international success.
“The principle idea was that you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or an elite competitor to be a world champion,” Happer said. “There are some events that are random, like Pooh Sticks (the game played in the children’s book Winnie the Pooh where sticks are dropped off a bridge into a river). There were grown men trying to work out optimal angles or trajectory and in the end it was won by a 7-year-old boy. Now he’s the world champion.”
The competitions included in the book fall into a few different categories. There are everyday activities, or classic games, that you may never have known had their own world championships – knitting, marbles, stone skimming or sandcastle building.
“There are people who have been doing things for a lifetime but didn’t know that it could be done competitively,” Happer said. “There was a 64-year-old grandmother who has been knitting her whole life, she heard someone say they could do 180 stitches in a minute in the speed knitting world championships. She knew she could do 260-odd, so she entered and won. OK, so she’s not going to win the cheese rolling, but she became a world champion.”
Some events have appeared through the advancement in particular technologies (drone racing, for example), or when sports get mashed together. Unsurprisingly, those competing in chess boxing looked mostly like “boxers who play a bit of chess, rather than chess players who fancied a fight.”
Then, there are the frankly ridiculous events. These are the opportunities to become the world’s best at grits rolling or pig squealing. Anyone for alligator wrestling?
Happer has competed in roughly 20 of the sports in the book, while tips for the other events come from time spent with past champions and those organising the events themselves. The idea for the book came after stumbling across the stone skimming world championships randomly while on holiday in the Hebrides, and despite enjoying being able to compete some sports have proved not worth the risk.
“At the Cotswold Olympics I was chatting to a guy before shin kicking. He was champion two years before, I asked him why he thought he’d be good in the first place and he said he used to play for West Brom (the professional football team), another guy was trained in jiu jitsu, and then a farmer who was enormous.” Happer said. “I didn’t want to go up against them. It was brutal, you can hear bone on bone, cracking when they kicked each other.”
Happer’s experiences may be a mixed bag. He “wasn’t strategic enough” at conkers, thinks he “got the technique nailed down by the end of welly wanging” and retired halfway through the stinging nettle eating competition when “it all got too much” but his outlook remains an immensely positive one. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t end up winning the black pudding throwing competition,” he said, “but at the same time someone has to win, so why can’t it be you?”
There is still plenty of time for Happer to become a world champion. “I’d like to try wife carrying – it looks fun,” he said. “I enjoyed coal carrying and was pretty good, I just have to convince my wife.”
While the wife carrying world championships, held in Finland every year, potentially await there is surely an easier route to glory.
“I want to grow a beard. My dad has a big, ginger pirate one,” Happer said. “In competitive bearding you have to shape your beard so I wouldn’t have to train, just stop shaving. Plus my wife might prefer that to be carried around.”
So while Happer sets his sights on greatness via a slightly hairier route, the greatest part about his attempt is that he has as much of a chance to win as everybody else.
101 WAYS TO BECOME A WORLD CHAMPION
by Richard Happer