The strange Chinese wooden board race

The sport of wooden board running could easily be placed in the category of the world’s craziest sports. Yet in China it has a centuries-old tradition and is a serious discipline, not at all easy to perform and requiring athletes with special coordination.

What is it about?

The tools used to practice the sport are very rudimentary: in fact, they consist of two wooden boards one meter long, nine centimeters wide and three centimeters thick on which leather or nylon strips are attached to bind the feet of the athletes, that are then wrapped in ordinary running shoes.

The rules are identical to those of a regular athletic track race: the distance to be covered is 200 m (but there is also a relay), teams can occupy only their assigned lane, and if they fall, they must, of course, thread the boards again and start again. Simple, isn’t it? In words, yes.

The difficulty, beyond the not insignificant problem of running while dragging behind a hard surface (a bit like running with Dutch wooden clogs but much longer) is above all to find perfect harmony with teammates: everyone must in fact proceed with the exact same gait, and no one must accelerate or decelerate, nor can they get off balance. Every action of an individual has a repercussion on the group, and the group functions well only when its parts work in unison. A beautiful concept that, when not expressed perfectly, causes ruinous falls or quite comical effects. But it is serious, as we said. Very serious.


What is now for all intents and purposes a sports discipline-at least in China-has a military origin. It is mostly practiced by the Zhuang people of China’s Gunaxi province and was born when the legendary and heroic Ma had the idea of training troops in this way to counter Japanese pirates. It worked: the soldiers learned to be compact and supportive of each other and created a human wall impenetrable to the invaders. Since then, and lost its military origins, this type of training has become a sporting discipline that is passed down from generation to generation.

In perfect coordination.

(Image credits: Oddity Central and Traditional Sports)


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