Originally a working man’s contest in many parts of England, Wales and North America, reports abound of blood gushing from the legs of hobnailed (or clogged) competitors, often in the nude, with individual contests lasting upto forty-five minutes. Not surprisingly, shin kicking gained a reputation somewhat akin to that of cock-fighting, and died out with the dawning of a more genteel age in the nineteenth century.
Restarted after the Restoration, the Olimpicks (or ‘Dover’s Meeting’ as it then came to be known) grew to the vast popularity which eventually proved its downfall. Because the festival, of which shin kicking was a mainstay, attracted such numbers of ‘the riff-raff of society’, it became a bother and burden to the local hosts, who finally disbanded the Games in 1852, not to re-emerge for a century.
The Cotswold Olimpicks are held on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, on the Friday following the Whitsun bank holiday – ie. at the end of May or beginning of June – and are opened by men representing Robert Dover and (fellow royalist) Endyminion Porter. Resplendent in authentic 17th Century garb, they accompany the Queen of the Scuttlebrook Wake (an associated local festival) through a faux castle gate at around 7pm to herald the commencement of the Games.
Shin kicking contestants wear the white smocks of traditional Cotswold shepherds, and prepare for their bouts by stuffing straw – their only safety equipment – into the lower legs of their trousers.
Then, under the gaze of the fellow-jacketed ‘stickler’ (as in ‘stickler for the rules’ = umpire) the contestants grapple shoulders and let fly. No heavy or reinforced footwear can be worn, and kicks are only allowed below the knee; they are used to weaken the opponent so that they can be thrown to the ground. In reality, shin kicking is a form of wrestling – the opponent has to be floored in order to be defeated – but is more than a test of strength, since any ‘wrestle down’ has to be performed amidst the act of kicking, and no sweeping moves (a la Judo) are permitted.
The tournament progresses through several rounds – dependent on numbers of entrants – and the later stages take on the air of an endurance event, with already-battered competitors summoning up every last ounce of determination as they undergo further pain during the best-of-three contest.
The Olimpicks presently includes events such as Tug of War, the Straw Bale Race, Sledgehammer Throwing, and a 5 mile race, alongside the more traditional Spurning the Barre and Shin Kicking.
A useful tip for shin kickers appears to be the wearing of stretchy trousers (eg. jogging bottoms), enabling a greater quantity of straw to be stuffed into place. In the brutal 19th Century, competitors were known to harden their shins with coal hammers.
On its way to Bath, the 100-mile Cotswold Way connects Chipping Camden with Cooper's Hill (the home of cheese rolling). The two events usually occur in the same week – Spring Bank Holiday Monday and the following Friday.
Shinkicking @ Yahoo! Video