Switzerland has taken its first step towards participating in a new sport - competitive wood chopping - known as "Timbersports".This content was published on June 28, 2002 - 20:04
The sight of muscle-bound men furiously chopping wood may leave some people cold, but to those in the know it's a spectacular test of strength, form and nerve.
Competitors use axes and high-powered chainsaws on blocks of poplar wood to test their skills against both the clock and each other.
The sport first took off 15 years ago among Australian and North American foresters and in the intervening years has grown into an international athletic contest that attracts thousands of spectators to events in North America, New Zealand and Australia.
But the sport is now beginning to catch on in Europe. The chainsaw manufacturing company, Stihl, has started to organise training camps around the continent in an effort to build a pool of talent capable of challenging the best from North America.
The firm has sponsored several US experts to visit Switzerland in an effort to teach the Europeans some of the finer points of the fledgling sport.
In June, up to 30 farmers and forest workers gathered for three days on an alpine meadow in the eastern Swiss resort of Flumserberg for some expert tutelage - and a chance to compete for a place in the European championship later this year.
Those taking part included apprentice competitive axe men from Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.
Not "just" muscles
Rudi Detmer, a barrel-chested 24-times world titleholder from Ohio, told swissinfo that wood chopping was about more than just brawn.
"The number one consideration is form. Every movement means something, just like in any other sport," Detmer said.
"In skiing you have to have the right lean, and have your body in the right position, and it's no different in chopping," he added.
"Brute force isn't required at all because if you put the axe in the right spot and move it in the right way, the axe will do its own work," he said.
Like golf, Detmer says wood chopping is an unnatural movement, which becomes comfortable through practice.
The discipline - which enjoys growing TV coverage in the US and Europe - involves half a dozen disciplines.
The most basic event involves the underhand chop, where axe men cut a horizontal block of softwood upon which they are standing.
More complex is the standing block chop, where the wood is placed in a vertical position, and axe men use a baseball-style swing.
Several speed-sawing contests use handsaws in either a solo or doubles format.
For those keen on the smell of petrol fumes, alternative events include the Hot Saw, which involves the use of a conventional chain saw fitted with an earth-shatteringly loud snowmobile engine.
Toes, fingers and blood
Unsurprisingly, Detmer says, injuries are not uncommon to the sport - although they are less frequent than the uninitiated would expect.
Competitors protect their feet, shins and toes with specially designed metal plates, or chain mail "socks".
"In this horizontal chop, where people stand on the block, they're within centimetres of their feet," Detmer said.
"But the important thing is, if they keep the axe over the centre line of their body, it's absolutely impossible for that axe to skip [and hit flesh]," he added.
Detmer said the most obvious source of blood in wood chopping is after competitors return to summer training after a winter lay-off.
"The hands get soft over the winter and need to bleed some to get blisters and therefore calluses."
Of the 30 or so axe men training at the Flumserberg camp who manage to keep their toes and fingers, the best will have a chance to qualify for the European championships which take place in Germany in September.
From there, the top four Europeans will be selected to visit some of the big North American contests, where they will face the world's best from Australia and the US.
by Jacob Greber
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