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Flashbacks
Atlantic Unbound Sidebar
May 29, 1997
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The Atlantic Monthly has always made room in its pages for the unusual and the out-of-the-way, operating on the principle that in obscurity lurk interesting trends, new ideas -- and, quite often, a good deal of fun. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Atlantic's decidedly off-beat sports coverage. With summer fast approaching, we've put together a collection of recent Atlantic sports writing that should give you a few ideas about how -- or how not -- to spend your leisure time. Enjoy!


It's amazing the depths to which some "Underwater Daredevils" can sink. Colin Beavan, writing in the May, 1997, Atlantic, offered an account of Alejandro Revelo's attempt to set a world record for the deepest dive without breathing equipment. Beavan showed how physiological similarities between human beings and dolphins allow both to survive the crush of water pressure at great depths.

Unicycling is now more of a challenge than ever -- at least for George Peck and his cohorts, the subject of Michael Finkel's "Rough-Terrain Unicycling" (April, 1997, Atlantic ). Finkel describes Peck in action:

He pedals in fits and starts: a powerful flurry to ascend a flat-topped rock, an immediate ninety-degree turn on the top, a momentary pause to consider the drop-off, and a careful hop down to the sand.... In rough terrain cycling, top speed, even going downhill, is about six miles an hour. "It's not exhilarating," Peck says, "but a series of little joys."

Instead of spending a lazy afternoon drifting in a bass boat or flailing about with a fly rod while standing in a Montana stream, why not try your hand at noodling, a method of catching catfish that's more hands-in than hands-on? Burkhard Bilger gave the sport a try and discovered the experience of being "In the Monster's Maw" (February, 1997, Atlantic). He described the technique of the noodler thus:

Wading along the shore or diving to the lake bottom, he reaches into likely nooks and crevices, wiggling his fingers and waiting for a nip. When it comes, he hooks his thumbs into the attacker's mouth or thrusts an arm down its throat and waits for the thrashing to stop. If he's lucky, the thing at the end of his arm is a catfish.

Although most rock climbers desperately hope not to fall, Dan Osman falls on purpose. In "The Precipitous World of Dan Osman" (February, 1996, Atlantic ) Andrew Todhunter introduces readers to Osman, a veteran climber whose deliberate drops from rock faces and bridges have allowed him to erase his own fear of falling and have led to improvements in climbing equipment and technique.

A basic tenet of safe boating is to stay put in stormy weather. Steve Sinclair, however, a California kayaking instructor, spends his time hoping for storms so that he can do some Gale Force Kayaking (August, 1995, Atlantic). Andrew Todhunter watched Sinclair in action:

The top of the wave snaps off like a cornice and roars down the face, erasing the breakers in its path. Man and boat are buried and blown backward. End over end in the explosion, Sinclair spirals through the mass of broken sea. He surfaces for an instant, takes a tight-lipped breath, and vanishes once again into the foam.

Marathon, shmarathon. Michael Finkel argues that "The World's Toughest Competition" is an event held each spring at Fort Benning, Georgia, where the elite from each branch of the military and a handful of foreign soldiers compete in the Best Ranger Competition. The contest includes running, swimming, parachuting, marksmanship, tossing hand grenades (yes, close does count) and knot tying. All events are held within a sixty-hour period. Michael Finkel reported on the 1995 competition in the November, 1995, Atlantic.

In the January, 1994, Atlantic, Andrew Todhunter went Beneath the Ice to explore the chillingly beautiful world of ice-diving:

Our breaths seem to lie pinned against the ice in shimmering pools. Expanding as we add to them with each exhalation, they elongate, break apart. Following ravines and valleys too subtle for the eye, they seek the highest place.... I inflate the dry suit until I am buoyant enough to "fall" upward and lie flat on my stomach against the ice.... With the heels of my fist I pound the ice. Whump. Whump. When struck, the ponds of air leap and scatter into quicksilver, spiraling in the current of air.

The Atlantic 's managing editor, Cullen Murphy, introduced readers in "A Stone's Throw" (February, 1988, Atlantic) to curling, then the newest Olympic sport. Curling is just like shuffleboard -- except that its played on ice, using 42-pound rocks.

How much of professional wrestling is real? Are professional wrestlers good guys or bad guys? William C. Martin grappled with these questions and more in "Friday Night at the Coliseum" (March, 1972, Atlantic ).

Although no Nazi fights clean and few Red Indians fight dirty, not all wrestlers can be characterized so unambiguously. The Masked Man, for example, is sinister-looking, and usually evil, with a name indicative of his intentions.... But some masked men, like Mr. Wrestling and Mil Mascaras ... are great favorites, and Clawman has tried to dignify mask-wearing by having Mrs. Clawman and the Clawchildren sit at ringside in matching masks.


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