The history of the human race is one of survival, and this survival was often driven by adrenaline. However, as our society became safer, with less frequent wars and fewer instances of life-threatening situations, people started feeling as if something was missing. Then, they started filling this gap with extreme sports. This way, they could expose themselves to life-threatening situations (in controlled conditions) and get their regular dosage of adrenaline. So, how old is this concept actually, and what were some of the most popular extreme sports through history, and how have they evolved into today’s society? Let’s find out!
1. Gladiator fights
The first thing that the majority of people see when talking about extreme sports are gladiator fights. While gladiators were slaves, they were also the first celebrity athletes in the world. Sure, winners of the Greek Olympics gained a great amount of prestige and renown in the Greek-speaking world but, unlike gladiators, they were not full-time athletes. Also, if gladiator fights go to prove one thing, it’s the fact that even wide masses (who wouldn’t dare to participate themselves), enjoy looking at life-threatening situations from a safe distance.
Evolution: While it is hard to pinpoint the exact impact that gladiator fights had on today’s combat sports, the culture of a fighter as a revered athlete definitely stems from this time. Present-day boxing and MMA champions are revered just like champion gladiators of old, and the audience is still there to see blood and violence. Even venues in which these fights take place are commonly called arenas.
2. Chariot races
Next, we need to talk about people’s innate attraction to speed and speed-related sports. We’re, naturally, talking about the concept of races. Throughout history, especially in the Roman-dominated (and later Byzantium-dominated) world, this was represented through the concept of chariot races. These races were incredibly dangerous, seeing as how the driver could be thrown out of the open chariot and trampled by horses at any time. The drivers, therefore, had to be in a perfect physical shape and display an insane level of balance.
Evolution: Today, this sport has evolved into various types of racing, probably best embodied in present-day NASCAR. The drivers in this sport are all gifted and courageous individuals, and their vehicles are the pinnacle of the automotive industry and car tuning. This ranges from the enhancement of the shape of the car in order to make it more aerodynamic, all the way to installing a quality exhaust muffler for maximum hp.
3. Sports involving wild animals
Then, there’s the category of sports, including wild animals. While hunting was primarily a survival skill, it wasn’t long until facing a predator became a proper sport. For instance, the above-discussed roman gladiators faced off against exotic wild beasts on a regular basis. Over the next centuries and millennia, some much more bizarre sports introducing wild beasts came into existence. Dangerous, competitive, and cruel blood sports like fox tossing were a perfect example of this.
Evolution: While hunting is still a sport with a lot of practitioners across the globe, we have come a long way as a society in terms of the treatment of animals. The majority of above-listed sports (like fox-tossing) are now illegal and would be considered animal cruelty. The last remnant of this concept is the practice of bullfighting.
4. Extreme sports in a conventional sense
Today, when talking about extreme sports, the majority of people look towards the era of a man who first coined the term – Ernest Hemingway. This American novelist used this term for sports like bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering while often dismissing the “manliness” of other sports, often comparing them to children’s games. Whether or not this comparison was fair is quite controversial and can only be explained through the subjective views of the author and the spirit of the time that he lived in.
Evolution: Even though this wasn’t so long ago (in the 1950s), even the concept of extreme sports has evolved since. Today, we have extreme air sports like gliding, tightrope walking, skydiving and bungee jumping. Next, there are extreme land sports like yachting, mountain boarding, rock climbing, and speed biking. Lastly, there are also water extreme sports like barefoot diving, offshore powerboat racing, and snorkeling.
In the end, one of the most important things worth taking into consideration is the fact that no matter how much we evolve as a society, from an anthropological perspective, not much has changed. People still feel the thrill when handling firearms, and there are millions of people around the globe enamored by combat sports and racing. The need for adrenaline is primal and will always be there. Also, it seems that its most reliable source in present-day is these extreme sports.
Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.