By Tori Edwards for Cascade Speedskates
You’re probably familiar with the X-Games. Maybe you’ve watched athletes pull off double back flips in freestyle motocross on TV, or snowboarders crank out backside triple corks above the halfpipe. But did you know that speedskaters were once involved in an extreme sport all their own? Long before the X-Games, speedskaters not only competed in traditional races as they do today, but some even jumped over barrels on the ice. (Imagine doing that at your home rink after practice!) Better yet, throw a flaming hoop in the middle of those barrels. Think you’d be brave enough to make the jump? For Chuck Burke and Rich Widmark, it was all just another day on the ice for them.
A Little History
If you’ve never seen old photos or video footage of barrel jumping, just picture doing the long jump on speedskates, and you won’t be too far off. If you lived in Holland in the early 19th-century and liked to skate long distances, chances are you would have competed in races that included jumping over obstacles such as fences, walls, and gates. Fast-forward to speedskating competitions in North America in the 1920’s. For entertainment after races, skaters would take the barrels used to mark the boundaries of a course and lay them on their sides, then see how many they could jump over. Circling the ice a few times to pick up speed, skaters would approach the barrels at about 30MPH, then hurl themselves over the barrels. As barrel jumping became more popular, wooden barrels were soon replaced with barrels made of fiberglass and fiberboard.
In 1925, speedskater Ed Lamy set the first known record for barrel jumping, clearing 14 barrels. Barrel jumping didn’t gain popularity, however, until the 1950’s, when the first Barrel Jumping World Championships was televised by ABC Wide World of Sports. Rich Widmark said, “Barrel Jumping was a made-for-TV sport….Irving Jaffee, who was a former Olympic speedskater, was the Winter Sports Director at Grossinger’s Resort Hotel in New York. He was also a friend of Roone Arlidge from ABC. And when ABC started up Wide World of Sports, they collaborated and started the World Barrel Jumping Championships, which ABC televised for many years.”