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Obstacle Course Racing: A Thriving Sport with Olympic Aspirations

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Interviewing Becky Neal, vice-captain of the UK obstacle course racing team, BBC South sports editor Lewis Coombes dives into the exhilarating world of obstacle course racing (OCR).

Picture yourself on the start line, surrounded by determined women, preparing to tackle a series of formidable obstacles. Brace yourself for a thrilling rollercoaster ride.

OCR is a sport that demands athletes to sprint, leap, crawl, and scramble over a range of challenging apparatus. The competitions are grueling and unforgiving, requiring exceptional fitness levels to navigate the unpredictable terrain on which the courses are built.

Mud and sweat are guaranteed, but shedding tears is optional.

“It challenges your entire body and mind,” explains Neal to Sport Newes Center.

“I participated in an event at Everest base camp where one of the obstacles involved carrying a 20kg sandbag. With the altitude reducing oxygen levels, freezing temperatures at -15ºC, and the arduous trek over rough terrain, finding the strength to persevere becomes essential.”

Obstacle course racing has witnessed a surge in popularity in recent years, offering well-organized, mud-soaked events that provide an adventurous alternative to gym workouts and regular long runs. These events take place worldwide, from sprawling urban centers to countryside farms, and from scenic mountainous landscapes to sweltering deserts.

The distances and difficulties vary, catering to explosive athletes, nimble speedsters, and endurance specialists. Regardless of your specialty, the challenges on offer are guaranteed to push your body to its limits and make you question your decision to get out of bed and step onto that start line.

“It’s undoubtedly challenging, but it’s always exhilarating,” adds Neal, a 31-year-old from Poole, Dorset.

“My first race was six years ago. I arrived with no expectations, fully immersed myself, and I was instantly captivated. The sport’s versatility, ever-changing nature, and the gratification of overcoming obstacles make it incredibly rewarding. It feels less pressured than other competitive sports and even offers moments of pure fun while playing on the equipment.”

Neal, selected as the vice-captain for Team UK at the 2023 European and World Championships, emphasizes the importance of determination in this evolving sport.

Over time, OCR has developed a more elite and competitive side. The finest UK athletes venture across Europe to participate in events during the spring and summer months, and a select few even embrace the cold and frosty mornings of winter races.

While some compete as individuals, others represent local clubs or their countries. Neal proudly represents both her club and the UK national team, already collecting a handful of winner’s trophies and medals this season.

“Winning competitive races is incredibly satisfying, and I enjoy challenging myself on various obstacles,” she shares.

“I’m particularly fond of the ones that involve swinging through the air, releasing yourself, and then catching onto something again. The most challenging obstacles for me are the heavy carries. During an elite tour event in Scandinavia, I had to lift a 60kg (132lbs) ball from the floor, raise it to shoulder height, and place it on a table. The ball outweighed me, but fortunately, it was a one-time task.”

Obstacle course racing tests every aspect of an athlete—endurance, grip strength, body control, grit, and determination.

Neal’s exceptional performance earned her the role of vice-captain for Team UK at the 2023 obstacle course racing European and World Championships. Recently, her team traveled to Hungary for the Euros, one of the premier events where top obstacle course racers compete after national trials.

With around 1,500 athletes from 31 countries vying for victory across four different events—100m sprint course, 3km, 12km, and team relay—UK athletes secured numerous medals across various disciplines and age groups.

The dream of seeing OCR in the Olympics ignites a passion within Neal and a group of volunteers from the obstacle racing community.

“We definitely want OCR in the Olympics one day,” she asserts. “However, until it gains recognition as a sport, which it currently lacks, reaching that goal is challenging.”

Nonetheless, OCR is moving in the right direction. The sport is poised to replace the equestrian event as the fifth discipline in the modern pentathlon at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, pending inclusion.

This controversial move has stirred debate among traditionalists, but the governing body of modern pentathlon, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UPIM), believes OCR brings a dynamic and appealing aspect to the global audience, backed by its safe infrastructure.

Neal remains hopeful that OCR will eventually become an Olympic sport in its own right, provided participation numbers continue to grow.

“We shouldn’t settle for OCR merely being part of the modern pentathlon,” she states.

“Dedicated volunteers at British Obstacle Sports are already developing policies to bring OCR closer to Olympic consideration. However, not everyone is currently inclined towards competitive racing, and that remains one of the obstacles we face. We need to support local events, foster our top teams, establish a national team, and promote OCR in schools and universities.”

Neal concludes, “Our aspirations are high.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about obstacle course racing

What is obstacle course racing (OCR)?

Obstacle course racing is a sport where athletes compete in running, jumping, crawling, and scrambling over a series of challenging obstacles. It requires a combination of physical fitness, mental toughness, and agility.

Where do OCR events take place?

OCR events take place in various locations worldwide, ranging from urban city centers to countryside farms, and from scenic mountains to deserts. The courses are designed to provide a diverse and unpredictable environment for the athletes.

What skills are required for OCR?

OCR demands a range of skills including endurance, grip strength, body control, grit, and determination. Athletes must be able to overcome obstacles of varying difficulty, from swinging through the air to carrying heavy objects.

Can anyone participate in OCR?

Yes, OCR is open to anyone willing to take on the challenge. Events cater to different fitness levels and offer options for explosive athletes, nimble speedsters, and endurance specialists. It provides a thrilling and adventurous alternative to traditional gym workouts and long-distance running.

Is OCR recognized as an Olympic sport?

OCR is not currently recognized as an Olympic sport. However, there are efforts by the OCR community to gain recognition and aim for inclusion in future Olympic Games. The sport’s dynamic nature and global appeal make it a strong contender for Olympic consideration.

How can OCR become an Olympic sport?

To increase the chances of OCR becoming an Olympic sport, it requires continued growth in participation numbers and support at various levels. This includes developing policies, nurturing local events, fostering top teams, establishing national teams, and promoting OCR in schools and universities. The goal is to showcase OCR as a standalone sport in its own right.

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SportsFanatic88 June 14, 2023 - 5:34 am

i had no idea OCR could be an Olympic sport! that would be AWESOME! it deserves recognition for the strength, skill, and determination it takes to compete.

RacerFan24 June 14, 2023 - 6:06 am

obstacle course racing is soooo cool! it’s like a mix of running and ninja warrior stuff. i wanna try it and see if i can beat all those tuff obstacles!

RunningWild June 14, 2023 - 8:52 am

i luv how OCR takes place in diff places like cities, farms, and mountains. it’s like an adventure race! the variety keeps it interesting and challenging.

MudWarrior June 14, 2023 - 9:15 am

OCR is all about grit, determination, and overcoming obstacles. when you conquer something you thought you couldn’t do, it’s the BEST feeling ever! keep pushing yourself!

FitnessEnthusiast June 14, 2023 - 9:20 am

oCR is a tought sport but sooo rewarding! u get muddy, sweaty, and push urself to the limit. it’s not for the weak, but it’s exciting and fun!


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