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Barrel jumping is a discipline of speed skating, where ice skaters build up speed to jump over a length of multiple barrels lined up, usually side by side like rollers. Occasionally barrels would also be stacked pyramid style for height. The objective being to jump over the most barrels without landing on the barrels. Landing on ice at the far end, the skaters need not land on their skates. Most jumpers would wear helmets and padding on their posterior to cushion the landing onto the ice. At the end of the ice was a padded bumper.
The origins came from Dutch skating races involving obstacles to negotiate by jumping including mounds of snow and beer barrels. The sport started in the 1920s as extra-curricular activity following speedskating races where corners of the courses were defined with barrels. The competitors would then line the barrels horizontally on the ice and compete for jumping distance counted by the number of barrels cleared without contact. The first recorded record was 14 barrels by Ed Lamy in 1925.
A standard barrel is made of a fiber composition material and 16 inches in diameter.
The sport became popular when it was televised as part of ABC's Wide World of Sports starting in the 1960s. Following the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, double Olympic speed skating gold medalist Irving Jaffee, took a job as Winter Sports Director at the Borscht Belt entertainment mecca Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel. One of his innovations was to hold the World Barrel Jumping Championships. When his friend Roone Arledge began producing Wide World of Sports, it became a staple, first broadcast on January 14, 1962. It turned out to be a natural made for TV event years before Evel Knievel would gain attention for distance jumping objects like trucks and busses with a motorcycle on the same show. Localized and nationalized competitions spread. Eventually the world championships would be hosted at other venues.
A group of jumpers called the Barrel Busters toured ice skating events in a form of barnstorming. For further entertainment value, hoops of fire were added to the performances.
The Canadian Barrel Jumping Federation went to the 1992 Winter Olympics to make a presentation on introducing the sport into Olympic competition but Olympic officials were so afraid of injuries from the sport, they even canceled the live demonstration. Tor Aune, a member of the Organizing Committee said “It appeared to be a brutal sort of sport. Everybody seems to fall on their backside.”
“They had a requirement to wear some kind of pads, but everybody kept the pads to a minimum, because you had to lug those over the barrels [when you jumped].”— Rich Widmark, barrel jumper