The Wide, Weird World of Sports

Photojournalist Sol Neelman trains his camera on the odd side of competition.
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The Wide, Weird World of Sports Sol Neelman

Cheese rolling. Pole vaulting. Wife carrying. Figure skating. Cup stacking. Bobsledding. Ferret legging. Golf. Right now, someone somewhere is endeavoring to become more proficient at every one of these activities. Half of the sports on that list are imbued with the prestige and promise of an Olympic medal, but is there anything more intrinsically worthy about performing a triple salchow than there is about keeping an angry ferret inside your trousers for two minutes?

The upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will feature 306 different events in 42 sports, or so the official Rio2016.com site tells us. What we can't seem to figure out collectively, though, is how many of those sports, such as synchronized swimming or equestrian events, we actually consider a "sport."

[RELATED: What Is a Sport?]

"What I love about weird sports is that they evolve from people's passions and interests," photojournalist Sol Neelman tells Newsweek. For over a decade, Neelman has traversed the globe to document what he calls "weird sports," another way of saying if there's a competition with some set of rules, he's interested in seeing it firsthand. "I've learned that people, even though most aren't professional athletes, love sports. And they're realizing there's no reason for them not to follow their passions and dreams."

Some of those dreams include mounting an ostrich or running a marathon drunk, but sports are in the eye of the beholder. And defining a sport hasn't always been so easy. As Neelman points out, serious skiers used to look down upon snowboarding, but now it's mainstream and featured in the Winter Olympics.

"There are plenty of sports that are widely accepted that one could argue aren't really sports," says Neelman. "Curling, NASCAR and figure skating come to mind as sports that may be more competitions than anything else. But they all involve athleticism, training and skill, which is cool."

Still, Neelman tries not to define what a sport is or is not. He's looking for different ways everyday people are romping around and having a good time. As a photojournalist, that usually leads to interesting, unique and fun photos—what he likes to call "low-hanging fruit." Plus, unlike shooting the Olympics (he photographed the Vancouver Games and Beijing Games), there are few—if any—restrictions on how and where to take pictures.

Sol Neelman has published two books on weird sports and is always on the lookout for more games to train his lens on. "Just when I think I've heard of everything," he says, "someone is creating something new and fresh for me to photograph." Fans and supporters often recommend new sports, and those with submissions are encouraged to visit SolNeelman.com.

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Sports have the power to unite or divide. With the NBA and NHL finals closing out, international soccer tournaments underway in the U.S. and France and the world descending on the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, an ancient debate rears its head once again—what is sport? The upcoming Summer Olympics will feature 306 different events in 42 sports, according to Rio2016.com. But how many of those sports, such as synchronized swimming or equestrian events, do you consider a sport? For some, racing down a hill in a toy jeep is a sport. "There are no brakes other than your feet or your head," says event organizer Branndon Terry. In extreme Barbie jeep racing, riders sport motorcycle helmets for protection—and little else. Sol Neelman