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Pulling power survives the ages; No strain, no gain: Tug-of-war in line to reclaim Olympic status.

Byline: Ross Reyburn

More than 300 of the country's top competitors gathered in the Black Country yesterday to take part in the Tug-Of-War Association's Indoor Championships.

Men and women from all over the country were competing for the title of indoor champions and the honour of representing England in next year's World Games in Japan.

Casting an eye over the main hall at the Harry Mitchell Sports Centre, Smethwick, the place was filled with competitors with the look of old-fashioned athletes from the days before being muscle-bound became popular.

As one competitor explained: 'There is no point in being muscle-bound. You want fitness and stamina'.

Once the event started, it became compulsive viewing as the teams of eight competed on 30-metre long slatted wooden mats that cost more than pounds 3,000 each.

'The actual material is from old lorry tyres,' said Roger Beardsmore, the Tug-of-War Association's development officer, who lives in Cressage, Shropshire.

He also serves as the association's publicity officer. Britain was the last Olympic gold medal winner in the sport back in 1920 and the holy grail is to make the sport an Olympic event once more.

That might seem over-ambitious when you consider there are just 5,000 pullers in England.

But Mr Beardsmore confidently predicted: 'It will become an Olympic sport again, probably in eight years' time. There are more tug-of-warers than there are shooters, synchronised swimmers or beach volleyball players.'

A college lecturer at Cannock Chase Technical College, Mr Beardsmore is trying to preach the tug-of-war gospel in schools.

'Tug-of-war was always in schools but then it was taken out when they decided it was too strenuous for children,' he recalled. 'Gradually, we are getting it back into schools and it is working quite well.

'We do a lot of schools development work. Primary schools love the sport because they can get every pupil involved. Getting youngsters involved is the big challenge. We have a generation that is not competitive and has a low determination threshold.'

What is a low determination threshold? 'They give up quick,' said Mr Beardsmore with a smile.

It is not a sport for giants, because it is run in weight categories, but the fitness demands are heavy.

'To train, you have an eight-metre high gantry and teams pull up to a tonne in weight up and down,' said Mr Beardsmore. 'A good team can hold that up for two hours.

'Stamina is the starting point. The skills are for the coach to hold the team together. There are no stars. You work as a team.'

The stereotyped image of the tug-of-war man as a vast, beer-swilling, overweight character with a pot-belly build is way off mark.

The Raunds club team from Northamptonshire was collectively overweight, so before yesterday's weigh-in, they went for a run.

'We must have run a mile-and-a-half run to get rid of one-and-a-half kilos before the weigh-in today,' said team anchor man Tony Henshaw.

'I could go and play football and rugby, not as good as the professionals, but they couldn't come and do what I do.

'I've seen weightlifters try tug-of-war. After one end, they're worn out.'

Six foot one inch tall, Mr Henshaw has a strapping build and weights 86 kilos.

'My diet used to be chicken and beans. Then I went off chicken to vegetables and beans,' he said. 'I last had fish and chips when I had a pint with the lads after the world championships in Blackpool in September. It was something I hadn't eaten for six months.'

A farmer's son, 52-year-old Mr Henshaw is an agricultural engineer who became involved in the sport through a flower show held at Cressage, his home village.

The sight of team members walking past each other and exchanging handshakes after every contest created a pleasing atmosphere of old-fashioned sportsmanship.

But perhaps it was too much to expect a national sporting event without controversy and the results of yesterday's competition could yet change because of a query over footwear.

'It's arguable whether they got them off the shelf. I don't have to decide that, thank God,' said Mr Beardsmore.

'The committee are going to buy some tomorrow. If they can buy them, they are legitimate. If they can't, they're not.'

Tug-of-war is more than 4,000-years-old and drawings dating back to 2,500 BC showing contests have been found engraved on a wall in an Egyptian tomb

The sport may have developed from the harvest gathering period of ancient China, ancient sailors hoisting sails or as a method to train slaves to haul stones up the Sphinx.

Today, a 32-yard long rope is used by teams of eight competitors.

England won the eight-man 680 kilo world title in February 1999.

Last year there were 150 registered tug-of-war teams in the country and the sport received a pounds 7,500 grant from Sport England.

Tug-of-war is Switzerland's second national sport after skiing.

In 1997, doctors re-attached the left arms of two Taiwanese men who lost the limbs when a tug-of-war rope they were pulling snapped

An annual tug-of-war competition is held at the Houses of Parliament between the Commons and the Lords

The sport was once an Olympic event, with Britain winning a gold medal in Antwerp in 1920 - the last games to stage it

The Tug-of-War Federation had lobbied for the sport to be reinstated at the Sydney 2000 Olympics

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Contestants dig in their heels during yesterday's indoor championship
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 4, 2000
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