Until 2010, when it became mainstream, for many people obstacle courses were the preserve of school sports days and the military. The school variety involved shimmying through tame but cheaply available challenges such as hula-hoops or a bench liberated from the gym. Military versions were, naturally, distinctly scarier, ranging from icy water and nettles; to an especially elite looking one in Belize which required teams to stand on each other's heads to complete it.
In the intervening six years, obstacle course running for adults or 'OCR' as the industry dubs it, has become big business. Today, OCRs - arguably the world's fastest growing sport - generate more entries than marathons and half marathons combined, with 10 million people having entered one since 2012. Equally, it is proving to be a sport without borders as events are cropping up everywhere, with major new races scheduled in China, Indonesia, Mexico and the UAE this year.
A typical OCR involves a run of a significant distance, with around 10km being the norm; obstacles include swimming of some form, scaling heights exceeding 15 feet, serious strength tests such as monkey bars... the list goes in. Whilst OCR runs are united by obstacles, there is a surprising degree of variety within the sector, ranging from super-tough races, such as Toughest Mudder, to wild-running based events, such as the WOLF Run, which is a run, not a race (ie the emphasis is on participation, not competition) using as many natural obstacles as it can.
What all high-intensity challenges of this nature have done is not just inspire swathes of amateur athletes to test their abilities, OCR has inspired a new breed of athlete. The OCR World Championships were established in 2014 and attracts competitors who are physically immensely impressive. By elevating the sport further by adopting it into the Olympics, the games would host an amazing array of exciting new athletes as well as add a spectator sport which already boasts highly credible crowd attendance figures.
What makes an OCR race so attractive is the physical display demanded by swimming, jumping, running and climbing as well as the inherent risk involved. In equestrian, the water jump at the cross country stage of a three-day event is invariably one of the most popular elements of the course because people like seeing riders succeed or fail, the same sentiment applies to OCR.
OCR at the Olympics wouldn't be completely new; Paris hosted the discipline in 1900 and whilst it didn't look quite as it does today, arguably, a precedent has been set. However, OCR doesn't yet have an International Governing Body, which is mandatory for IOC consideration. Consequently - and ironically - this presents the single biggest obstacle between OCR and any potential Olympic ambitions.Suggest a correction