Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Sport of the ages

AFP – At an 11th-Century castle off the coast of southern England, two knights in suits of shining armour charge at each other on horseback at top speed, wooden lances at the ready.

To the beat of drums and the thundering of hooves, the weapons make contact and one of them splinters into pieces, sending up cheers from the watching crowd.

The jousting tournament at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight recreates what was once a common sight across the England of the Middle Ages.

But what has been described as “England’s first national sport” is far from being a genteel re-enactment.

“We aim at each other’s heads,” Clive Hart, who works as a data engineering manager when he’s not jousting, told AFP.

“You don’t get that in most other types of sport… so there’s an extra element of risk that people I think appreciate and certainly find exciting.”


Jousting is one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world and in England dates back to the 10th Century.

It used to be a form of military training for knights – the heavily armed mounted soldiers of medieval Europe – to practise between battles. Proponents need finely honed skill and horsemanship – and a strong nerve, even though using deadly pointed weapons are a thing of the past.

Modern-day tournaments are mostly held at historic castles and in the grounds of stately homes, with knights trying to score points rather than unseat their opponents.

Its revival, after dying out by the early 17th Century, has even seen calls for it to be made an Olympic sport.

“The modern jouster possesses many of the same skills” as an Olympic athlete, argues English Heritage, which manages historic monuments, buildings and sites.

“Perhaps it’s time that this extraordinary display of speed, power and courage appears on the greatest sporting stage in the world.”

The battles are held mostly during the warmer summer months and draw crowds of fans eager to cheer on the modern-day counterparts of the bold knights of old.

“It’s very exciting, fast-paced action,” said lawyer Paul Abdey watching in the crowd.

“You can tell they are really doing it, as opposed to being scripted, so yes, really enjoyed it.”

Dominic Sewell, who has had a lifelong fascination with knights and war horses, is one of Britain’s best-known competitors and an expert in the sport.

A hastilude veteran of more than 20 years, who has competed at the World Jousting Championships, he also trains others in the sport at his stables.

“It’s physically demanding to wear 30 kilogrammes of armour on the back of a horse moving 32 to 40 kilometres per hour and then accepting an impact from somebody else moving at the same speed with the same equipment,” he said.