Wacky World of Wok Racing

Winter sport fans looking for a new challenge may want to consider raiding the kitchen for some sporting equipment. Started as a TV stunt in 2003 when German comedian and television personality, Stefan Raab, jokingly suggested riding down a bobsled track on a Chinese wok, the activity of wok racing has gained quite a following, leading to the establishment, and enthusiastic support, of the World Wok Racing Championships.

The inaugural contest, held in 2003 in Winterberg, Germany, saw Raab beating fellow first-time wok-riders and gaining plenty of publicity. He had managed to persuade track officials that their reinforced and padded body gear would prevent serious injury in what was clearly a dangerous endeavor. Things started getting a little more serious in 2004, when three-time Olympic luge gold medalist, Georg Hackl, entered the fray. With loads of experience at hurtling down a track at breakneck speed, Hackl beat Raab in the second annual event held at Innsbruck, Austria, as well as the 2005 championship in Winterberg. Victory was claimed by German-Irish folk musician Joey Kelly in 2006, when he reportedly lined his wok with lead to give him an advantage. With the help of some innovative techniques – polishing his wok with wax and using a blowtorch to heat the base – Hackl reclaimed the title in 2007 and has held it since.

No doubt attracted by the fun-factor and challenge of wok racing, more Olympic luge and bobsled athletes signed up for the championships in subsequent years, and in 2009 Olympic champion luger, Felix Loch, came in second to Hackl, with a repeat performance in 2011, where Lucy Diakovska took third place. The legendary Jamaican Bobsled Team has also competed in the wok racing championships.

As the name suggests, the equipment for wok racing is the standard round bottomed two-handled pan found in every kitchen in China. The only modifications made to the pan being an epoxy filling to reinforce the bottom, and a polyurethane foam coating along the edges to prevent injury. Contestants can compete solo, or as a four-person team. The four-person wok equipment consists of two pairs of woks, each held together by a frame, with the two pairs being connected by a coupling. Participants are required to wear heavy protective gear, nevertheless the sport has notched up a number of casualties.

The highest speed recorded for a one-person wok is 91.70 km/h set by Georg Hackl in 2007, with the four-person wok team, Elton & Friends, reaching a speed of 114.3 km/h in 2009. Stefan Raab hopes that wok racing will become an Olympic event, pointing out that twenty years ago when young people rode down ski slopes on boards people thought they were crazy, and now snowboarding is an Olympic sport.