Igloo Building and Hay Bale Festival – Lviv Ukraine

An extract from this book – Sports the Olympics Forgot.


In the early 1900s three Ukrainian brothers emigrated to Canada and were fascinated by the igloos built by the Eskimos in the northern latitudes. In 1909 when the three returned on their annual visit to see their relatives around Lviv they had difficulty describing igloos to their friends and family. They decided that the best way of showing what an igloo was would be to build one. The three brothers each had their own idea of what the igloo should look like and so three separate igloos were built, the first two out of hay bales and the third out of ice cubes.


One of the brothers used shears to shape the bales before the igloo was built so that the roof of the igloo would appear curved as soon as he constructed it. – he was an engineer Another brother wedged the bales together and then sheared them once the igloo was built – he was a hairdresser by trade. The third brother took some ice cubes out of the freezer and made his igloo out of the ice as it melted. He was an ice-cream maker. Once he had moulded the ice into the correct shape he placed the igloo back in the freezer.


The two igloos built from hay caused great interest amongst their family’s male neighbours and a number of them tried to build an igloo themselves from hay bales. The female neighbours were more inspired by the ice cube igloo and baked some cakes based on this design. The two hay bale brothers judged the male neighbour’s igloos and the other brother judged the cake contest.


Word of the strangely shaped creations spread around Lviv and people resolved to have a competition in 1910 when the three brothers returned. This proved to be a success and gradually more and more contestants took part in the competition over the years until World War I reared its ugly head. The first contest after the conflict in 1920 attracted nearly a thousand entrants, who were anxious to participate in a fun contest after the horrors of the war.


The 1920 contest marked the introduction of some other hay bale related events such as tossing the bale into the upper floor of a barn and throwing the bale as far as possible from a standing position. The 1921 event saw entrants from Poland, Russia, and the USA take part. This was also the first year when woman were allowed to take part in the hay bale contests and men could bake an igloo-shaped cake.


In 1922 a new team event called the Igloo Hay Bale Throw was introduced. Teams from twelve European countries, the USA, Canada, and Australia had to construct an igloo to an exact specification. The bales were situated 800 yards from the construction area and the teams of six had to throw the bales to a fellow team member – no carrying could take place. Once all the bales had been placed in the igloo building area then the igloo could be constructed. The team to construct the igloo in the quickest time won the first prize. A separate team event was introduced in 1924 – in this contest each team member had to run 150 yards with the bale before handing it to the next team member within a specified ten-yard area, much like a relay race but with 110-pound bales rather than batons. These team events are for both men and women.


The first winners of the Igloo Hay Bale Relay were the Sioux City Boys from Iowa representing the USA. Their captain, Bill Simmons, was ecstatic with the victory:

“Well we knew we could do this because we haul hawgs and bales all day long back home on the farm; we figured that to practice we should carry everything rather than using sets of wheels and that stood us in good stead for this here contest. I was only sorry that my gramma, Little Missy, couldn’t be here.”


The contest still runs to this day having comfortably outlived the Soviet era and survived the mechanization of farming. Some of the records for the event have lasted for many years – the women’s record for throwing 100 bales into a barn was set in 1938 by Olga Stepanovs – 9 minutes and 34 seconds. The men’s hay bale throwing record was set in 1931 by Alexei Yeltsin 54 feet 7 inches and this distance survived the attempts of Eastern Bloc athletes in the 1970s and 80s to better it.


Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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