This is one of 40 stories from my book
Sports the Olympics Forgot
which is available here
The Skipping Games take place in Skipton on the last Saturday of September. As the name suggests all the events require the contestant to skip rope during the race. The rope must be in use at all times and can never be carried otherwise the contestant will be disqualified.
The Skipping Games started in 1894 when one of the local worm-charmers, Agnes Smith, devised a technique for bringing worms to the surface of her fields by dancing on the spot using a skipping rope to keep a steady beat on the ground with her feet. This was quite a tiring exercise and she used to train by running around the field skipping as she went. Her two sisters, Anne and Bronwen, used to try and keep up with her and soon a competitive edge was introduced when their father, Herbert, declared that the fastest sister over a 100-yard race would win a pint of best Yorkshire bitter. Anne won the race in a time of 13.6 seconds and that night downed the prize in one go. Her father also had a few pints to drink and by the end of the evening had challenged all-comers to a racing contest in his top field the following weekend. So began the Skipton Skipping Contest.
In the first contest in 1894 there were only two races – the first was the “to the end of the field race” and the other was the “to the end of the field and back again race”, both of which were won by Sidney Maunders, who won both races again the following year along with the “round the edge of the field race”. With the advent of the first Olympics of the modern era in 1896 it was decided that the races should be run over proper distances. This meant that the Skipping Games in 1896 adopted all the Olympic running events and adapted them for skipping.
One non-Olympic event that was included in the 1896 Games was the steeplechase where competitors had to hurdle walls, gates, and streams as they headed towards a church steeple in the distance and had all the time to be skipping. This also lead to a short-lived event, confined to just 1897, where people had to skip rope as they ran away from bulls in a field. This contest was deemed to be a failure due to the high number of injuries when people got their ropes stuck around the bull’s horns. It was decided to continue with the steeplechase, but to choose a course that avoided fields containing cows and bulls, though sheep were deemed to be jumpable and so were OK.
In 1900 the long-jump and high-jump were added to the Skipping Games. The high-jump is probably the most technically difficult event as the jumper has to time their leap perfectly so that the rope doesn’t bring the bar down at any point of its arc. Roger Herritt has won the most high-jump titles with 10 victories between 1921 and 1938. His technique was to skip quickly towards the high jump and then leap upwards just as the rope cleared his feet with his arms held high so that the rope cleared the bar easily. His reasoning was that he didn’t have to skip rope after he had landed.
The most dangerous events are the 100-yard and 440-yard hurdles introduced in 1932. Most competitors wear gumshields as the tendency is for the skipper to trip over the rope near the hurdle and smack their face into the ground or into the hurdle. The first winner of the 440-yard hurdles, Emmett Riley, fell over three times during the race but still won the first prize. Emmett ran the perfect race, not falling over once, two years later and decided it was time to retire with his teeth still intact.
The distance races between 800 yards and 10,000 yards do cause problems as organizers have tried to run them as per the Olympic Games with everyone using the same inner lanes of the track. This has led to tripping, accusations of attempted strangulation, and occasional lassoing, so now each runner must stay in their individual lanes throughout the race.
In the Skipping Marathon the contestants skip along the same course watched carefully by the Tripping Judges who will penalize skippers that are careless with their ropes.
In 1948 the skipping contests were split into men’s and women’s events. The person with the most victories was Pat Cribbens, who won 38 skipping races between 1950 and 1963 including five consecutive 200- and 400-yard race doubles in the mid 1950s. Pat attributed her success to her loping stride and slow skipping technique that meant almost all of her momentum was horizontal rather than vertical.