Coconut Shy – Kerala, India

Extract from Sports the Olympics Forgot

The coconut shy is a staple attraction in British country fairs, but in India the game was taken far more seriously and evolved into a major sport especially around Cochin. The Cochin Coconut Shy takes place over the Easter weekend and involves many different events, which have gradually been added since the competition first took place in 1911.

The original events largely consisted of throwing cricket balls at coconuts perched on stands at various distances from the thrower. The shortest distance is 30 yards and the furthest distance 70. Each thrower has one minute to knock off six coconuts with a maximum of 10 balls. The winner is the person who knocks off all the coconuts in the quickest time with the fewest number of throws. Since 1972, professional cricketers have had their own separate event to allow other people to win the prizes. Gurdeep Singh has won the most coconut shy titles with 36 victories between 1988 and 2005 including an unprecedented Grand Slam of titles in 1997, when he only used 33 balls to knock off the 30 coconuts.

There are also archery competitions where the coconuts are situated 50, 70, and 90 yards from the archer. Any type of bow, other than a crossbow, may be used in the competition – again six coconuts are the targets and the archer has 10 arrows to get the job done. Teams from Bhutan are not allowed to enter the competition due to the incidents in 1987 when a team from that country deployed tactics that are allowed in their own country but are frowned upon everywhere else. The team deliberately tried to put off the other teams by shouting at them when they were about to shoot and jumping up and down in their line of sight. This caused a number of altercations and the withdrawal of the India ambassador from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, for six weeks. Barry Kim from Canada has won the most archery titles with 16 victories from 2006 to the present day. Ironically, Barry is allergic to coconut oil and milk, and so can’t join in any of the victory celebrations.

Another spectacular event is the coconut shooting, where coconuts are catapulted across the sky for shooters to try and hit with their double-barrelled shotguns. This is in imitation of clay-pigeon shooting in the UK. The police have to be on hand to ensure that no one is injured by stray pellets when retrieving the shattered coconuts from the ground. Major EJ Williams from Simla won the most coconut shooting titles with 12 victories between 1924 and 1946, although his name is rarely used at the contest because of his infamous 1945 quote “I’d rather be shooting tigers than these bloody flying coconuts. Fetch me a whisky and soda.”

There are some rather spectacular field events involving coconuts, which were added after the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the first ones to be held in Asia. The first event was the Coconut Putt, where the idea is the same as the Shot Putt, namely to hurl the coconut as far as possible using a shot putt technique. The record putt is 98 feet 4 inches by Maxim Gordov from Belarus in 1998.

The other throwing events follow the pattern of the rest of the games and involve athletes hurling discuses, javelins, and hammers at a coconut. In the discus the coconut is set on a plinth at a distance of 55 metres from the throwing circle. If the discus lands within two metres of the coconut the thrower receives 1 point; a throw landing within one metre receives two points and if the discus knocks over the plinth then 5 points are awarded. Ajai Singh from Bangalore has won the discus 6 times, including a record score of 14 in 1997, when he hit the coconut twice in six throws, the only time this has ever been achieved in a single competition.

The hammer contest is run along similar lines except that the coconut is 60 metres from the throwers. The scoring system is the same. Again Ajai Singh holds the record with 15 points in 1999, though he only hit the coconut once on this occasion.

The javelin contest is run differently. Six coconuts are set out in a straight line at intervals of 1 metre, 50 metres from the throwers, which is well within reach of most good club athletes. The throwers receive a point if they knock off any of the coconuts in any of the 10 rounds of throws. Gaetano Berlusconi from Italy won the contest 9 times between 1987 and 2004, including a record score of five in 1999 when he hit a coconut four times in the last five throws to edge out Kendrick Mills from the USA by a point.

Published by Julian Worker

I was born in Leicester. I attended school in Yorkshire and University in Liverpool. I have been to 93 countries and territories including The Balkans and Armenia in 2015, France and Slovakia in 2016, and some of the Greek Islands in 2017. My sense of humour is distilled from The Goons, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. I love being creative in my writing and I love writing about travelling. My next books are a travel book about Greece and a novel inspired by Brexit.

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