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Post Column: Is 'extreme ironing' the peak of competition?

Humans are naturally and perversely competitive.

I learned this when I watched my first YouTube video on competitive eating.

If humans were anywhere near normal, why in the world would they turn an activity as peaceful and enjoyable as eating into a messy ten-minute feeding frenzy that would make even the shark in Jaws balk? Other than a handful of researchers studying fatal indigestion, who in the world cares how many oversized chili hot dogs you can stuff into your mouth between bouts of Fanta-chugging?

Sadly, everyone does care. Including me. After all, I did indeed readily spend an entire ten minutes of my life watching that YouTube video I mentioned.

At first, I thought that competitive eating was as strange as it got in terms of fascinating competitions.

But I was wrong. Because just this week, I was introduced to Miss Russian Army.

Miss Russian Army? That’s right. It’s like Miss Universe, but Russian and based in an army. And instead of walking around in bikinis, they drive around in tanks.

The Miss Russian Army beauty contest was held in June 2005, and was originally called “Beauties in Shoulder Straps.” The Russian military held the contest in hopes of encouraging more men to join the Russian army.

The 19 women that participated in the event competed in a wide variety of events, including walking down a catwalk in uniform, crawling on makeshift battlefields in uniform, boarding tanks, and running with automatic weapons.

However, during the designing of Miss Russian Army, the Russian Defense Ministry did specifically prohibit allowing the candidates from parading around in bikini. Apparently, the Defense Ministry didn’t want its venerable soldiers to get too excited.

Interestingly, the motto of Miss Russian Army is, “since we’re soldiers, our first concern is automatic weapons; boys come second.”

I don’t know about you, but if I were placed second on a girl’s priority list behind automatic weapons, I’d be a bit worried.

Perhaps even more memorable were some of the public statements that the Russian Army released about the event. Colonel Gennady Dzyuba of the Defense Ministry stated, “Those who have served, especially in hot spots, know the importance of women — they calm the team down. We restrain ourselves in front of them, desist from coarseness.”

Major General Nikolai Burbyga, the head juror for the competition, was even more direct in his opinion of the program, saying “it kind of invigorates life — everyday life is very monotonous.”

Ah, yes, Major Burbyga. We all know how you feel. A few ladies could always spice up military life.

In the end, the title was awarded to Lieutenant Ksenya Agarkova of the Northern Fleet. The Russian Army later announced that her image would be placed on promotional recruitment photos.

“This lady wants YOU to join the Russian Army!” I’m sure it works better than the American equivalent, with a guy who looks like the skinny version of Santa Claus pointing at you.

Meanwhile, Britain is giving Russia a run for its money in making the most ridiculous competitions. In 1999, an Englishman named Phil Shaw founded an International Extreme Ironing Organization, and soon after, the first Extreme Ironing World Championship was held.

In extreme ironing, participants take ironing boards and various articles of clothing to remote or unusual locations such as tops of cliffs and underwater, and then perform “feats of ironing” there.

The motto that the Extreme Ironing Board invented is perhaps just as memorable as that of Miss Russian Army’s, proclaiming that the sport of Extreme Ironing is “the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

A hodgepodge of “landmark” achievements has popped out in Extreme Ironing’s history. For example, in 2008, a group of 72 divers ironed underwater simultaneously, setting a world record. But, in 2009, this record was bested by a group of 128 divers, who officially recorded 86 divers ironing underwater within a period of 10 minutes.

Finally, in 2011, the record was set again by a Dutch diving club, which recorded 173 divers ironing underwater in a pool at a time.

Personally, that sounds like cheating to me. In a pool? Come on!

But I digress.

In fact, just this past week, on September 18th, daredevil Matthew Birzer declared that he was already planning to iron at the top of Mt. Everest by April 7, 2013.

Good luck, Mr. Birzer. Hopefully, Miss Russian Army will feature another show emulating the ambitiousness of Extreme Ironing. I’m sure those Russian soldiers would love to watch Miss Russian Army contestants climb Mt. Everest.

And maybe the Defense Ministry will reconsider the bikini ban.

Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University. Are there stranger competitions than extreme ironing? Email him at

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