The Sport of Strings

The Prague Post

After more than 50 years, the European Yo-Yo Championships are back

In a sport with ups and downs, things are definitely on the upswing. For the first time in 57 years, there will be a European Yo-Yo Championships, and the news gets even better, as the event is in Prague.

Organized by the Czech Yo-Yo Association, nearly 100 participants from 17 countries, ranging from age 10 to 50, will descend on Roxy for a no-holds-barred weekend of intense yo-yoing. Former Czech national champion Jan Kordovský is the event’s organizer, and he hopes it will be a precursor to more organized yo-yoing throughout the Continent.

“We’ve had five or six Czech championships; there are groups playing all over Europe, so more countries are having their own championships as well,” Kordovský said. “No one else was up to organizing it, so we decided to do it.”

Things have changed a bit since that last Continent-wide championship showdown in 1953. Kordovský said there were only a few participants, and it was sponsored by one company. Don Roberts was the winner, and he has reigned as the undisputed European yo-yo champion ever since. Now 82-years-old, Roberts will come to Prague for the event, but most likely only to watch, not to defend his title.

Yo-yo championships occur around the world, and Kordovský is hoping to foment the blending of various international styles into a distinctly European style. He said the events in Asia are open to the public and held in places like malls. In North America, they are a bit more closed and accessed by only hardcore yo-yoers. In Prague, Kordovský is trying for a bit of both, to make it competitive for the players but also a cultural event for the general public. Besides yo-yoing, there will be other performances, like juggling and freestyle Frisbee.

“There are five categories for the most experienced players; these are the master divisions that will be awarded European champions,” he said. “They perform for three minutes in a routine set to the music of their choice.”

There are also individual and freestyle categories for less experienced players as well as an open division, drawing competitors from outside Europe. Kordovský says yo-yo aficionados from the United States, Japan and Australia are slated to come. An international panel of judges will oversee the event; each division has five judges.

A competition veteran, 20-year-old Vašek Kroutil, has been yo-yoing since 2003. He usually practices about one hour a day, but with the championships coming up and, after finishing all his exams, “It’s like 12,” he said. Kroutil is competing in the 1A division, which is for string tricks only.

“Everyone wants to win. It’s my hometown, and I hope to do a good freestyle and get a good place,” he said. “If I’m content with my freestyle, it’s cool for me.”

The new breed

Sixteen-year-old Tomáš Bubák started yo-yoing in 2005, when his brother brought a yo-yo home and he “thought it was cool.” He sticks with it because of the people and the friendly community, and will compete in the same division as Kroutil.

“My goal is to pass qualifications; if I can do that, I’ll be very happy,” he said. “There are about 70 people, and only about 20 will go through. ? There will be a lot of famous yo-yo people. It’s going to be interesting.”

A near rookie, 17-year-old Zdenek Hýbl has only been yo-yoing for two years. But, for the championships, he is going all out, competing in three divisions: 1A, 4A (for off-string tricks) and 5A (counter-weight). He practices between two and three hours a day and says he has no expectations.

“This is the second European championship ever. It’s big, and anyone could win,” he said.

What might seem like a passive sport is actually fraught with danger. There are the sore and broken fingers, the occasional knock on the head from the yo-yo and string burns, but the passion and pleasures outweigh the perils.

“And, at home, lamps,” said Bubák, noting another of the sport’s potential casualties.

Kordovský, who says he most likely won’t be competing in this championship, simply hopes the event goes smoothly and that it will spur other countries to play host in the future. Competitors may form a European Yo-Yo Association, which would run future cup competitions and other events. Whether you yo-yo or not, a competition with techniques named “the braintwister,” “skin the gerbil” and “the spirit bomb” are bound to hold interest for even yo-yo novices.

“Everyone should try it. It’s fun. Yo-yoing is awesome,” Bubák said.