Almanack: Flingers find new horizon

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The Independent Online
HORIZONTALISM is a sporting concept that Almanack had not come across before last week. But before last week we had never attended the World Ultimate and Guts Championships, an omission put right last Thursday with a trip to the University of Essex at Colchester.

'Ultimate' and 'Guts' are games played with Frisbees, the pie-dish-shaped plastic discs employed by people on holiday to stave off boredom on the beach. Horizontalism is the technique of flinging oneself headlong in pursuit of the disc, with terrible consequences for the knees if you are playing on a rain-slicked but still very hard bit of Essex.

Frisbee fans are not easily deterred. Eight hundred players and hangers-on had come to celebrate their game and, according to the official programme, 'to foster a climate of peace in which disc play may be appreciated for its ability to bring people together in a communal rejoicing of skill and play. To ultimately learn to live together through playing together'.

An outline of the games themselves. Guts is utterly, mind- bogglingly dumb. What you do is grab a small plastic disc, about half the size of a normal Frisbee, take a good long run-up and hurl it as hard as you possibly can at four opponents standing about 10 yards away. They have to catch it. Presumably the point of this game is that you have to be quite brave not to flinch or duck (small plastic discs can hurt if they catch you in the wrong area, and gloves are the only protection worn); actually you just have to be quite stupid to get involved in the silly game in the first place, even more so to watch it. Apparently it's big in Taiwan.

Ultimate is rather beautiful. It's played on a pitch slightly smaller than a football pitch, unmarked except for two American football- style 'end zones'. Teams of seven have to pass the disc from one end of the pitch to the other, with no single player hanging on to it for longer than 10 seconds; they score points by completing a final pass into their opponents' end zone. The opponents have to intercept the disc somehow to gain possession, but no physical contact is allowed, just a great deal of off- putting obstruction. There's no referee: disputes (which are frequent) are supposed to be settled between the two players concerned. In fact everybody gets involved. In the men's game, the first team to 21 points wins; women play first to 19.

Great Britain played Canada in driving rain. Slips were frequent, and blood from nasty grazes ran down shins and stained socks. Great Britain were missing five of their best players (mostly with knackered knees) but they wouldn't let the Canadians, seeded six places higher than GB at No 2, pull away. It was 10-9, 10-10, 10-11, 11-11. 'Go GB]' yelled the 40 or so wet fans on the touchline, 'Go Ho]' Horizontal, that is. They did, but the Canadians went further, and eventually prevailed 21-16. The match had taken a shade over two hours: they can take much longer.

Every game ends with a huddle; the two teams mingled in a giant circle to exchange Californian-style expressions of mutual admiration, share chants and exchange nicknames. It's all very heart-warming. We asked Aram Flores, GB's 'major handler', a sort of Glenn Hoddle figure who accepts short passes and distributes long ones, whether he had enjoyed the game. 'Definitely,' he said. 'We weren't expected to do that well. The rain helped us - we're used to it. Shame it didn't soften up the pitch: everybody got really scraped up.' What about all the lovey-dovey stuff at the end? Are there no really nasty rivalries in this Utopian sport? 'Oh, sure,' Aram said. 'We play Australia tomorrow. That's a real grudge match.'

(Photograph omitted)

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