Sports journalist Brian Salmon has chosen his favourites from The World Games 2022, and this time he concentrates on the top 10 male athletes. To find his top 10 best teams, go to this article.
The 11th edition of The World Games held in Birmingham, was arguably the greatest edition of the quadrennial multi-sport event to be staged so far. The celebration of non-Olympic sport has come so far since its debut edition in Santa Clara, California in 1981. The return to the United States proved to be a great success, with large crowds being thrilled by the dazzling skills of the exceptional athletes present in Alabama. Just like in both the team's and women's competitions, the cream of the competitors rose to the top, providing many quality moments to remember and ensuring that a multitude of long-standing Games records were broken in the process. Who were the male athletes who showed themselves to be Men of Steel in the Southern city famed for its metal production?
I have selected who I consider to be the ten best athletes to have competed at the Birmingham edition of The World Games. As always, there are exceptional talents who are unlucky to miss the cut. I was unable to find room for Racquetball's Acunya Araya ANDRES, who became the first ever Costa Rican to medal at The World Games, when he took the gold in an emphatic 3-0 victory in the final. Even making the podium in three consecutive editions cannot get you onto the list! Just ask Croatian Beach Handball player Ivan DUMENČIĆ. He came to the States with the newly crowned World Champions and helped his team to become the first, non-Brazilian gold medal winners at The World Games. It was business as usual for Fistball's Fabian SAGSTETTER and Korfball's Laurens LEEUWENHOEK, the German and Dutch athletes know the route to the top step of the podium blindfold; as for both of them, it was their third consecutive visit. It was a belated hat-trick of golds too for Swedish Barebow Archer, Eric JONSSON. The 2001 and 2005 champion was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to add to his medal collection having somehow survived a nervy semi-final. His opponent's place in the gold medal match seemed guaranteed, all he had to was score a measly three points with his last arrow, but devastation, it was only a two! This shocking miss allowed the veteran archer to land the tiebreaking arrow closest to the centre! From narrow misses, we move to the ten competitors who brought the stardust and the glitter to the “Magic City” in 2022.
10 Like Jonsson, Powerlifting's Tsung-Ting HSIEH also made his debut at The World Games in 2001 in the Japanese city of Akita aged just 18, the first of six consecutive appearances. Though the Chinese Taipei lifter is yet to top the podium, he has been a model of consistency, his silver in Birmingham was the fourth medal he has gained at the Games. Two other legends of The World Games have also shown excellent endurance completing the same six edition voyage from Akita to Alabama, Antonio Diaz from Venezuela and Dutchman Dick Jaspers. Diaz won five consecutive medals, fulfilled his Karate Olympic dream at Tokyo 2020 and promptly retired. However, he was offered one final chance to compete at The World Games which he immediately accepted. A first round defeat meant however that the Karate superstar was unable to make the podium for one fitting final time. As for Jasper's achievements, stay tuned.
9 In Muaythai, Igor LIUBCHENKO likes any multi-sport competition that includes the world “World” and “Games”; though officially the veteran Ukrainian fighter has only one title from The World Games to his account. His very successful career started on a high with gold in the World Combat Games (a different Games to The World Games!) in 2010. He successfully defended that title in 2013. Muaythai was included as an invitational sport in Wroclaw 2017, so his gold medal there was not included in the official statistics. His narrow points victory in Birmingham (the judges scored it as 29 all) meant his hard work finally counted!
8 There was a most unusual sight in the Orienteering Sprint competition in Alabama. Normally when you hand Swiss superstar Matthias KYBURZ a course map and a compass and start the stopwatch, you can guarantee he will be one of the fastest athletes to finish. His surprising FOURTH place was the first time in nine races across three editions, that he had not featured in a medal ceremony. However, his fifth career gold and second career silver, that constituted his souvenirs from Birmingham, more than compensated for any feelings of disappointment he may have had.
7 In Ju-jitsu, Faisal Al Ketbi became the most successful athlete in the martial art at The World Games. The Emirati was a surprise package in Wroclaw, where he won gold and silver. His solid defensive techniques mean that his opponents find it virtually impossible to make scoring moves against him. In Birmingham he retained his heavyweight crown whilst also upgrading to gold in the Open category.
6 In the DanceSport of Breaking, American Victor Bernudez MONTALVO also known as b-Boy Victor is the dominant breaker of his generation. He was destined to be a star, his dad was one of the first breakers in Mexico, and taught him his first moves at 10 years old. A dedicated lifestyle and respect for the traditions of the sport has seen Victor win multiple titles including a world championship, aged just 15, in 2015. He was at his elastic best in Birmingham winning each battle in the qualifiers comfortably. Though he lost a throw down in both the semifinal and final, each time the judges awarded him three throwdowns. His success in Birmingham in front of a packed, enthralled, audience plus a Winter return in New York to the top step of the world championship podium, means that b-boy Victor will be the man to beat, when breaking makes its much-anticipated Olympic debut at the Paris 2024 Games.
5 Sport Climbing Indonesia's Veddriq LEONARDO, together with training partner and best friend Kiromal KATIBIN, break speed world records for fun. No surprise that both athletes reached the speed climbing final in Birmingham. What was surprising was that Katibin missed a hold, as he endeavoured to keep up with his blistering quick rival.
4 Like Breaking, the Air Sports discipline of Drone Racing was an exciting addition to The World Games program. France's Killian ROUSSEAU proved to be a worthy winner of the gold medal, racing seven times and guiding his drone first across the finish line in all seven races. There was drama though in the final, his South Korean rival had raced a tighter line and was leading coming towards the final series of gates, however a catastrophic loss of power meant that it was the rousing, French national anthem that was played at the medal presentation.
3 Another master of angles is Dick JASPERS, who became the most medalled Billiards athlete in the history of The World Games. The Dutch cue man, who has a six pack of Games accreditations, made his debut in Akita in 2001. He did well up until the final, where long-time rival and friend Daniel SANCHEZ prevailed. The two matched up again in Duisburg in 2005 and produced a classic, nail-biting game that finished in a draw, the Spaniard snatched gold with a tie breaking push that was closer to the top rail(!). It was third time lucky for Jaspers when he competed in Chinese Taipei in 2009. In Alabama, his many years of experience helped to propel him once again to the top step of the podium. In each match, he scored double the number of points that his opponent did. There was a slightly messy end to the Birmingham final. Four times he approached the table to take aim at a match ball opportunity. Incredibly, each time his customary accuracy deserted the Dutchman. However, at the fifth time of asking, he made the correct contact and his arms were once again raised aloft in triumph.
2 Pool is a member of the Billiards family of sports, and it is another multi-medalled pool veteran who deservedly takes second place in our list of greatest male athletes competing in Birmingham. However, his impressive achievements took place in the swimming pools, where the Lifesaving competitions are held. Life as an athlete at The World Games is quite straightforward for top German competitor Danny WIECK. His routine at each edition is start strongly in each race and then power away from his opponents; see the German flag being raised on a couple of occasions, and then for good measure make sure of one further podium appearance. The lifesaving competition in Alabama followed the pattern first demonstrated at Cali 2013, and reinforced at Wroclaw 2017. With regular frequency, Wieck would race, 15 minutes later attend the medal ceremony, and then 15 minutes later be back on the starting blocks. The veteran's nine medals now make him the most decorated Lifesaver at The World Games.
1 Who therefore is the top male athlete from the Birmingham edition of The World Games? Fittingly our number one competitor is the man who won so many gold medals in 2022, that he can legitimately register the top step of the medal podium as his second home! Like Wieck, he is a speedy racer from Northern Europe, who made his Games debut in Colombia in 2013. Like Wieck, he won two golds in Cali and Wroclaw. In Birmingham, Wieck moved up to an impressive number 5 in the all-time list of the most successful athletes at The World Games, but more impressively our top athlete in the “Magic City” suddenly appeared at number 4! However, unlike Wieck, our superstar has competed in the related Olympic event on two occasions, medalling both times. Belgium has only won medals at three editions of the Winter Olympics, so when our athlete donned his ice skates at PyeongChang to take part in the SpeedSkating competition and sped away to take silver, it was a widely celebrated achievement. In Beijing, this was topped by becoming the first Belgian in 74 years to win a gold at the Winter Games. A few months later, in Birmingham he swapped his ice skates for his more customary roller blades. His competitors had a double disadvantage; not only in their minds were they racing against an invincible, Usain Bolt type figure, they were physically road racing against a living legend faster and more formidable than their imagination had suggested! Inevitably, our hero returned to Belgium with a suitcase filled with so much gold, that it would make even a manager of Tiffany's jewellery store in New York feel envious. Who is our number one male athlete at the Birmingham edition of The World Games? Just as in Alabama, there could only be one winner of this race, it had to be Bart SWINGS!
Brian Salmon for The World Games
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.