Basques Take Might Ax to World of Sports

Rural traditions are central to Basque identity, and to their claim to being a nation, different from the rest of Spain. One such tradition took place Saturday in the Basque village of Azpeitia: the world championships of Basque wood chopping, a sport that combines a closeness to nature with he-man strength.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

The Basque region of Spain is steeped in rural traditions. These include sports that are based on a closeness to nature combined with he-man strength. For many Basques, these traditions form part of the basis of their claim to being a nation different from the rest of Spain.

Last night, the world championships of Basque wood chopping were held in a Basque village, and Jerome Socolovsky was there.

SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Muscle-bound men with shiny hatchets make chopped liver of fat tree trunks in a gymnasium in the village of Azpeitia. Wood chopping is just one of the sports typical to Spain's northern Basque region. Village festivals feature regular competitions in harvesting corn cobs, cutting grass with a scythe, and stone dragging. And there's also stone lifting.

Joseba Ostolasa(ph) hoists a 300-pound solid stone cube using only one arm and balances it on his neck. The 33-year-old is walking in the footsteps of his father, mastering the sport known in Basque as (Basque word). Ostolasa's personal record is 587 pounds, though he admits that he used both arms.

After he's done, it's back to the World Basque Wood Chopping Championships, or (Basque words), as it's known in the ancient Basque language. Basques say they are one of Europe's oldest ethnic groups. Luiz Marie Vangoa(ph) is the manager of Agur(ph) Sports, a company that organized the events.

Mr. LUIZ MARIE VANGOA (Manager, Agur Sports): (Speaking Basque)

SOCOLOVSKY: Rural sports really show how old the Basque nation is, he says, because our sports are based on the work of the farm and rural life. Cutting wood, lifting weights, moving weights. What man did when he arrived on Earth is what do as sports.

In the United States, perhaps the best-known Basque sport is jai-alai, but Basques say their diaspora also carried their other sports to the four corners on the Earth.

SOUNDBITE OF CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT

SOCOLOVSKY: Here at the World Basque Wood Chopping Championships, competitors have come from afar. In an eerie echo of last summer's soccer World Cup, the U.S. competitor was knocked out in the elimination rounds. And in the end, Australians took first and second place. But the band only played one anthem: the Basque national anthem.

SOUNDBITE OF BASQUE NATIONAL ANTHEM

SOCOLOVSKY: For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in the Basque village of Azpeitia

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