Canadian juggler named world champ
Aug 10, 2012 / 6:00 pm
Hannah Baran learned to juggle like children learn to do most things in today's technology-driven world: online.
Bored over winter break last year, the 12-year-old began watching YouTube tutorials about juggling and started practicing an hour a day. She mastered juggling with three balls and then with rings and clubs before moving on to more intricate skills.
This week, Baran was crowned the World Juggling Federation's international champion in the beginner's division.
"Some of the tricks look really cool, even though they aren't that difficult to do. I like the illusion of them," says Baran, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, minutes after she was named champion of her division.
Baran joined jugglers from around the world in South Dakota's largest city this week for the competition that's often referred to as the Olympics of juggling.
But don't look for carnival knives, blazing torches or clowns riding unicycles at this event. The competition is about pure, unadulterated juggling using just three props: balls, clubs and rings.
Fancy uniforms are banned. Technical routines are mandatory, and competitors are scored on a range of events that tests their agility, endurance, technique and coordination.
"The thing about the World Juggling Federation and this competition is that it's a different class of jugglers," said Bob Maier, the local coordinator for the event. "What you're used to seeing is called entertainment juggling, the guy riding the unicycle eating an apple or some fool juggling chainsaws. Juggling knives, torches, things like that are not dangerous or hard. They make a big deal out of it so somebody will give them a couple of bucks on the corner of the street. But these gentlemen are Olympic-rate athletes."
This is the first year the event has been held in Sioux Falls. Past competitions have been in Las Vegas and Springfield, Ill. Maier hopes to bring the competition back to South Dakota next year.
During the junior level competition, Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse, 13, dazzled the crowd with his dexterity as he juggled as many as seven balls in the air. In another event, Botvinick-Greenhouse, from Highland Park, N.J., and two other competitors stood on chairs and juggled rings high above their heads.
For competitors like Baran and Botvinick-Greenhouse, the World Juggling Federation's yearly international competition gives them a chance to test their skills with other individuals serious about juggling from all over the world.
That's just what Jason Garfield had in mind when he created the World Juggling Federation in 2000 as a way to expand public awareness of juggling as a sport. Using gymnastics as a guide, Garfield created the scoring system and competition rules for World Jugging Federation events.
But Garfield, who is performing Friday night to raise money for the renovation of Sioux Falls' State Theatre, also realizes that to increase its popularity, juggling needs to appeal to a large audience with a short attention span.
That's why he created Major League Combat, a fast-paced event in which two teams of five juggle three clubs as they try to destroy the other team's pattern. That can literally mean whacking the clubs from an opponent's hands.
"That will appeal to a larger audience, if they're not interested in the technical difficulty (of juggling). That's just people attacking other people. It's pretty straightforward and easy to understand," Garfield said.
The Major League Combat will be televised live on ESPN3 on Sunday.
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