The 1970s marked the beginnings of extreme sports as we know them today. Advances in technology and a relatively risk-free everyday life pushed people into conquering new peaks of traditional sports. However, it was not our civilization that put the extreme in sports. The Ancients delighted themselves on more bloody, fierce and extreme sports than we will ever know.
Ancient extreme sports
The best known example that the history of extreme sports started in the ancient times are the Roman gladiator fights, which had been highly popular for over 5 centuries, beginning with 264 BC. The gladiators did not only fight themselves, but also fought wild beasts such as lions, bears and even elephants.
Vehicle racing is not a sport known only by modern civilization. The Greeks and the Romans also organized chariot racings, a perilous sport where the participants’ death was not uncommon.
Base jumping also originated in Ancient times. The Vanuatu population praised the coming of spring by jumping of 75 foot tall unsteady platforms with nothing but a vine tied to their ankles. These straps often broke or were just too long, causing the jumpers to plunge directly to their deaths. The Vanuatu people were the ones to begin the history of extreme sports of this type.
Contemporary extreme sports
Life in the ‘70s was comfortable. Economic growth and technological evolution brought along a colored TV in the living-room, a microwave in the kitchen and a car in the garage for most people. Living conditions and life, in general, was improved. It was more pleasant, easier and, best of all, safer.
So what do people do when excitement, danger, and risks are slowly obliterated out of their normal lives? They go extreme. Extreme sports, that is. The amount of risk and danger one has to undertake while performing a certain action is what qualifies a sport as extreme. Basically, the greater the chance of one dying, the more extreme a sport is.
With that in mind, the history of extreme sports began to be written when Austrian Franz Reichelt jumped in a wing suit from the Eiffel Tower in 1912, thus pioneering base-jumping. His experiment proved to be fatal. Still, base-jumping was thus born, a sport that nowadays is considered to be one of the most dangerous of them all, with an ever-increasing death toll each year (24 in 2013 as opposed to 19 in 2012). It was not until 1994 that Patrick de Goyordon invented and successfully tested a modern wing suit. 19 years and many improvements later, in 2013, the Russian Vallery Rosov became the first man to jump off Mount Everest, setting a new record for the highest jump in a wing suit.