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Spartan Racers Push for Obstacle Course Racing to Become an Olympic Sport

Spartan CEO Joe De Sena believes the racers are the best athletes in the world.

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Spartan Racers Push for Obstacle Course Racing to Become an Olympic Sport
Courtesy Spartan Race

Could you imagine watching the Summer Olympics and seeing athletes drag themselves through mud, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping over walls in the pursuit of a gold medal? Sounds crazy, right?

Maybe not too crazy, as the dedicated folks over at Spartan Race are pushing hard to make Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) an Olympic sport by 2028.

In recent years, The International Olympic Committee has approved less mainstream sports for the summer Games, including skateboarding and sport climbing (an iteration of rock climbing) for Tokyo 2020. Also, breakdancing is highly likely to be part of Paris 2024.

Joe De Sena, founder and CEO of Spartan Race, is at the forefront of getting OCR approved for the Games by Los Angeles 2028. “I don't see how it can't happen," De Sena told M&F on an episode of Muscle & Fitness’ Reps podcast. "There's so much interest in this space and I would think the Olympics wants to remain relevant and get eyeballs."

It’s unclear what format the races would take, but we can’t imagine they’d be the 30-plus hour marathons De Sena sometimes puts competitors through. Athletes probably wouldn’t be asked to carry a raw egg (or eat it if it breaks), either.

Faye Stenning, the number five racer in the 2019 Spartan US National Series, agrees there would have to be some changes to the Spartan format, including toning down some of the challenges.

“I think the first step is defining what is Obstacle Course Racing,” Stenning told M&F. “I definitely think with some more standardization and modification of the current Spartan venues, that it would be something that could fit into the Olympics.”

Finding a TV-friendly format for OCR would be the last step in getting it approved for the Games by the IOC. Other requirements, including setting up an International Federation—The World OCR—and adopting the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, have been met.

De Sena said the road to the Games will be tough, but worth the effort. “It's going to be hard,” he said on Reps. “But what good happens in your life that isn't hard?”

There are some obvious benefits to making OCR an Olympic sport: it would elevate the brand and would allow the millions of people who participate in it to compete at the highest level. But De Sena believes there’s a benefit to viewers, too: They would get to see the world’s best athletes in action.

 

In a recently released video on YouTube titled Better Humans, Spartan claimed to possess the most well-rounded athletes of any sport.

“How do we know? We’ve got the NFL players that show up, we’ve got the Tour de France riders that show up, we’ve got the Olympians that show up,” De Sena says in Better Humans. “They can’t hold a candle to our athletes.” 

Check out the full video below:

According to Stenning, football players and most other athletes specialize in a modality such as strength, speed, or endurance. Spartan racers, on the other hand, are a jack-of-all-trades. “It’s definitely not a sport where you fine-tune one skillset,” Stenning says. “You’re working on all aspects of fitness.”

Strength is a big factor in OCRs, with Spartan including tasks such as atlas stone carries and tire flips. “You’re not going to win a race if you’re not strong,” Stenning said.

When pressed to answer what type of athlete could succeed in OCR, Stenning said endurance pros like cross-country skiers, rowers, swimmers, and cyclists would be better off. “This sport, because it’s so long and you don’t have breaks, it’s purely an endurance sport,” she said. “I think Tom Brady would be terrible at a Spartan Race—any athlete that generally comes from anaerobic power background."

Because of this, Spartan athletes take aerobic fitness very seriously—far beyond daily park jogs and treadmill runs. In Better Humans, Stenning is seen hooked up to the V02Max, which measures how much oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise.

A top score for a woman Stenning's age is 49. She scored a 69, which the doctor in the video described as "incredible." Many OCR racers, according to Stenning, live and train in the mountains, where the elevation helps them improve their aerobic capacity. Since she lives in New York City, Stenning has to make up for it by running almost every day alongside professional marathoners in the morning and then strength training later in the day.  

While having OCR in the Olympic games is a ways away, Stenning has her sights set two other prized races: the North American Spartan Championship in August and the World Championships and the World Championship in 2019.

“That’s when my season will stop, kind of,” she says, “I just enjoy Christmas, friends, family, get a little chubby, and hang out for a few months.”

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