The World Long Drive Championship holds its 42nd event

Written by Staff Writer

Patrick McEnroe is co-founder of the World Long Drive Championship. CNN’s Patrick Farrell reports.

In 2017, Japan was the world center of long-tossing, with more than 1,000 competitors competing in club championships in the country. The year before, nearly 400 racers gathered in Beijing.

In the early 1980s, though, the three-metre plus sphere was a different ball game.

“The long-tossers did not have to be international athletes,” says Patrick McEnroe, co-founder of the World Long Drive Championship, an annual event based in Chiba, north of Tokyo.

“They could come to Japan just to drive a t-ball ball – really.”

A world of opportunity

McEnroe, along with two friends from Canada, organized his first World Long Drive Championships in 1984, inspired by a travel show on Canadian TV.

Since then, the event has proved so popular that its 42nd edition (held in 2013) was able to expand to three separate stadiums across Tokyo, with 8,868 participants from 94 countries and territories.

“We did it in one facility,” says McEnroe. “As Tokyo goes, so goes the world.

“Today, the spectators come from all over the world and last year, someone from Scotland flew over to compete.

“It opened the world-wide travel opportunity.”

Still, in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which struck the Tohoku region of Japan, global participation plummeted slightly.

McEnroe admits that, for some athletes, such as Japanese snowboarder Koike Kiyokawa, for whom driving a long-tossed object can be a livelihood, the disruption was initially devastating.

“It was like a punch to the gut,” says McEnroe. “But his was a very positive response. Koike Kiyokawa, for example, came to the Tokyo Masters last year after a few months with a fractured knee.

“The huge outpouring of love and support he got was incredible.”

Living a young life

McEnroe, meanwhile, believes the world long-tossing scene can continue to grow in the future, both in terms of participation numbers and as broadcasters become more interested in the sport.

He cites the World Long Drive Championship’s Facebook following of 120,000 people as an indication of its growing popularity.

And he believes younger participants can continue to push the boundaries, such as Bulgarian Alexander Dokop, who memorably posted a video of a drive in Tokyo from 1991 that had earlier been posted on YouTube.

“We look to find those stories of guys such as Andrei Kurkov and Alexander Dokop, who do things that are very special and not a lot of people get to see,” says McEnroe.

“And also see how we can get other kids to think that something like that can be an option.”

Leave a Comment