A dedicated band of phone lovers and haters work to make Finland's annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships a must-see event
The most well-known phone- throwing event has been the one involving actor Russell Crowe, who heaved a desk set at a New York hotel clerk in June.
But that could be changing, albeit as slowly as a Scandinavian glacier, as a dedicated band of phone lovers and haters work to make Finland's annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships a must-see event.
This year's contest, in late August, drew a record attendance of about 3,000 spectators, mainly Finns, and about 90 contestants, largely from Europe but with a few intrepid Australians and Canadians thrown in. The sport hasn't caught on yet in the U.S., not even in Boston, where Alexander Graham Bell completed the first phone call.
Sponsorships have been hard to come by, but at least costs are low. The essentials are a basket of discarded and broken cell phones, an open space (in Finland, an athletic field, but the Dutch championships were at a beach), chairs for the three judges, measuring tape, and, of course, a Web site. Backers have included one of Finland's leading beer makers and a licorice company.
Cell phone makers, meanwhile, have steered clear. Even giant Nokia, which is based in Finland, has not yet seized on the event. Nor would the company comment for this story.
Germany's Siemens, while acknowledging the annual throwing event makes for a "light-hearted story," concentrates "on very few sponsoring activities leveraging our brand value," a spokeswoman says.
The fact that this year's men's champ, Mikko Lampi, a 23-year-old window maker from Vilppula, Finland, hurled a Siemens cell phone a record 104 yards apparently doesn't qualify as brand-value leverage. But Siemens did express satisfaction at the superior aerodynamics of its product line. "We are happy to observe that even after the end of [the phone's] life, our products still excel through quality," the spokeswoman says.
Birth of a quirk
The event was launched six years ago by Christine Lund, who works at Fennolingua, a translation agency in Savonlinna, about 200 miles northeast of Helsinki. She got the idea when she dropped her own mobile phone into a lake. Her insurance company told her there were thousands of mobile phones in Finnish lakes, which are icebound much of the year.
She also drew inspiration from the fact that Finns are among the most-prolific mobile phone users on the planet, and are continually upgrading to spiffier handsets, leaving behind a growing pile of old ones.
In any case, Lund's company was launching a new translation service, and she hit on the idea of phone throwing championships as a way to draw attention to it, and to encourage recycling of old phones.
People just like throwing them, she says, as a way of working out the ambivalence the devices introduce to modern life.
"If you want to reach your loved one, he never replies," she says. "Or you're always waiting for that important call. Or the batteries run low. It's a tool, but one we feel frustrated by."
The unfurling hurl
The thrill of the hurl seems to be spreading. This year, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the U.K. all held national mobile phone throwing championships. Winner of the women's distance throw in the British games was Jan Singleton, a public relations manager with GBO Bell Pottinger, in London. 8thDayUK, which organizes leisure and entertainment activities, combined the event with an invitation to recycle old mobile phones.
Singleton came to watch at Richmond Park Golf Course in London, and decided to join in. "Mobile phones can cause such stress in today's society, so chucking one down a field is quite therapeutic," she says. "The worst is when the battery runs low: It never gives you any warning. It just bleeps madly and then cuts you off."
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She had her revenge.
An enthusiast of badminton, tennis, running, cycling, hiking and skiing, Singleton used for her first two throws a style based on an overhead badminton clear, which is an over arm shot from one end of the badminton court to the other. She was seriously disappointed in the results. "Then I cottoned on to the fact that putting a bit of a spin on it, like the boys were doing, made it go a lot further," she says. On her third and final throw, the Englishwoman added some body English and the phone sailed for 127 feet, setting what was then a new women's world record.
Singleton couldn't attend the World Championships, and her record fell to Finland's Marke Krok, who chucked her phone 136 feet to win the women's division and set a new world record.
But distance throwing is only half of this event, in a season of odd events, which includes swamp soccer, endurance sauna sitting, wife-carrying (which reportedly attracted former NBA star Dennis Rodman this year), and air guitar contests. Summer, so fleeting this far north, seems to make the Finns a bit giddy.
The other half of the phone throwing championship puts giddiness at center stage. This is the "freestyle" event, where judges rate contestants, both individuals and teams, on choreography, style and originality. The top score in the individual class went to Sten Kiezenbrink, of Haaksbergen, The Netherlands, a manager at The Phone House, an arm of one of Europe's biggest mobile phone retailers.
He dressed up as his company's widely known mascot, Mowbli, in an inflatable mobile phone suit with arms and legs. He put a premium on spontaneity.
"I didn't practice at all," he says. "I took a little dance and then threw myself across the line to the ground."
Even so, he barely edged out, by a single point, 5-year-old Paavo Kolari, of Finland, who dressed up as a pirate, complete with eye patch.
It was the German freestyle team, Team Bielefeld/mobile fun, that lifted this year's championship into surreality. The members wore hats that were white and gold replicas of the papal miter - in recognition of Pope Benedict XVI, the first German pope - and towels, in recognition of Finland's other national pastime, the sauna. Phone throwing as group performance art won them 77 points, blowing past their nearest rivals, the Austrians, who collected just 16.