Let’s pretend for a moment that people are replaced by sports. Many sports are unique to certain countries whilst a fair number are globally renowned. Sometimes sports die out (ever seen Olympic live-pigeon shooting?) and many more are born every day, concocted in the heads of the bored and the wildly creative. In the US, sports like baseball and football are the grandfathers: mature and experienced with a hundred thousand stories to tell and a great many friends. By contrast, ultimate is the infant child: its eyes are open, it’s learned to walk and people are beginning to look at it like a real person.
When Joel Silver (yes, the same one that created The Matrix) first introduced ultimate to Columbia High School in 1968, it was played in a car park with a child’s toy Frisbee and as many people as he could rustle up. He, along with a few others, scribbled down the rules in 1970 and then set themselves to promoting the game. In 1975, eight teams made their way to Yale for the inaugural National Collegiate Championship of ultimate – victory went to Rutgers from New Jersey, the first-ever dominant force in the game.
The rise of ultimate has been meteoric: it has evolved in to a global phenomenon with world championships, pro leagues and huge popularity across the world. This final factor is probably its greatest attribute: ultimate is an insanely fun sport and so almost every player you meet will talk themselves hoarse about how great the game is. This makes ultimate accessible to players from any background or athletic standard as there’s a fantastic following who only play for fun and not to win titles. Saying that, competitive ultimate has advanced almost out of sight since the early days.
This summer, London will play host to the 2016 World Ultimate and Guts Championships – the flagship tournament of the sport which is held every four years. 133 teams from across the globe will be coming together to showcase the very highest quality ultimate on its biggest stage as they compete for gold in Open, Women’s, Mixed and Masters divisions. In the US, collegiate ultimate now boasts over 800 teams and has its national finals broadcast on ESPN3 and ESPNU.
Far from being an exclusively western sport, ultimate clubs have blossomed across six continents and their number is expanding rapidly as awareness of the game is spread. A key factor in the expansion of ultimate these past few years is its simplicity: at its most basic all you need is a disc and a fairly large, relatively flat space to play in.
Following the World Flying Disc Federation’s hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, ultimate is set to keep expanding at this unprecedented rate until people are arguing over who’s the better athlete: Jerry Rice or Beau Kittredge? Already recognised by the International Olympic Committee and a competitive member of The World Games, ultimate is well on its way to becoming a household name and gaining the recognition it deserves as one of the most dynamic and exciting sports in the world today.