Arm-wrestling Goes For Gold

March 03, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Tony Dure crossed the Atlantic to match his bulging biceps and steel tendons against some of the strongest arm-wrestlers in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Snorting like a bull, the 5-foot-5, 160-pound tank of a man stomped onto a wooden platform he uses to offset his height disadvantage. Across the table stood his opponent, Chuck Whipps, a 29-year-old Ellicott City man whose beefy forearms seemed slender next to Mr. Dure's.

The 31-year-old Briton stepped down from the platform and paced back and forth, still snorting -- whipping himself into a psychological high before locking hands with Mr. Whipps.

Minutes passed as the foes jostled for a good grip, seeking advantage. Finally the match started. And a second later, after a loud grunt from Mr. Dure, it was over. Mr. Whipps had fallen.

"I exploded into the mood," Mr. Dure exulted. "When you explode into the mood, the guy doesn't have a chance to react."

Twenty-five people, including four women, each paid $5 to compete yesterday in a regional tournament of the 1994 Yukon Jack World Arm Wrestling Championships at Bohager's Bar & Grill, at 515 S. Eden Street, in Fells Point. Proceeds benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, sponsors say. Baltimore is the site of one of 26 regional competitions.

Victors in the regionals, which conclude tonight, will advance to Yukon Jack's world championships in San Francisco in August.

The competition in Baltimore comes at a time when arm-wrestling is trying to emerge from its image of roughnecks battling over beers. Supporters are waging a campaign to gain recognition of arm-wrestling as a legitimate sport and are trying to convince the International Olympic Committee to name it an Olympic event.

Mr. Dure has won a world title before, as had at least two other men at Bohager's. The sport has more championships than boxing with four associations and different categories that include sit-down, stand-up and wrist-wrestling.

Despite his victory over Mr. Whipps, Mr. Dure's chances of claiming another world title seemed slender. He later lost twice to Leslie Whims, a 132-pound Irvington man who is a warehouse supervisor.

Before those two battles, Mr. Whims psyched himself by staring straight ahead with glazed eyes. His body was shaped like a backward letter "K" -- his bent arm rested atop the table and his right foot pushed against a leg of the table to neutralize the weight disadvantage.

The pair were deadlocked for a moment -- both men making sure to stay out of the dangerous "break-arm" position. Then Mr. Whims jerked his opponent's arm before finally pinning Mr. Dure.

"Most people look at lighter guys like it's no problem," said Mr. Whims, whose wrestling arm now was warmed by a custom-made fleece sleeve with thermal-undergarment lining. "I feel like I can beat heavier guys, and there are probably lighter guys who feel they can beat me."

Dave Patton, the sport's most popular figure, said it takes more than strong muscles to beat a good arm-wrestler. He's an authority on that subject with 33 world championships and a reputation for pinning pro football types even though he weighs just 158 pounds.

"Arm-wrestling is a tendon sport. It's not a muscle sport," said Mr. Patton, 33, who shot pool while the matches were proceeding. As the reigning champ, he has a bye to the world championships. He also serves as the arm-wrestling ambassador.

"Look at my arms," he said, baring a vein-lined, but trim right forearm. "It looks like a chimpanzee's arm or a squirrel's leg. Football players have arms more like a cow's leg. To build tendons, you've got to do high reps [repetitions] in the gym."

Mr. Patton said he's been hooked on arm-wrestling since elementary school.

When he was in 11th grade, he saw a competition on television.

"I told my mom at that point that I was going to win a world championship," he said. "She laughed. She didn't know I was serious."

His mother, Sue Patton, takes him seriously now. The 67-year-old woman is part of the sport's entourage. She's a board member of the World Arm-Wrestling Federation and is trying to get others to take the sport seriously.

"If you sit and watch, there really are some good athletes," Mrs. Patton said. "They work out in the gym, lifting weights. You also must develop techniques. You must be strong. There are no secrets. It's like tennis, boxing, anything else. There are no tricks. I promise."

She said her board will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, this month to ask the IOC to name the sport an Olympic event. She argues that the sport deserves to be recognized because nearly everyone has arm-wrestled at least once.

The Olympics were clearly on many minds at Bohager's. Mr. Patton said he "eats, sleeps and breathes" arm-wrestling the way Olympic silver medallist Nancy Kerrigan does with skating.

Mr. Dure and Mr. Whims are pinning their hopes on a chance at bringing their sport from obscurity to the big-time.

"I'm hoping before I get out of it to be there," said Mr. Whims. "Just to be on the Olympic team would be good."

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