Southern Italy celebrates its annual ‘prickly pear discus’ contest

Southern Italy celebrates its annual 'prickly pear discus' contest
Photo: kelpfish/Depositphotos
Discus throwing is one of the original Olympic sports devised by the Ancient Greeks, but a town in southern Italy its own thorny version.

Nearly three thousand years ago athletes gathered in Olympia to throw a round object as far as they could as part of the founding Olympic Games. The discus was originally made of stone and later of iron, lead or bronze. 

Discus throwing remains an Olympic sport, although in southern Italy a traditional sports aficionado has devised a somewhat more curious version. Using prickly pear leaves, a cactus plant found in the Mediterranean. 

Each year, tourists and local enthusiasts flock to a high point overlooking the Mediterranean to throw the prickly pears into the sea below. This year's event took place on August 18th in Palmi on a viewpoint overlooking the sea in Calabria, southern Italy. 

“It's an event that appeals to adults and children,” Lillo Loiercio, the organizer, told Italian daily Repubblica.  “Not all prickly pear leaves are suitable for our sport, you have to select the most suitable ones, clean them and turn them into a round disc, at which point the 'pitta' is ready: the winner is the one who can launch it the furthest,” adds Loiercio.

The tradition stretches back many years in Italy's Calabria region, according to the organizer.

Each participant has a right to three throws. The distance each participant throws is marked with a clothes peg on a rope and judged by the organizer using the viewpoint's balcony railings seen against the sea as a measuring point. 

The prickly pear leaves are completely biodegradable which makes the sport eco-friendly, although you'd want to avoid being in the line of fire when they are thrown. 

Prickly pears have many uses. The plant's fruits are also eaten and distilled to make liqueurs, while the pointed plant is also used as fencing. 

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