What is Racketlon?
Racketlon is the sport in which you challenge your opponent in each of the four racket sports table tennis, squash, badminton and tennis. A racketlon match contains four sets, one in each sport. Each set is played to 21 points, much like in table tennis, but the total winner of a racketlon match is not the one that wins most sets but the one that scores the most points in total. The winner is the best all round racket player.
The History of Racketlon
The origins of racketlon can be traced back to Finland in the mid Eighties, where four people representing each of the four racket federations got together to form a game they called mailapelit - i.e. "racket games". The first Finnish Championships were held in Helsinki in 1986 and the sport rapidly grew to a size that made it possible to attract almost 400 people to some tournaments. Since then it has been made clear that mailapelit is a sport that will stay around. Finnish championships are still organized on a yearly basis although the venue has been moved from Helsinki to Lahti.
In Sweden racketlon can be traced back to - at least - the end
of the 1980:s. That is when (in May 1989) the "Mr
Racketlon" of Sweden and twice national champion, Peter
Landberg, organized the first competition. The following
year, in 1990, the first Swedish Championships took place and
attracted considerable interest from start; no less than 218
people participated. Since then, Peter Landberg has organized
national championships every year and the sport has become fairly
well established. Still, after more than ten years, about half of
the participants in the national championships are people that
have not taken part before. This is a reflection of the fact that
racketlon is a sport that is spreading to an ever wider audience.
At least among racket players in the Stockholm area, where all
national championships so far have been played, racketlon is no
longer an unknown sport.
During these initial years Swedish racketlon has gone through a number of interesting developments. During the first couple of years the name "racketlon" was not yet invented. Instead, "racket championships" (Swedish: racketmästerskap) was used. Also, the rules were different. For some time in the beginning the ambition was to keep the characteristic rules of counting in each of the sports meaning e.g. that the tennis set was played to 6 games, the badminton set to 15 points where only the server can get a point - and so forth. This method of counting, however, required some fairly complicated mathematics involving conversion tables and much scratching of heads. After a tight match, often it was not clear to the players who had actually won until the mathematics had been done. Then, in 1994, the present rules of counting were introduced thanks to an unexpected discovery. It was found out that a similar game, mailapelit, was played in Finland. The Finnish game contained the same sports but the counting was different and much simpler; "each set to 21 points - most points is the winner". These rules were straightforwardly imported and the 1994 Swedish Racketlon Championships were using the Finnish counting, which has been the case ever since.
Another interesting story from the history of racketlon is the idea that Peter Landberg had a few years ago of an alternative, more spectacular, way of deciding the best racket player in the country. The idea was to let a traditional tournament decide the four best racketlon players, and then to invite the top national player in each of the four sports. These eight players would then compete for the title. This was arguably a fantastic idea that had the potential to raise great interest from media, especially since Sweden has a tradition of bringing out racket players of high international standard. Former table tennis World Champion Jan-Ove Waldner, former badminton (doubles) World Champion Thomas Kihlström, former squash European Champion Fredrik Johnsson and former French Open (tennis) finalist Mikael Pernfors were invited - and accepted. Swedish national television were invited and were planning to send two hours of racketlon on prime time. All was set for a major media sports event. Imagine the media value of super stars Waldner and Pernfors fighting it out on the badminton and squash courts. Or, perhaps even more interesting, imagine Waldner in a situation where he needs to win only two points in the final tennis set against top international tennis player Pernfors. Although a huge difference in tennis capabilility both players would be fighting for every point...
Unfortunately, practical matters like injuries and conflicts of interest got in between and the event never happened. Instead, the championships were carried out the ordinary way. But the idea lives on and is probably good enough to turn into reality sooner or later, perhaps on an international level... - but my personal opinion is that I doubt that the stars of the individual sports would have much chance against the top racketlon players of today. While racketlon has matured as a sport the players have had time to train and the best have reached impressively high levels in all four sports. It is no longer as easy as it used to be to acquire a ranking among the Swedish top ten. Magnus Eliasson, Swedish national champion of years 2000 and 2001, to take the best exampel trains, according to one of his closest competitors, 5 hours a day, almost every day of the week (2-3 hours according to his own humble estimate). Magnus Eliasson, by the way, is a special case since his main background as an athlete is not in any of the racket sports but in ice hockey(!) (- which he has played professionaly in the US, Finland and Germany). This emphasizes that the racketlon rules give advantage to the all-round player rather than to the specialist. Unlike several of the other best racketlon players Magnus Eliasson never ranked among the Swedish national elite in any of the individual sports. Although he has moved up the Swedish squash ranking in a speed probably unprecedented for someone over thirty. At present he ranks among the top hundred.
Magnus Eliasson and Mikko Kärkkäinen, no:2 and
no:1 on the Racketlon World Ranking
In Sweden, based on their performance in recognized tournaments (at present these are five; Gothenburg Racketlon World Open and the Swedish National Championships carries most weight when ranking points are calculated) male players are ranked into a system of three classes; Elite, Class 1 and Amateurs (Swedish: Motionärer; including beginners). The ranking decides in what class a player is allowed to take part; a player is free to participate in any of the classes higher than his ranking but not the other way around. The Swedish national racketlon ranking of July 2002 contained over 300 players out of which 40 players belonged to the Men's Elite class and 150 players to Men's Class 1. Everyone else automatically belong to the Amateur Class. Ladies do not yet have a similar ranking system on national level.
On an international level the first top ten Racketlon World ranking lists (Men's, Ladies') have recently been established.
The Internationalization of Racketlon
The main centre of Swedish racketlon is undoubtedly Stockholm and to be more specific Enskede Rackethall in southern Stockholm. This is where the Swedish National Championships have been held every year (usually in May) since 1990 and this is also where another tournament of similar size, Racketlon Cup, have been played every year (usually in January) since 1994. Another Swedish racketlon centre has developed in the small town of Karlskrona in the south-east of Sweden. This is the venue for the yearly Racket Virtuoso (Swedish: Blekinge Läns Tidningars Racketvirtuos) tournament. In Karlskrona a different counting system is used. Here, the sets are not played to 21. Instead, 50 balls are played in each set meaning that the set score will end up at something like 30-20 or 45-5. An extra ball is played in one of the sports to make sure that the total score will not become 100-100. At the beginning of the match lots are drawn to decide in which sport this extra ball will be played.
As already mentioned racketlon also emerged in Finland - under the name of mailapelit (eng. "racket games"). Interestingly, the Swedish and Finnish developments seem to have occured independently(!) at around the same time - although the Finns seem to have been a couple of years earlier. It was only after several years of activity that the movements got to know about each other with the result mentioned above that the Finnish rules were adopted by the Swedes. Various indications have also reached us saying that activities similar to racketlon are going on in many places of the world. In Germany, for example "Schlägerturniere" (Eng. racket tournaments) involving 3, 4 or even 5 rackets seem quite common. (The fifth Schläger being a golf club...) In England there are vague traces of something called quintathlon covering squash, tennis, rackets, real court tennis and (again!) golf. From France, also, we have been reached by rumours that similar experiments are going on. But it does seem as if it is only in Finland and Sweden that these experiments have turned into established sport. Please, get in touch if you think this is a misunderstanding! Or, indeed, if you are involved in something similar to racketlon, let us network! Our e-mail address is Gothenburg_Racketlon@hotmail.com.
A significant step towards the internationalization of racketlon was taken in the autumn of 2001 when the first ever international racketlon tournament took place. Gothenburg Racketlon World Open was played in Gothenburg, the second city of Sweden, on the Swedish west coast 2nd-4th of November, 2001. This was when the Finnish and Swedish racketlon elites first faced each other and the result was no less than a shock to the somewhat conceited Swedish racketlon community. The Finns won both the prestigeous Men's and Ladies' Elite classes and a final victory in the Men's Veteran class made it painfully obvious to the Swedes that they had been the victims of a clean sweep - and totally unexpected too.
But never mind the narrow-minded Swedish perspective! From an international racketlon perspective Gothenburg Racketlon World Open exceeded almost all expectations. Players from six different countries took part. Apart from Finland and Sweden; Scotland, France, Germany and Bulgaria were represented. Before World Open international racketlon did not exist. After World Open it did. Since then one milestone after another have been reached, such as:
- the first international racketlon tournament in Finland was played in May 2002.
- the first top ten racketlon world rankings (Men's, Ladies') have been established
- the first racketlon tournament outside Scandinavia took place in Scotland in mid August 2002. (See reports.)
- there are preliminary indications that an English Open in racketlon will take place in London in October 2002.
And it has only started. New ground will again be broken in the second Gothenburg Racketlon World Open scheduled for 1st-3rd of November 2002 (see the invitation on the Racketlon.com startpage). This time mainly due to a historical first team tournament for national teams. Sort of a racketlon "Davis Cup" featuring team matches between the best racket players of each country containing four individual racketlon matches for three men and one lady. In true racketlon spirit the winner of the team match will not be the team that win the most individual matches but the team that win the most points in total. Sweden and Finland have already announced their intention to participate. Which, on its own, is set to provide for media attention of unprecedented scale within racketlon as national encounters between Finland and Sweden ("finn fights" - swe: finnkamp - as we Swedes usually call these events when they occur in contexts like athletics or ice hockey) often attract a lot of attention. In addition, there are clear indications that a Scottish and an English team will enter (the English have indeed announced that they will form a strong(!) team) and there is hope among some that the French, the Germans and perhaps even the Bulgarians will take on the challenge as well.)
The individual tournament also promises to be high profile containing, in addition to the Swedish and Finnish racketlon elites (quite possibly everyone on the World Top 10 list), several interesting elite challengers from non-Scandinavian countries. Remember that internationally, racketlon is still a very young sport that few people have heard about and the fascinating fact is that there might well be racket players out there entirely unknown to the racketlon community who could go straight into the World Top 10(!!) A novelty this year will be prize money - the size of which will be decided by an internet sponsorship auction that is currently ongoing on top of the www.racketlon.com webpage.
Gusten. At badminton.
Included on the list of applicants for World Open is former top international tennis player Magnus "Gusten" Gustafsson, who started his racketlon career at last year's World Open only one week after he played his last tennis ATP tournament. He finnished no:2 in the Men's Class 1 category but since then Gusten has improved at a rate that is quite alarming for parts of the racketlon community. This year Gusten will take part in the Elite category in pursuit of the title "Best Racketplayer of the World" - and he is not known to give up easily. Another well-known name on the application list is former football professional and former member of the Swedish National Team Pontus Kåmark, who is still an active footballer in IFK Göteborg. Similar to Gusten he seems about to give up his football career and replace it with a career in racketlon. He has entered the Men's Amateur Class.
The Psychology of the Game
My personal fascination for racketlon got on to a kick start when - during my very first contact with the sport - I saw a match between a once elite squash player (Johan Stockenberg) and a more allround racketlon player (Stefan Engström). The match was going to decide the Gothenburg Champion that year (1999) and consensus seemed to be that it was set to be a fairly easy win for Stefan, who was in good shape whereas "Stocken" had been off training, gaining weight, for some time. It was the squash set that made me realize that racketlon had something quite unusual on offer. Although Stefan was a very good allround racket player, compared to once (team) European Champion Stocken he was, of course, little more than a beginner in squash and could be expected to win only a few points. An uninteresting set then, one would think? On the contrary! Stocken, of course, did win almost all the points but Stefan was good enough to keep the ball in play for a reasonable while and since the overall match was expected to go Stefan's way Stocken - not Stefan - was the underdog fighting as if his life depended on it - not to give Stefan any single extra point. And it was fun to watch! I think Stocken won the squash set with something like 21-2 and this turned out to be exactly what he needed to make the total score just even, which meant a replay to 5 points in all the sports, in the end making Stocken the unexpected winner - thanks partly to his good fighting spirit in that squash(!) set.
This illustrated one of the most interesting aspects of racketlon; The fact that in each individual sport a mediocre player can challenge a top player - on equal terms! The guy may even be on the world ranking in one of the sports - as long as the outcome of the overall match is unclear that set will still make up an interesting game! And this has significant implications for the tactical aspects of the game; It is one thing to play well against a player that is your equal but it is an entirely different matter to deliver a top performance against someone who is far below (or above) your own standard.
A second special characteristic of racketlon is the fact that all points count equal. In any of the individual sports, say tennis, you can afford loosing some points at some stages with no implications for the overall match whereas other points (e.g. set or match points) carry much more weight. A clear indication of this is that a tennis player may well win less points in total and still win the match. In racketlon all points are - to a much greater extent - equally important. Most racketlon players would agree that this has clear implications for how each of the games are played. "Racketlon badminton", for example, seems like a whole different ball game compared to normal badminton not to mention "racketlon tennis". If this is a pure psychological or, in additition, a mathematical consequence of the racketlon counting I leave open at the moment but it is beyond doubt, however, that a tennis gummiarm (Swedish for "rubber arm" referring to the behaviour of the arm holding the racket at the time of ball impact) and accompanying "chicken" play is a surprisingly common sight in racketlon contexts. In a tight match the concluding tennis event is often a matter of extremely tightly strung nerves. A lost point is a lost point and can never be compensated!
To conclude, racketlon is more than just a combination of the world's four dominating racket sports. It has developed into a sport in its own right with characteristics, tactics and psychology that is difficult to find anywhere else. In short, it deserves wider attention on an international level. It is time to acknowledge that the world should not confine itself to asking "Who is the best squash player?" or "Who is the best tennis player". The question that now needs to find an answer is: Who is the best racket player in the world? At the moment there is little doubt that the answer is Mikko Kärkkäinen from Finland.
written by Hans Mullamaa (Hans.Mullamaa @
last update 2002-09-02
Since Racketlon development is faster than ever before at present the above article is already in some ways out of date. For an update see this report, which is focusing on the 2003 Racketlon World Championships but also covers overall Racketlon status as of November 2003.
Counting started June 8, 2001: