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Marble marvels: How ‘holen’ racing keeps our sporty hearts going

Jelle’s Marble Runs annually stage the Marble League, a multi-sports event formatted after the Olympics.
by Drew Malihan

Being a fan, it is quite uneasy and strange to live in a world that has little to no sports being played on TV or even on the streets. The likes of basketball, volleyball, and football are nowhere to be seen on courts and open fields. Most of the leagues were deemed cancelled, if not suspended for an indefinite amount of time. Even the 2020 Olympics were moved to a later date next year.

You know things are very serious when it even takes its toll on online leagues that can be played at the comfort of homes, like when Mobile Legends Professional League - Philippines put a hold on the ongoing season until further notice.

Gladly, there’s a sport that keeps going despite the COVID-19 scare: marble racing.

Don’t say “marble-what?” Yes, it exists. Pinoy’s favorite ‘holen’ also has its fair share of attention from sports fans and enthusiasts alike, far from the usual ‘tatsing’ game we were used to during out childhood.

Various clips of marbles of different colors racing against each other were widespread from Facebook to YouTube, even before the recent coronavirus pandemic was a thing. The body sanctioning the races? A YouTube channel named Jelle’s Marble Runs.

Marble racing wasn’t a new thing, as balls made from typically glass rolls for thousand of years. But being a “spectator sport” was something more recent in the table.

Jelle’s Marble Runs (or JMR) was run by two Dutch brothers, Jelle and Dion Bakker, who was in the video-sharing platform as early as 2006 and sharing simpler clips of marbles running on tracks.

It was only until ten years later when JMR got the service of American Greg Woods as their official blow-by-blow commentator, after Woods uploaded a JMR video with his commentary. From there, the team grew to 15 members, appeared on ESPN, and even scored deals with several companies, including Formula E.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dion quips on how stuff like marble racing helps to ease the world’s situation.

“It sucks us into another world, another dimension without war, misery and negativity,” Dion said.

Even the fans are marbles, too.

There was a sand marble rally, which of course happens on a sand track; Marbula E, the newest addition to JMR’s content with real Formula E teams pitting their own selection of marbles, and; Marbula One, featuring sixteen teams in a race formatted to Formula One’s Grand Prix.

But perhaps the most renowned is the Marble League, then known as MarbleLympics, where twenty of the best teams competed in various events, from high jump and relay races to even water rafting and underwater races. The fourth edition of the multi-sporting event is set to happen this June, coinciding with the original schedule of the 2020 Olympics and set to be hosted by Team Galactic.

Other YouTube channels such as M&H Racing and Fubeca’s Marble Runs have also marble racing content and a large following as well.

The atmosphere can be as real as it is in their human counterparts , Woods opened to the New York Times.

And it is. There is a streaker and clash of stalled marble racers in the Marbula One, Team Primary starting a riot, Oceanics sacking their coach and rallying against a mediocre performance, and Momomomo of Team Momo retiring after sustaining a “career-ending injury.”

There are also comebacks, upsets, and everything in between to the delight of fans inside the stadium. Yes, the fans are marbles as well, with the O’rangers supporters being the loudest with the iconic “Oooooooooo” roar. You can also have your own spectator marble in JMR.

Fans, ranging from thousands to even millions, are active in discussing events, analyzing games, and even having sidebar stories of marbles. Things from “How a substitute like Mimo will fare at the biggest stage?” to “Why Mary should be replaced as Team Primary’s representative?” were discussed by fans both in the subreddit and YouTube’s comment section.

Woods said in the interview that “we totally realized the role sports played in our lives until it was gone, and what that meant emotionally.”

“When you don’t have that outlet, I do wonder if it’s something that people look for: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” he added.

Truly, in a world missing the beauty of sports, there are still alternatives to satisfy our cravings and longing. You can have a few touches on your phone and look for it, or even unbox your old set of “holen,” dig a dirt track, and start your own racing event.

I should get going. I still have Team Momo to cheer today in repeat.

Follow him on Twitter: @drewmalihan