What is faster than a speeding basketball player? More precise than an archer? More unbelievable than the length of a rugby player’s shorts?
The world record-breaking hands of freshman Joel Brown.
Though cup stacking is not considered a sport by many, Brown would disagree. He prepares to stack just as carefully as any athlete.
To demonstrate his cup stacking prowess, Brown first took out a large pad, like a giant mouse pad, attached a touch-sensitive timer, and spread nine of his twelve official cups into three stacks. Then he took everything out of his pockets and removed his shoes.
“I feel like I have a better grip on the ground,” he explained.
Table height is standardized in professional cup stacking, so Brown settled into a squat-like position. He made sure the cups were in exactly the right place, shifting the three little towers by tiny degrees.
And he began.
Clup! Clup! Clup! Three small pyramids blossomed out of nowhere, and then disappeared just as quickly.
It had taken about two seconds. The sound of his cups attracted the attention of passersby, and they stopped to watch as he did it again. They could not believe their eyes.
“I argue that it is a sport,” Brown said. “If you’re stacking at my level, it is a sport.”
Some would disagree with Brown, most notably Glenn Beck, TV personality and political commentator, who called cup stackers “stupid” on his show in 2010.
While Brown and Beck may not agree, a study published by Ammons Scientific in 2004 showed links between cup stacking and increased hand-eye coordination, ambidexterity and focus in elementary school students.
Brown has been stacking cups since he was in fourth grade. The children’s director at his church brought official cups one Sunday as an activity. Brown only had about ten minutes to use them during any given week. Though he was not yet better than the other kids in his class, he enjoyed the activity immensely. Soon he was asking his parents to buy him a set.
Back in 2005, a set of official cups cost about fifty dollars. When his parents refused, he saved up his own money and began to practice with the cups four to six hours a day.
Brown entered a small competition in 2007 in Chicago, where he did surprisingly well—in fact, he took first in his age division in both the individual events and second in a relay. Though he did not know it until afterwards, one of his times broke the U.S. record for his age division.
About a month later, his parents called him into their room and told him that they were willing to let him compete on a bigger scale.
“I was literally screaming,” said Brown. “I was just so happy.”
His next competition was in Denver, where he was one of about 1,300 entrants. He came in second in two individual events, the 3-3-3 and the 3-6-3, and first in his favorite event, the Cycle. His time in the cycle was only 0.1 second behind the world record.
Two months later, the coach of the USA’s Junior Olympic stacking team called Brown and asked if he would like to join.
“I started screaming again,” said Brown.
Brown traveled all over the country with Team USA, doing competitions and demonstrations. In 2009, Brown and the other three members of USA’s relay team broke the world record for the 3-6-3 Relay, with a time of 12.73 seconds.
Since then, Brown’s teammates have gone on to break several more world records, but as high school grew more and more busy, Brown found himself without the time to compete. He has been on hiatus since 2009 but is planning on competing again this summer.
Brown is not worried about losing his touch. The numbers seem to agree; though it was once unthinkable for anyone to have a time less than six seconds on the Cycle, an out-of-practice Brown had a time of 6.28 during his interview last week.
“It’s all muscle memory,” Brown said. “Once you’ve been doing it so long, it’s like riding a bike.”