City’s thumb wrestling champ has world in the palm of his hand

Graeme Cunningham
Graeme Cunningham
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It’s not an Olympic sport –yet. But after powering his way to glory in this year’s World Thumb Wrestling Championships, the man they call “Flash” is hoping the sport will gain wider 
recognition.

Graeme Cunningham beat off stiff competition from the best 29 thumb wrestlers in the world at a pub in Lowestoft, Suffolk, as well as actor Will Mellor and comedian Rory McGrath.

The 32-year-old, who lives in Fountainbridge, puts his success down to closing his eyes while competing and using his sense of movement instead of sight.

Winning was all the sweeter this year as he had unfinished business from the previous competition, where he came second.

“I didn’t care about the 600-mile round journey, I had unfinished business from last year and had been putting in the practice ready to go one step further this year,” he said.

“I am so pleased that I managed to do that. There were some strong competitors, including the celebrities, but it just goes to show if you put the work in and believe in yourself, you can achieve your goals.”

Graeme added: “Let’s get thumb wrestling in the 2016 Olympics. I’m glad to go one further than Andy Murray did at Wimbledon and grab a title to bring back home to Scotland.”

The event was filmed for a Channel 5 programme called Rory and Will: Great British Champions.

Graeme, an electronics engineer who is also the Scottish rowing team manager, added: “When I went on holiday when I was younger, I would sit in the back seat of the car with my sister Linsey and we would pass the time by thumb wrestling, so I’ve definitely got her to thank for getting me where I am today.”

The event last Saturday saw competitors linking hands within a small wrestling ring and trying to pin each other’s thumb down for three seconds.

Competitors came from across the UK, as well as Australia, Poland and Pakistan, with many dressing or decorating their thumbs for the occasion.

Other stage names at the championships, which attracted more than 100 spectators, included Thumb and Coke, Thumb-erlicious, Thumbderbolt and Thumb-Down.

Rory Van Bellis, ringmaster and CEO of the World Thumb Wrestling 
Championships, said: “Graeme bounced back from last year’s excruciatingly close final defeat at the thumb of ‘The Cobra’ from London.

“He was certainly a crowd favourite, with the audience falling in love with his style of keeping his eyes closed during bouts.

“The people of 
Lowestoft cannot wait to see him back next year to defend his title and to take on 2011 champion The Cobra, who could not make it this year due to an injury.”

Graeme plans to defend his title next year, with his winner’s trophy currently taking pride of place on his desk at work.

He added: “I actually did suck my thumb as a child while stroking a little silk label – that was my comforter – so maybe that’s where it all started.”

Thumb wrestling - how it works and rules

When competing in a thumb wrestling contest, players hook the four fingers of their right (or left) hands together so that both hands are clasped tightly.

A short pre-contest starting chant is then repeated, such as, “One, two, three, four – I declare a thumb-a-war”. If playing UK rules, ‘no over-hyped southern European or US-style pre-contest chants will be acceptable and using such may result in disqualification from the contest’.

The 60-second contest begins. To win a contest, one player must pin their opponent’s thumb down for as long as it takes to say, “one, two, three, four – I win thumb-o-war.”

If the ­referee agrees that this has been achieved, the player is ­announced the winner. If competing in the championships, the player would then progress to the next round.

If this cannot be achieved within two separate 60-second rounds, then the tie

will be settled with

a game of sudden

death – scissors, paper, stone.

Elbows must be on the surface at all times and fingernails should be kept short.