Such are the skills that Guinness World Records are made of in Pakistan, where thousands of young people are groomed to establish their unique feats for posterity.
This month, the contestants came together in the eastern city of Lahore for the annual Punjab Youth Festival to show their stuff — many in athletics, but others in downright quirky displays, including a boy who achieved fame by kicking 50 coconuts from atop the heads of a row of people. A Guinness adjudicator was flown in to certify the results.
It seems Pakistan has become a world-record-creating machine, with the coordinated effort reaping an impressive 23 world records over the past year, according to event organizers.
The push for inclusion of Pakistanis in the venerable Guinness World Records, which launched in book form in 1955, stems in part from festival organizers’ desire to boost the image of a country often associated with militancy, religious strife and economic decline — but not often with athletic prowess beyond the cricket field.
There is a patriotic element, as well: Last October, 42,813 Pakistanis gathered in a Lahore field hockey stadium to sing the national anthem and create yet another world record for the most people singing their country’s anthem.
Days later, 24,200 people held green and white boxes — the colors of the national flag of Pakistan — to set the world record for creating the largest human flag.
Although some of the records might seem amusing — coconut-kicking champ Mohammad Rashid of Karachi this month claimed his fourth world record by breaking 34 pine boards with his head in just 32 seconds — the competitions were no laughing matter to participants.
Usman Anwar, director of the Punjab Youth Festival, explained that the kids had been training for eight months. “We started at the neighborhood and village level so that children could come out and participate,” Anwar said. “Our main objective was to inculcate interest for sports in the public.”
Young people from 55,200 neighborhood and village councils vied for a chance to compete in the games, he said.
“We were able to select the best of the best to train for the world records,” Anwar said.
Because of terrorism, political upheaval and widespread unemployment, many young people have little hope for the future, said Hafeez Rehman, a professor in the anthropology department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
Sports competitions — however you define sports — create an opportunity for youth to excel personally and also to improve Pakistan’s image, he said.
“We have energetic youth. Pakistan has more than 55 million young people. It becomes an asset for the country,” Rehman said.
The festival itself has become part of the record-setting mania. It was recognized for having more participants — 3.3 million, according to Anwar, most of whom registered online — thus setting a world record for sporting events.