08/17/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT
As a spectator sport, it makes chess seem like a heart stopper. Nevertheless this year's Pole Sitting Championships drew more than 100,000 to the Dutch coastal village of Noordwijkerhout, where the old record of 104 straight hours was bested by 30 minutes. Not that the event didn't offer its share of thrills, like watching three of the 18 pole sitters gradually develop muscle cramps and fall into the water, or observing how the seven record-setting finalists fought off sleep for four nights. "You need the right state of mind to keep your eyes open," says the only female contestant, local medical assistant Jose Turk, 25. "You must be able to empty your mind, reduce your thinking to zero."
At least the action at Noordwijkerhout was nonstop. Unlike certain other pole sitters throughout the world, these contestants aren't allowed to abandon their positions. When the call of nature must be answered, a special tent is erected around them and a bedpan is provided. "Other contests allow participants to leave their seats for five minutes every hour," sniffs Jan Huybrechts, chief of the local municipal sports office. "That's not pole sitting. It's much too easy."