It's 1 o'clock on a crisp Saturday afternoon in December. Brian Prescott, sporting a USA Hockey jersey, floats about his Wahsatch Avenue backyard Wahsatch Abbey, as the regulars call it beer pitcher in hand. As he refills drinks, he quickly explains a short list of rules to newcomers. Judges will deduct for "spillage," and for the time it takes a team to drink the beer. A single rented port-o-potty, he notes, rests on one side of his yard, across from an official vomit corner at the intersection of two stained-wood fence lengths.
The first Winter Beer Olympics well, at least the first such event that any of today's players has ever seen is about to begin.
A rowdy congregation of men and women, divided into eight teams of four along with nearly 50 spectators, are scattered throughout the yard. Most are endowed with a beer gut.
Four 30-something men wearing matching shirts discuss strategy over red plastic cups of Miller High Life, the day's choice beer. They call themselves "Asshole Bill and the Fabulous Three." They've been training for years, they say, and today, pride is their motive.
How did they prepare for today's drinking activities?
"Three beers a night, and lots of carbs."
Any talk of doping scandals?
"Why would you want to cheat?"
Calm and confident, if a bit cocky. They look strong.
In stark contrast is Team Kenya, comprised of two males and two females none actually from Kenya nor able to sufficiently explain the name. They're young and "still drunk from yesterday," as the most intoxicated one boasts.
Does age gave them an edge, or a disadvantage?
"Our kidneys are pink and robust," one said, clearly unaware that it's the liver that filters alcohol.
Any plan of action?
"You can't win if you don't cheat," says another team member.
Which brings us to the two women and an intern who comprise the panel of judges.
"No biases," says the first, Kandee, who's already working on a buzz, "but my husband is on one of the teams."
"I can be bought," says Karole, the other judge.
Make no mistake, these are serious games.
Winning and luge-ing
Prescott, 29, works in advertising when not engaged in competitive drinking. He says he conceived the idea for a beer Olympics while watching Beerfest, a then-just-released beer-themed comedy film.
"I thought to myself, 'Self, you like beer. You like competition. You know people who like beer. And they probably like competition, too. And, hey, you can put on one heck of a party.'"
Prescott eschewed high-level advertising tactics: He sent out an e-mail invite to friends and co-workers a few weeks prior to St. Patrick's Day in 2007, and urged recipients to forward to whomever they pleased.
Many players here today are veterans of that inaugural event and its '08 follow-up. In 2009, Prescott is changing things up a bit, taking St. Patrick's Day off and instead holding an Olympiad around Cinco de Mayo.
The springtime weather, of course, will make some of the cold-weather events of today impossible. For instance: the beer luge.
This, the first of five events, begins after the epic Olympic anthem booms from the heavens (or an old PC in the nearby garage) to kick things off. The luge features a block of ice slanted at 45 degrees on an 8-foot wooden stand. Two ruts run through the ice: "The Avalanche" is a straight rut designed to shoot the beer quickly into participants' mouths. The second rut is a zigzag, intended to slow the beer.
How it's played: A team-member stands on a platform behind the ice and pours a full cup of High Life into an awaiting mouth below. Each team's rotation is up when six cups are drained.
Where strategy enters the picture: Team members can rotate however they please (one drinking his cup then racing around to pour for the other, etc.).
How it all goes down (literally): The experienced drinkers gulp the liquid without problem, but novices manage only to suck in mouthfuls at a time, while a greater portion of the beer runs down their clothes.
To much amusement, the teams try to communicate from the bottom of the luge to the top, using hand signals. Prescott, representing Puck 'n Beer Nuts in addition to his emcee duties, vengefully pours a beer quickly into his teammate's mouth, despite the drinker frantically waving for him to stop.
"You didn't stop for me fuck you," he says, laughing.
After the first team's run, the beer had carved its own course straight through the zigzag, leaving only one option: speed. Jason Khodl, luge designer, acknowledges that he spent only 45 minutes carving the chunk of ice with a saw and chisel.
Stumbling up after his turn, he says, "The right side of my brain was frozen."
'Cold and delicious'
Next up: ski beer. Here, four pint glasses are glued to a full-size ski, equidistant apart. Team members line up and try to synchronize their gulping. Some do. Others discover weak links that throw the rhythm off.
More spilled beer.
Next comes the triple-Lutz and mitten quarters events. In the triple-Lutz relay (commonly called "flippy cup" in non-Olympic settings), participants one at a time down a total of six beers and then flip their cup (hung halfway over a table's edge and flicked with a finger) until it lands top-down on the table, prompting the next person to start.
Quarters involves each team member having a minute to down a beer and then bounce as many quarters as they can into a cup. This winterized incarnation involves wearing a kitchen mitten, for added clumsiness.
With one event to go, participants and spectators alike are already well beyond balanced. Even the judges are drunk.
"It helps us get in their shoes," says Kandee.
A handful of drinkers take advantage of the vomit corner, while others clamor at the port-o-potty.
Relay beer-can hockey wraps it up. Team members each pound one can of Olympia beer (triggering many gag reflexes), crush it and then send it flying with a slap shot toward a hockey goal 10 yards away. The majority of the drunken swingers manage to steady their bodies enough to, surprisingly, swat the can in the proper direction.
At event's end, the judges tally the scores and award Alcohol Abusement Park a gold Christmas ornament.
"It feels cold and delicious. This one goes out to all the ladies," one of Alcohol Abusement Park's members stammers, from the makeshift podium where the beer luge sits melting.
A silver goes to Asshole Bill and the Fabulous Three, who seem happy just to have drank, and a bronze to Puck 'n Beer Nuts.
At some point, Team Kenya declared itself aiming for last. Mission accomplished.
The, for the most part, well-orchestrated Beer Olympics clock in at five hours, three kegs of High Life and 60 12-ounce cans of Washington-brewed Olympia. That equates to 6,672 ounces total, and an average of seven 12-ounce beers consumed per person present. Some obviously drank more, some less.
For the Cinco de Mayo event, competitors will likely face a spicy beer chug, in which a team must complete four vessels of chile beer, relay style. One person starts with the smallest vessel and each remaining member finishes an even larger beer. The final member must finish a massive 62-ounce "fishbowl." Prescott boasts that in St. Paddy's Olympics, this event's been done with green beer, and no one has successfully consumed the fishbowl without immediately vomiting.
If over-indulgent (but merry) drunkenness was today's goal, the first Winter Beer Olympics is clearly a success. Prescott feels his get-together went as planned.
"The Winter Olympics brings people together over alcoholism. No no wait," he says, giggling, "the Winter Olympics is what brings teams together through alcohol dot dot dot ism."