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The YouTube phenomenon that is Marble Olympics

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It's late. Illuminated only by my laptop screen, I let out a yelp of excitement. Mere moments after the Thunderbolts had broken a world record, the Hazers have smashed it by 30 points. It’s astonishing. Captivating. Ridiculous.

I’m watching the 2019 MarbleLympics on YouTube. Fictional teams of real marbles are competing in a series of sporting challenges, testing their speed, endurance and balance.

It’s the brainchild of Dutch Youtuber Jelle Bakker, who has been making marble machines as a hobby since he was four, and posting videos of them online since 2006. Over time, the courses and videos became more elaborate, evolving into the first Marble Olympics in 2016.

The care and precision taken in building and running the events is remarkable, but it is nothing compared to the meticulous replication of traditional sports coverage. There are leaderboards, action replays, team anthems, a roaring crowd, and real-time commentary (American Greg Woods has been the official commentator for Jelle’s Marble Runs for many years). There are miniature arenas, complete with jumbotron messages, seats packed with marble spectators, waving signs for their favourite team.

It’s easy to laugh at. But it’s even easier to lose yourself in the charm, the magic, and (honestly) drama of this beautiful internet rabbit hole.

By Jim Fishwick, curator