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What's it take to set a world record?

We talk to author and Guinness recordholder Larry Olmsted about how records get set

Jen Weigel

Lessons for life

December 20, 2011

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to set a world record? Larry Olmsted is an expert. As a journalist and author of the book "Getting into Guinness: One Man's Longest, Fastest, Highest Journey Inside the World's Most Famous Record Book", he chronicles his own accomplishments (two world records) while digging into the history of record setting mania. We talked with Olmsted about his experience, and what it takes to set a Guinness World Record.

Q: Why do you think people are so fascinated with having a record?

A: I think it's the same thing that drives reality television. A lot of it has nothing to do with furthering knowledge or making a point, it's more to hear yourself talk. It makes you feel self-important. But to have a record, at the end of the day, it's a piece of paper and long fingernails.

Q: What are your records?

A: My first record was because I was doing a story for Golf Magazine, so that was for the greatest distance traveled between two rounds of golf that were played in the same day. I went from Sydney to Los Angeles. That was in February of 2004. The second one was for playing poker for 72 hours straight.

Q: Do they still stand?

A: The golf one got broken in 2005 and the poker record just got broken about a year ago by a pro poker player named Phil Laak.

Q: What were some of your favorite records that you discovered in your research?

A: There was a college student who showered for 97 hours — I mean, I played poker for 72 hours and that was hard, so showering for another whole day would be tough. There's a guy who read the complete works of Shakespeare cover-to-cover out loud. It took him five days. My all-time favorite one was banned by the book. A guy named Ashrita Furman re-created Paul Revere's ride by doing forward somersaults instead of riding a horse. He rolled for 12.2 miles on this route. I wouldn't do that the length of my driveway.

(The book didn't allow the record because Furman stopped to vomit during the attempt, which prevented it from being "consecutive.")

Q: So walk me through the process. How does someone go about setting a record?

A: You can only apply online. You go to the Guinness website and apply there. You file a request — whether you want to break an existing record or petition them to set a new one. Several weeks later they send you a form to sign. Then you sign and fax or mail it back. Then you wait another four or so weeks to hear if it's approved. If it is, they send a lot more rules.

(Everyone is given the opportunity to pay the expediting fee, which guarantees you an answer in no more than three days, but that costs more than $500.)

Q: What was the most challenging part about setting your records?

A: The golf one wasn't about being the best golfer. It was just the worry that the timing wouldn't work out, like my luggage getting through and my planes would be on time. But for the poker record, it was physically exhausting. I was hallucinating. After 48 hours I was delirious. I was snapping at people. I wouldn't do that record again.

Q: Do you think the fascination with Guinness will ever go away?

A: The obsession is worldwide — it's truly global. That book is the biggest international best-seller of all time. It's sold more than 100 million copies in 37 languages. I set my first record in 2004 and in the last seven years I've never met a single person who didn't know what (the book) was. There's a huge group of serial Guinness followers who get it every year and look at it and decide what they want to do. People who are not kids think of it as something in the past — but I know people whose kids have that book on the top of their Christmas or Hanukkah list.

Q: Any more record attempts in your future?

A: I'm doing a ski record next year. I can't give you the details, though — because if it gets out, someone else will do it, which is the nature of the beast.

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel