Like other Olympic gold medalists, Wilmette teen Josh Corwin is focused on posting the fastest time in his sport.
But unlike other Olympians, Corwin's sport does not involve running, jumping or throwing. Corwin is a champion cup stacker.
In late July, Corwin, 17, led Team Illinois to a first-place finish in the AAU Junior Olympic Games Sport Stacking Championships in Detroit. The team was awarded a gold medal after competing against the fastest teams from around the world in a dual-bracketed, double-elimination, head-to-head tournament known as the Junior Olympic Games Challenge.
"I was just really happy because I knew once our fourth guys was up, as long as he didn't mess up, we had it," said Corwin. "Once he hit the timer, I was ecstatic."
Cup stacking is a competitive event in which contestants "upstack" and "downstack" specially designed cups in different sequences as fast as they can, Corwin explained. He said the sport typically is broken into three stacking events, including the "three-three-three," involving nine cups, the "three-six-three," involving 12 cups, and the "full cycle," which also has 12 cups.
"There's also doubles and relay events," Corwin said. "You upstack and downstack the cups in a certain pattern."
He said the object is to post the fastest stacking time. During the Detroit competition, Team Illinois posted a winning time of 40.08 seconds, narrowly beating Team New York by about two seconds.
"It was really close, but we pulled through in the end," Corwin said.
Corwin started cup stacking in his fifth-grade gym class at Sunset Ridge Middle School in Northfield, where the event was added to the school's curriculum to help students improve their hand-eye coordination. Corwin had broken his heel and could not participate in traditional sports that involved running, so his parents purchased him a set of stacking cups.
"I really never envisioned him going to this level," said Rob Corwin, Josh's father. "As a father, I just wanted him to be happy and be active. It really was his motivation. It wasn't mine. He was totally responsible for developing those skills."
Josh said he practices stacking about an hour a day before big tournaments and 20 minutes a day in the "off season."
"I do it in slow motion first, and then I go a little faster so I don't mess up, and eventually I just go all out," he said. "The trick is to be consistent. You can go really fast, but you risk the cups falling on the floor."
Team USA coach Pola Metz said Team Illinois can take pride in the fact that it beat the best stackers in the country to win the Junior Olympic Games Challenge.
"They are going up against some of the best stackers in the other states," Metz said. "They beat Team Ohio, which has been dominating the last few years. Illinois was very excited because they actually beat them. They were considered the champions."
She also bristled at the suggestion that cup stacking is not a sport.
"If you ever see the boys stacking, they're sweating like you wouldn't believe," Metz said. "You'd totally think it's a sport. It's not something they aren't putting a lot of energy into. It is a sport because we do have world records, we do have national records and we do have state records."
Corwin said he is not sure if he will continue competing at national and international events, but he said he would continue to be part of the speed-stacking demo team, which travels around the country demonstrating the sport to gym teachers. He has also created a stacking YouTube channel at ddr122.
"It's been a big part of my life for the last six years, and it's been a fun and long journey." he said. "I met a lot of awesome people."
Corwin also said he has gotten a lot more out of the sport than simply developing excellent hand-eye coordination.
"I think it's a really big self-esteem boost," he said. "I used to be a very quiet kid — shy, I guess. Ever since I got into sport stacking, I feel like I sort of broke out of my shell. I'm more social. It definitely did help me personally."