This will be the first in a new series of extremely infrequent articles, in which I analyze sports competitions that take place in cartoons, and analyze their feasibilities compared to real-life sports.
Today it will be about the Flying Derby episodes of Sofia the First, which are S1E01 where Sofia tries out for the derby team, and S2E03 where her team competes in the latter stages of Enchancia’s national derby competition. Most focus will be given to the latter episode, since it shows more details about how the sport is organized.
The Flying Derby at an organized level, is a 2 vs 2 pegasus-based team race, taking inspiration from horse galloping races as well as roller-skating derbies. The first racer across the finish line, wins the race for his/her team (Female racers used to be uncommon at the Academy’s team due to preconceptions about gender-based hobbies).
There is a national competition, whose winners are awarded with a large regal crown. The names of 3 teams are known: The Academy (which uses riders from the Royal School), the Junior Knights, and the Knights. There is a substantial age difference between the teams, with the Knights being in their 20s, and the Academy being around 12. This raises some concerns about the use of child riders at the top level, which has traditionally been a pretty big problem in quadrupedal racing (especially in camel racing) due to injuries and work exploitation.
In S2E03, it is noted that the winner of the match between Academy and Knights advances to the championship [match]. It is later noted that the Junior Knights (who would play Academy in the final) is the best team and has won the championship in the prior two years; this is talked about as a non-trivial matter for them to achieve, strongly indicating that the national competition is in a cup format, and not as a challenge format.
Additionally, it is said that Academy had not made it to the championship match in 100 years, before their win over Knights. Since Academy also has a victory cheer song among the fans, which is also the most spectacularly and elaborately practiced cheer I have ever heard in a sports contect in my entire life, this means almost certainly that there are considerably more than just four teams and mere semi-finals in the competition.
For the final, the Junior Knights decided to arrive 2 days in advance to train at the Academy’s raceground, which meant that the Junior Knights’ semi-final was at another venue.
Since there’s just 3 days between the Academy’s semi-final and the final, this makes it probable that there’s some kind of Final Four week with considerable amounts of attention from the not all that many citizens in Enchancia. However, it seems that the Final Four week is merely for traditional reasons and/or to best fit with the school schedules of the younger teams, since its 3 matches are held at 2 different venues.
The rules are very loose, most particularly visible through the use of the double blockade. If one team is ahead of the other, then one rider on the leading team can swerve in zig-zag in front of the other team, while the other rider tries to pull ahead and increase his lead. This is even allowed on the finish stretch, which in every single real-life sport would’ve instead led to a disqualification for unfair obstruction.
Riders also ride on the pegasuses with seemingly no safety equipment whatsoever, other than helmets and thick sweaters. This is particularly visible when the Academy is training for the final, as Hugo (who was 3rd in Academy’s tryouts that season, and was selected for the final after James tumbled and broke his wrist) ends up being flung off his pegasus on at least two occasions during training for the Flying Slingshot maneuvre. On of one of the occasions he was flung 15m from midair and into a pretty shallow fountain, and somehow walked away completely unharmed. Had he landed on the dirt ground, I can guarantee you that he would’ve needed to be hastily hospitalized instead.
In addition to the double blockade and the flying slingshot, the latter of which is considered a very risky move due to the general implication among derby fans that a bad slingshot could lead to “disaster” (also given the lack of safety equipment), there is also the wing kick, in which the rider that is behind the other rider stops up to start a big breeze with his pegasus’ wings, to give the other rider a very serious speed boost.
From an Earth-based physical standpoint, neither rotation or the conservation of energy work like what they do in S2E03. The charge-up fase of the flying slingshot in the episode, sees them charge up in a discus-like fashion by holding hands, while still moving forward at a constant pace over the track. In real life, it would normally lead to the riders moving forward at an erratic pace at the same time as that the charge-up spinning would’ve been slightly elliptic. But then again, pegasuses in fiction has never cared much about the laws of physics anyway. 🙂
The Academy’s racetrack is somewhere more than 1,000m long, judging solely by the very broad corners, and has many unique features that the riders have to take some attention to avoid hitting into, such as bridges, a lake, and even an entire house in the middle of the track that still appears like it could’ve been habitable without renovations. Its start gate has room for 5 horses, of which the inner 4 lanes are used for derbies, and its races are 1 lap long (and are technically A-to-B races as well, since the finish line has a ribbon band to break).
The most distinguished feature of the track, and one of few that doesn’t make any real sense, is a giant clock tower, seemingly around 50m tall. Riders are supposed to fly through the top floor and ring the bell in order to continue onwards. Instead of gradually ascending to the height of the top floor, which any sane person would’ve done; the riders are instead supposed to approach the tower at about 5m altitude, and then try to fly straight up alongside the tower’s walls at a 90° angle while the pegasus is making kicking motions. The racetrack has two spectator stands (not counting the royal family’s stand) for about 400 spectators, whose ability to see the entire track is severely obstructed by the giant brickwall rider entrance that is erected between them.
And that’s how the sport of Flying Derbies in Sofia the First works. Conclusion? I’d want to introduce some much, much better safety measures into the sport. But other than that it’s a well-organized sport that makes perfect sense within the context of the show, especially as pegasuses are a very common species in Enchancia (thoɦ not so much in the other kingdoms seen over the course of the first season).