Million Dollar Juggler


You enter the stadium as the lights go dim. The crowd cheers as you enter, and you feel your heart racing. In front of you sits a panel of judges watching you. Above them, a banner bearing the Olympic rings is hung. You are here for the gold, to represent your nation to the rest of the world. And in your hands, you hold…

Juggling pins?

No, this is not a joke. If you are not aware, over the past 20 years the sport of juggling has seen a massive resurgence largely thanks to one organization, the World Juggling Federation (WJF). The WJF was originally founded in 2000 by professional juggler Jason Garfield who wanted to change public perception of juggling and establish an official format for juggling competitions. His ultimate goal has always been to get juggling inducted into the Olympic Games. Creating an Olympic sport is no easy task, but he has actually come quite far in that goal.

The WJF and Jason Garfield take juggling just as seriously as any other sport. Since 2004 the organization has held 17 world championships in juggling, with the most recent being WJF 17 held last December in Las Vegas. These conferences are not tiny events held in rented-out gyms. They take place in full-scale competition venues and have official TV coverage on ESPN. Not to mention the events themselves are quite complex, showcasing several different types of juggling. Similar to a sport like gymnastics, competitors can perform in different events, such as endurance juggling, freestyle, advanced, and even combat juggling (yes, it is real. And yes, it is absolutely crazy). To Jason Garfield however, this is only the beginning, as that eventual goal of the Olympic rings seems more and more realistic.

Upon first hearing this story I, probably like many people, initially wrote off the WJF as just some silly fad. Juggling? Really? But once I started actually looking into the organization and what they do, I realized there is much more to the WFJ than it seems. First of all, there is the juggling itself. I watched highlights of WJF 17 and some of the moves these jugglers are able to pull off are insane. There is far more to this sport than just tossing three balls around in a circle, and these jugglers show that off at the highest level. The amount of dedication the competitors have to their craft shines through in their levels of precision and coordination that are required to pull off their tricks. This is exactly what Jason Garfield first set out to do back in 2000. “Once you put a skill into a competition format you see the skill level increase, competition pushes competitors to be the best they can become.” He said at the second WJF Convention in 2005, “This has been proven to be the case with juggling as well. A lot of jugglers are now pushing themselves harder, and I believe it is because of the WJF.” 

But of course, there is more to the WJF and Jason Garfield than just the competitions. The WJF has its own Youtube channel, personally run by Jason Garfield himself. After watching several videos of his, it becomes clear that his passion for juggling is genuine. His goal of getting juggling into the Olympics is not something he wants for himself. He wants to share it with this community of jugglers he has now spent over 20 years building. He plays a very active role in the WJF, frequently holding juggling workshops at events and posting juggling tutorials on his own personal Youtube channel (along with the odd juggling-themed vlog).

Starting in 2021, the WJF became a fully non-profit charity, almost entirely dependent on donations. Beyond competitions, they also recently started their own youth programs. Representatives from the WJF will travel to elementary schools to give lessons and demonstrations on juggling to the students, as well as train PE teachers to continue the juggling programs on their own. The WJF says that these juggling programs are beneficial for children, as juggling can help build their coordination, reaction time, and concentration. Jason Garfield has, on many occasions, talked about the importance of these youth programs, and that it is up to the children to continue the sport’s legacy towards that shared dream of being in the Olympics.

Should juggling finally make it into the Olympics it would likely be as a performance sport, similar to gymnastics or figure skating. And in my opinion, why not? The WJF has already proven juggling’s ability to be a seriously competitive sport, and it would not be the first time an unconventional sport made it into the Olympics. Ski ballet was an Olympic sport for Calgary 88 and Albertville 92, and even more recently breakdancing was inducted as an official Olympic sport for the upcoming 2024 Summer Games in Paris. Even though it is now considered a staple of the Winter Olympics, snowboarding was only introduced in 1998. It was originally dismissed as entertainment, and took tremendous effort from figures like Shaun White to transform the sport into the respectable discipline it is today. Jason Garfield is already doing this with juggling. Comparing the routines of professional jugglers from the early 2000s to today, it is amazing how much complexity has been developed in the sport in such a short period of time. Juggling has proven itself to be a real and serious sport, so maybe it is time we give it its chance to show itself to the entire world.