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Columbus receiving a demonstration of bouncing rubber balls during his second voyage to the New World.

The Great Influencer Columbus’ Influence on Modern Sports

Games involving balls have been part of virtually every culture in the world for thousands of years. In the days of the Roman Empire, jugglers were a popular attraction for the crowds outside the arenas and circuses. European balls were typically made of leather and filled with hair. These rather lifeless objects were used in games and athletic competitions for centuries before Columbus, on his second journey to the New World, brought back an amazing discovery.

The Royal Court sat transfixed as a rubber ball was bounced in front of them. Columbus himself didn’t understand the principles behind the sphere’s movements. He wrote, “I don’t understand how, when the balls hit the ground they are sent into the air with such incredible bounce.”

The rubber ball that captivated Europe five centuries ago continues to enthrall us. From tennis to basketball to soccer, rubber is an essential element of the balls used today to play the world’s major sports.