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Exposed: A brief history of streaking

Why the hell is this phenomenon so popular?
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ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY
ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY

Streaking, broadly defined, is running nude or semi-nude in public for entertainment or shock value. 

It is not known precisely when streaking started. One of the first depictions of streaking is a legend from the thirteenth century: to compel her husband to lower taxes on his subjects, Lady Godiva rode a horse naked through the town of Coventry. Since then, streakers have invaded university campuses, sports pitches, the Olympics, and even the Oscars. 

In the 1970s, arguably, the golden age of streaking began. A “streaking epidemic” kicked off in the fall semester of 1973 across colleges in the US. Students of all genders eagerly participated. At Harvard, two streakers wearing only surgical masks disrupted a first-year anatomy test. At Princeton, a student campaigned for vice-president of the class of 1976 with the slogan: “Vote the Streaker—if Elected he will Run.” Some people even streaked in front of the Capitol Building and the White House. But even before that, students at the University of Notre Dame had organized a “Streaker’s Olympics” in 1972. When asked why streaking was so popular, a student at Yale said, “We’re college students and college students are supposed to have fun.” 

Some mass streaking events at universities enjoyed a surprising longevity. Starting in 1986, the “Naked Mile” was established at the University of Michigan, where students streaked to celebrate the end of the winter semester. The event steadily grew and became a part of the university’s culture. However, by 2000, increased media attention and pressure from university administrators and the police dissuaded students from participating in the run. The last Naked Mile was held in 2004.

The first recorded incident of streaking at sporting events occurred in 1974, at Twickenham in the UK, during a charity rugby match between England and France. Michael O’Brien streaked across the field at halftime to win a £10 bet. He was later arrested, and a picture of the incident, taken by photographer Ian Bradshaw, won Life Magazine’s “Picture of the Year” award. 

Similarly, in 1975, Michael Angelow streaked across the cricket pitch on the fourth day of a test match between England and Australia. He won a £20 bet but was fined the same amount for indecent exposure, thus earning nothing for his exploits. 

The NHL had its inaugural streaker in 1974, when Ms. Cyndi skated onto the ice naked during a game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. This incident turned out to be a publicity stunt organized by the Kings. 

During the closing ceremony of the 1976 Summer Olympics, held in Montréal, a streaker sauntered past security into a circle of dancers — echoing the spirit of the original Olympics when athletes competed in the nude. 

Streakers are also prevalent in individual sports. Wimbeldon’s first streaker, Melissa Johnson, ran onto the court wearing only an apron. That was arguably the most memorable moment of the 1996 bout between Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington. In 1999, Yvonne Robb dashed onto the golf course during the British Open and kissed Tiger Woods. She was later fined £100 for breaching the peace. 

Occasionally, players have expressed frustration with streakers. Greg Chapell spanked a streaker with his cricket bat repeatedly during a test match between Australia and New Zealand in 1977. In 2008, cricketer Andrew Symonds slammed into a streaker and knocked him down during a match between Australia and India. 

Streaking has become increasingly commercialized; famous streakers can now monetize their notoriety. Mark Roberts, the self-described “World’s #1 Most Prolific Streaker” seemingly streaks as a full-time job. As of 2018, he has streaked 565 times in 23 countries. 

During the 2006 Winter Olympics and Super Bowl XXXVIII, he darted onto the field with “GoldenPalace.com” written on his body. His streaking, though, is not always commercial: during the 2018 Winter Olympics, he snuck onto the rink with the words “Peace + Love” written on his chest. 

Dressed in a revealing swimsuit, Kinskey Wolanski dashed across the pitch in 2019, during an otherwise unremarkable Champions League Final between Liverpool and Tottenham. She was promoting Vitaly Uncensored, her boyfriend’s porn site. Her boyfriend, YouTuber Vitaly Zdorovetskiy, had previously invaded the pitch during the World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina in 2014. Kinskey was fined £13,000 by UEFA, but the publicity her stunt generated — and the traffic it brought to her boyfriend’s website — created a profit that far outstripped the size of the fine. 

Streaking has come a long way from its origin: students running naked on college campuses for the fun of it.