The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games are fast approaching, with opening ceremonies beginning on Friday, July 27. As always, people are pretty pumped. Watching top athletes gather from all over the world to compete for a shot at gold is something that the average person could only dream of (and they’d probably still lose in their dreams). However, there are a handful of Olympic events throughout history that would have even the most die-hard fans scratching their heads, and those are the events we're looking at today as we prepare for all the wonder that is to come in the following weeks.
Tug of War (1900 Paris Summer Olympics–1920 Antwerp Summer Olympics)
An Olympic team is only as strong as its weakest set of forearms. OK, obviously there is more to it than that, but let’s be real: this game is played at picnics by people who just competed in a hot-dog eating contest 10 minutes earlier, so it’s easy to see why it was discontinued after 1920. The event was an eight-on-eight competition, and the first team to pull the other team six feet was declared the winner. But you tug-of-war buffs already knew that.
Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera was the first black athlete to compete in the Olympics. His French team received a silver medal in the tug-of-war competition in 1900, and he also was a member of the French Rugby team that won gold the same year.
Tug of war was a part of the Ancient Olympics, first held in 500 B.C.
Great Britain won the most medals during tug of war’s Olympic run, taking two golds, two silvers and a bronze. Note, however, that individual clubs were allowed to compete in the event. Therefore, sometimes there were multiple teams representing the same country. So there were years, like 1908, in which the U.K. won all three medals due to the number of teams representing them.
Solo Synchronized Swimming (1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics–1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics)
Let this one sink in for a second. Not only does the name make no sense, but the general idea, even when it is explained perfectly, is still pretty weak. This was a women-only sport where athletes were awarded scores based on how well they danced in water to music. That’s where the word “synchronized” comes in. So you can see why this one was forgotten pretty quickly.
Medalists in all three Olympics in which this event took place were from the US, Canada and Japan.
One judge accidentally gave Canadian solo synchronized swimmer Sylvie Frechette an 8.7 instead of a 9.7 during her 1992 Olympic performance, costing her the gold. It was later reinstated. Sheesh, even the interesting stuff about this event is boring.
Equestrian Long Jump/High Jump (1900 Paris Summer Olympics)
Call this one a twofer: two dumb sports for the price of one. These were the products of the 1900 Olympic Games, which saw some of the weirdest events to this day take place due to the fact that the World’s Fair was happening in Paris at the same time. Many of the events were considered demonstration or trial events, to be decided on officially later. No need to describe these two in any more detail, as they are exactly what you think.
In the long-jump competition, Constant van Langendonck of Belgium won gold on a horse named Extra-Dry. He jumped a distance of 6.10 meters.
There was actually a tie for gold in the high-jump competition, as horses Canela and Oreste both cleared 1.85 meters. Their riders were Dominique Garderes of France and Giorgio Trissino of Italy respectively. (You most likely pushed something of value out of your brain to make room for this useless information. Sorry about that).
Rope Climbing (1896 Athens Summer Olympics–1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics)
Sure, it’s a feat of strength, but honestly, who climbs a rope unless they're trapped down a well? This one had a pretty impressive tenure, but that didn’t stop it from getting the boot. The event was very simple but -- as silly as this sounds -- difficult. Competitors started in a seated position and could use only their arms to climb to the top of a rope. Form and speed were also judged since contestants didn’t always make it to the top. It was so challenging, Superman placed fourth in the 1932 event (Geek note: Yes, we are aware that Superman wasn’t created until 1938. But for the sake of the joke, let’s just say he did that back-in-time thing from the first Christopher Reeves "Superman" movie).
Rope climbing was considered a gymnastics event, and was featured in four Summer Olympic Games during the time period it existed as an event.
Only two participants (both Greek) in the 1896 Olympic Games even made it to the top of the rope. The rope’s length was shortened in subsequent years from its original 14 meters to roughly between seven and eight meters.
Plunge Diving (1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics)
An Olympic event requiring seemingly no talent whatsoever beyond being able to dive into a pool from a stationary position 18 inches above the water, this one didn’t make it past its first year. This is most likely due to how idiotic it was, not to mention that the heavier you were, the more likely you were to succeed. So, to explain further, the athletes dove into the water, and then simply held their positions for 60 seconds without propelling themselves anymore. The person to travel the furthest won.
William Dickey traveled 19.05 meters (62 feet 6 inches) to win the gold medal.
All five (yes, only five) participants were American.
Hot-Air Ballooning (1900 Paris Summer Olympics)
Another demonstration event, hot-air ballooning included elevation, duration, distance and targeted stopping competitions. And some people think soccer is a dull sport.
Targeted stopping did not involve landing on a particular spot like one might think. It involved flying over a target and dropping a weighted marker at it to see who could get closest.
There are no records of which countries competed in this event, as it was unofficial.
Skijoring (1928 St. Moritz Winter Olympics)
Finally, a winter sport. Albeit a demonstration event, this one was just like dog sledding, minus the dogs and plus a horse. Competitors would strap on skis, and essentially hold on for dear life as their horses ran them through a course. The contestant to finish the course the quickest won. The sport didn’t last past its inaugural run.
This was the first actual winter Olympics not held in conjunction with a summer Olympics. The 1924 Chamonix Winter Olympics were technically named the first winter Olympics after the fact, but they went on the same year as the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics.
Switzerland took all three medals for this event.
Skijoring can technically use dogs, horses or motorized vehicles to pull the skier around. This particular Olympic games just happened to use horses.
Dueling Pistols (1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics)
Not quite what you think, considering that the men participating in this event were not actually dueling each other. They were shooting at mannequins in frock coats with bull’s-eyes on their chests. We weren’t a bunch of savages back then, folks.
This event was held in the 1906 Intercalated Games as well, though they weren’t officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Dueling pistols had a 20-meter and 30-meter event. Leon Moreaux of France took the gold in the 20-meter duel. Konstantinos Skarlatos of Greece took the gold in the 30-meter.
Live Pigeon Shooting (1900 Paris Summer Olympics)
Remember that “we weren’t a bunch of savages” comment? That’s only half true once you consider this event. Like most of the stranger Olympic events on this list, live pigeon shooting took place during the 1900 Olympics and is pretty self-explanatory. However, that doesn’t make it right. The event involved releasing hundreds of pigeons into the sky, with contestants just basically going on killing sprees to determine the winner. Once you missed two shots in a row, you were out.
More than 300 pigeons were slaughtered during this event, leaving a bloody, feathery mess to clean up. This is the only Olympic event in history to involve intentionally killing animals for sport.
The “winner” of the event took down 21 birds. His name was Leon de Lunden of Belgium. If it makes you feel any better, he’s probably long dead by now.
Other strange demonstration events of the 1900 Olympic Games not yet mentioned include firefighting, surf lifesaving, delivery-truck driving, kite flying and cannon shooting.
Tandem Bicycle 2000-Meter Sprint (1908 London Summer Olympics–1972 Munich Summer Olympics)
A favorite activity of many TV sitcom roommates, this one is the longest-running event on the list. It was quite dangerous, though, as the sprints took place on a banked track or velodrome. Since it was a timed event, the bicyclists would be moving at top speeds, so wrecks were going to hurt.
Like the dueling-pistols event, the tandem bicycle 2000-meter sprint was held in the 1906 Intercalated Games, but was not officially recognized.
This video features some tandem bicycling at its best (28-second mark).
One Handed Weightlifting (1896 Athens Summer Olympics–1904 St. Louis Summer Olympics)
If this were a team sport, we’d want this dude on our team. But this competition revolved around solo men lifting weights one arm at a time. The competitor got three attempts with each arm to lift the most weight. When it was all said and done, the man with the best combined weight lifted by each arm (as in the most weight he lifted with his left plus his right) took the gold.
Once again, this event also was featured in the unofficial 1906 Intercalated Games.
Come to think of it, if the guy in the video above did compete in this event, he’d most likely lose to every man with two strong arms. Forget it. He’s cut.
Bandy (1952 Oslo Winter Olympics)
You can call it “ice soccer” if you want. The sport involves skating around an ice rink the size of a soccer field using 1.2-meter-long (3.9-feet) sticks to smack a ball into a goal. There are 11 players to each side, and halves are 45 minutes each. Boom. Ice soccer.
Bandy was a demonstration sport that never caught on.
Only three countries competed. Sweden won. Norway took second. Finland took third. However, each team’s record was the same (one win, one loss), so it came down to goals scored to determine the champion. There probably should have been some controversy, but nobody cared.
Next: When Sports Go Horribly Wrong
BONUS EVENT: Poodle Clipping (1900 Paris Summer Olympics)
This was technically another trial or demonstration event at the 1900 Olympics (go figure). Believe it or not, it didn’t get the votes to become an official Olympic event. That might be because the general public just wasn’t ready for an event where competitors would try to clip as many poodles as they could in a two-hour time period. Maybe in 2016. Anyway, the winner of this first and only poodle-clipping Olympic event was a 37-year-old housewife from France named Avril Lafoule, who clipped 17 poodles in the two hours.
This event did not actually take place. All facts about it were completely made up as an April Fools' Day joke by a writer for the U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph on April 1, 2008. He posted the story as a part of their “Countdown to the Beijing Olympics” segment. The story was picked up by several media outlets as fact, and still yields numerous results when Googled, mostly claiming the story to be a real event that took place. We just figured it was worth mentioning since most sites with articles on the subject don’t realize it is a joke (The Telegraph). Gotcha!