Bizarre Former Olympic Sports You Never Knew Existed

The first known Olympics occurred in Greece nearly a thousand years B.C. before returning to the country in 1896. From the first modern Olympics in Athens through the turn of the century, it shouldn’t be surprising that the sports that have defined the ‘Olympics’ have varied throughout the passing generations. 

While there wasn’t ever a zebra jumping competition (sorry), many foregone Olympic ‘sports’ have measured in degree from ridiculous to borderline insanity. In fact, they’re so ridiculous, you won’t find many of them on the Olympics’ official site. It’s almost as if they’re afraid to admit the following were once considered the best competition sports on the globe.

Water Motor Sports

Several sources claim motor boats were raced at the 1908 London Summer Olympics, the only Games that featured motorized sports. 

Allegedly, there were three events. All raced five laps around an eight-mile course. However, only one racer even finished because of strong winds — Emile Thubron of France. 

FRANCE – CIRCA 1908: Section and exhibition of small-scale models of motorboats. The “Desvaux 2” with electric motors  (Photo by Branger/Roger Viollet/Getty Images).

Tug of War

That’s right. Back in the day, tug of war was much more than just your favorite summer camp activity. It was a friggin’ Olympic sport.

From 1900 to 1920, countries could enter multiple groups called ‘clubs,’ which could compete for a team Olympic medal. One can only imagine a sport with the word ‘war’ in the title wasn’t too appealing after WWI had just ended.

July 1908: Great Britain (The Liverpool St Police tug-of-war team) taking on Ireland in the tug-of-war event at the 1908 London Olympics (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images).


Essentially croquet, this variant sport was reportedly billed the “game of the century” and was part o the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis.

It was an Olympic sport only once. Probably because of the fact the United States was the only nation to participate. MERICA!

Circa 1930: Roque, a type of croquet and one of the favorite winter sports at Tampa, Florida, being played on one of the Minicipal Roque Courts in Plant Park (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images).

Basque Pelota

While it doesn’t fall into the bizarre’ category, this is likely a sport you never knew existed, and it was a sport at the 1900 Paris Summer Olympics.

Only two teams competed in the sport that is essentially the origin of jai alai. Because I’ve never even seen the sport in action, I’ll just give you the outright definition …

“Basque pelota (pilota in the original Basque language also pelota vasca in Spanish, pelote basque in French) is the name for a variety of court sports played with a ball using one’s hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall (frontis or Fronton) or, more traditionally, with two teams face to face separated by a line on the ground or a net. The roots of this class of games can be traced to the Greek and other ancient cultures.”

There ya go. Now I better see a basque pelota league pop up in every city that sells a great beignet. 

Circa 1955: Two men playing a game of pelota, a Basque game which uses a ‘cesta’, a basket-like raquet attached to the hand, to hurl a pellet made of leather and rubber (Photo by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images).

Solo Synchronized Swimming

Yup. You read that right. From 1984 to 1992 there was an Olympics  competition to determine who were the best solo synchronized swimmers on Earth. 

Imagine a ballerina doing an ice skating routine, but in water.

R.I.P. solo synch. See, they’re still embarrassed by this one. 

31 Jul 1994: Kerry Shacklock of Great Britain during her solo performance in the synchronised swimming competition at the 1994 Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia. Credit: Phil Cole/ALLSPORT.

Pigeon … what??

Whether it was pigeon shooting (clay pigeons, I hope) or pigeon racing, dozens of sources claim that pigeons were a part of the Olympics around the turn of the century.

Wikipedia, which is always spot on, says:

“Pigeon racing was an unofficial sport in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris. It is known that there were seven events contested in the 1900 Olympic Games schedule. No results have yet been discovered for one of the most unlikely of all Olympic sports.”

This British site claims there was pigeon racing and pigeon shooting in 1900. This site acknowledges the racing as well.  

The London Gun Club International Pigeon Shooting Event. London, 1870. (Photo by Past Pix/SSPL/Getty Images)


This was experimented with at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games as a demo sport. It basically sounds like a sport that was made up in the backyard of your friend from junior high who had watched way too much WWE and Sponge Bob

The Indian sport didn’t last long. After reading a description it’s obvious why.

“Two teams, each on one side of the field, send one person at a time to tag, wrestle, and generally harass the other team’s members for points. The catch? They have to hold their breath the whole time.” – Dishmag

Teams competing in the ancient Indian sport for the Kabaddi Canada Cup. (Photo by Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Rope Climb

From 1896 to 1932, the rope climb was allegedly an Olympic sport. No need for a picture here. Don’t we all want to avoid reliving junior high school?

Barrel Jumping

Barrel jumping? …. Barrel. Jumping…? I have no clue. But I found this gem in Getty Images while doing a search for weird Olympic sports.

(GERMANY OUT) Olympic Games 1904 ‘Barrel jumping’ – one of the sports at the 1904 olympics in St. Louis – 1904 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Weightlifting One Hand Lift

Sure, not shocking that weightlifting was an Olympic sport. But specifically with one hand?

circa 1895: German strong-man Eugene Sandow (1867 – 1925) lifting weights and dumbbells. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

Evidently, that was the only way to be a badass at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Underwater Swimming

And, finally, underwater swimming was allegedly an Olympic sport in Paris in 1900.

We’ve all done it. Held our breath as long as we could in our backyard or public swimming pool. Imagine being able to win a gold medal and receive international attention because of it. Also imagine how entertaining this must have been to watch 116 years ago. 

With modern technology, this actually may be a sport worth bringing back. Although, it may just be another swimming variation for Michael Phelps to take advantage of. 

Supposedly, here are the results of the first and only underwater swimming competition at the Olympics.


Charles DeVandeville (France), who swam 60 meters in a time of 1 minute and 8.4 seconds (score: 188.4 pts).

André Six (France) 185.4 pts (60 m, 1:05.4)

Peter Lykkeberg (Denmark) 147.0 pts (28.5 m, 1:30.0)

Underwater swimming. Time to bring it back! … Along with tug of war … and kick ball!

Josh Helmuth is the editor of Crave Sports. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo: Getty


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