Dueling, Rope Climbing, and Sailor Swimming: Crazy Olympic Sports from Days of Yore

So there I am, perusing the Olympics, and what do I see? Some girl dancing with bowling balls. I’m not making this up. She had two balls, and she was dancing with them. She followed this up by dancing with a hula hoop. That’s when I had to hit Google. What was this woman doing, and why in the world was it considered an Olympic sport? I mean, I think I’d be disappointed if I were at a basketball game and she came on as the halftime show, even.

Just keeping it real here, folks.
And as half of you are no doubt telling your computer screen even as you read this, she was doing Rhythmic Gymnastics, and I really shouldn’t knock it just because the one I happened to catch wasn’t particularly good. I mean, check this girl out:
Yeah. That’s pretty darn awesome, I think. And it got me–librarian that I am–curious. What other strange Olympic events are out there? What odd ones have their been throughout the history of the modern Olympics?

There have been some doozies, people. And I’m not just talking about the ribbon dancing that’s also part of rhythmic gymnastics. No–to get to the really funky stuff, you gotta dig a bit. And I have. And so without further ado, I present to you my list of crazy sports that were actually, literally, Olympic medal-winning contests in the past hundred years or so. (There were so many that I had to ignore demonstration sports to keep things under control. Otherwise, I would have had to talk about ski ballet, skijoring (dog racing on skis), ballooning, and surf lifesaving. But because I love you–and couldn’t resist–here’s some ski ballet for you. I want this guy’s hair. Why was this not a medal sport when some of the others were? You got me.)

Anyway. Back to the real events.

  • Croquet–That’s right. Back in 1900 in Paris, there were three croquet events. Single ball, doubles, and double ball. Ten athletes competed. Nine of them were French. The French swept every single medal. And you wonder why croquet didn’t make another appearance. Then again, before we Americans decide to get hoity toity about it, let me point out that in 1904 in St. Louis, croquet was replaced by roque, the American variant of croquet, apparently. (Who knew?) Four players competed–all of them American. America swept the medals.
  • Tug of War–This actually had a long, storied history at the Olympics, being played from 1900-1920. 6 Olympics in a row. Team sport–no individual competitions. Men’s Tug of War, people. Just think how awesome that would be.
  • Dueling Pistol–1912. Shooting at targets dressed in frock coats, from what I’ve gathered. Bull’s Eye on the target’s throat. Pure awesome.
  • Rope Climbing–Held in four Olympics during the span of 1896-1932, it consisted of timed rope climbing. Climb the rope, ring the bell. The world record for the 20′ climb was 2.8 seconds, in case you were wondering.
  • Club Swinging–One man. Two clubs. Swinging them around. If this involved ninjas, this could be epic. Unfortunately, to the best of my research, it does not involve ninjas.
  • Underwater Swimming–1900. Competitors got points for the amount of time they were underwater, and the distance they had swum. It apparently wasn’t a very good spectator sport at the time, so got dropped.
  • Men’s Sailor Swimming–Perhaps the best example of exclusionary sports, this one had a strange entry requirement. Only members of the Greek Royal Navy could compete. In 1896. In Greece. Eleven men entered, but only three actually swam.
There have been other sports. Less outlandish, perhaps. Golf. Polo. Cricket. But I guess next time I see a woman and her bowling balls making beautiful art on a gym floor, I should just keep my mouth shut. Also, maybe my dream–that sports like competitive eating, or pizza dough tossing, or arm wrestling will one day become Olympic events–isn’t too far off, after all.

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