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Sports the Olympics Forgot

Olympics are often remembered for their hosts, or perhaps specific feats. Except for the marquee meets and match-ups, most events are quickly forgotten. Between the summer and winter events, there are 35 sports. Few people remember shooting, badminton, or table tennis; even the scandals are fleeting. Sometimes, the Olympics add new sports. Beach volleyball made its official debut in 1996, and curling—the most ridiculous of sports but oddly addictive to watch—only entered the games in 1998. But as new sports enter the Olympics, some sports fall by the wayside. Amidst the chaos in the Middle East and the partisanship which marks this election year, perhaps it’s time to take a pause, look at something lighter, and remember the ghosts of Olympics past.

Baseball was an on-again, off-again demonstration sport at many twentieth century Olympic Games: 1912, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1984, and 1988, before finally becoming an official sport in 1992. It didn’t last long, however; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted them out of the games in a secret ballot. Softball had a shorter run, from 1996 through 2008. The elimination of both of these was a travesty. So too was Cricket, which made it only once, in 1900. While it’s hard to take a sport seriously where the athletes break for tea and lunch, given that billions of people would disagree, perhaps it’s time cricket made a comeback.

Not so some of the others which have long ago fallen through the Olympic cracks:

  • Tug-of-War made the games between 1900 and 1920. Here is a photo of the British team victorious at the 1908 London Olympics.
  • Motor-Boating was an official sport in 1908, but only two countries—the United Kingdom and France—competed.
  • George Roth was a rags-to-riches story at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics when he took the gold medal in club swinging, the first and last time that sport made it to the Olympics since 1904.
  • The rope climb may have been the bane of elementary schools everywhere, but it was an Olympic sport on-and-off from 1896 through 1932.
  • Pistol dueling was an Olympic sport only in 1906. It would have been a more exciting sport had the opponent not been a mannequin.
  • Equestrian Long Jump. This event only happened once, at the Paris Olympics in 1900. The bad news is that, perhaps because everyone was off watching cricket, no one has tried to repeat this event. The good news is that Belgian rider Constant van Langendonck’s gold medal jump of about 20 feet remains an Olympic record after more than a century.
  • PETA would never allow the Olympics to get away with this one: Live Pigeon Shooting, but it was also an Olympic Sport in 1900. The gold medal also went to a Belgian, Leon de Lunden, who bagged 21 pigeons.
  • Croquet also only made it to the Olympics once, in 1900. France swept the competition, but only one spectator was in attendance to see the never-repeated Olympic croquet feat.
  • Underwater swimming was not the most convenient of spectator sports. Frenchman Charles de Vandeville took the gold with a nearly 200 foot underwater swim.
  • If runners can have steeplechase, why can’t swimmers have their own equivalent? So thought the organizers of the Paris Olympics in 1900, who instituted the 200-meter swimming obstacle course. Participants would climb and descend poles, swim, climb over some boats and swim under others.
  • Plunge for Distance Diving made it into the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. Participants—all Americans—tried to see how far they could leap from the board. William Dickey took the gold at around 60 feet.
  • Basque Pelota—a weird type of racket sport—made it into the Olympics officially only once, although it was a demonstration sport as recently as 1992.
  • As the old saying goes, “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous,” but you would have to have both still to do the one-handed weight lifting, since competitors had to lift weights with both hands, just separately.


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