Yes, sure, this blog isn’t normally about such banality – but it is August and the world is on holiday. So, instead here is some interesting lunchtime chewers about the sort of stuff that could win you a medal at the Olympics. Synchronised swimming is weird but there are so many other weirder things that have officially been classified as sports and featured every four years in the Games. From town planning to underwater swimming, horse long jump to canon shooting. Here is a list of 33 of the strangest, bizarrest, weirdest Olympic sports ever to feature in a Games.
#1 – kite flying. Back in 1900, the French believed kite flying to be amazing and included it as a demonstration sport. The event took place in good conditions apparently. Competitors were awarded marks for flair and, just like in diving or gymnastics, for the difficulty of their manoeuvres. Sadly a strong gust of wind landed most of the competitors kites into a tree and play was abandoned – never to surface in the Olympics again.
#2 – canon shooting – 17 different styles of canon shooting. Only French teams entered. The French won gold, silver and bronze. Discontinued after one Olympics.
#3 – pigeon racing – a bit of a coup for the sport, seven different pigeon races were held. There are no records as to either who won or what happened to the winning birds – possibly ended up in event #4
#4 – live pigeon shooting. Who needs clays to aim at when you have the real cooing things. A Belgian fellow, Leon de Lunden, won it after murdering 21 of the rats on wings. Altogether to find a winner nearly 300 disease carriers were butchered.
#5 – club swinging. To finish the series off a spot of almost juggling. In 1904 and 1932 a ‘sport’ was put in which involved 2 big clubs that you whirled round your head for no apparent reason. Our American cousins won gold, silver and bronze on both occasions. The winner of the 1932 LA Games, George Roth, was on the dole when he struck gold. Once he received his medal he promptly hitch-hiked home again. Don’t think that would happen today.
#6 – duelling pistol shooting. Sadly, another one Games wonder. From 20 or 30 metres the competitor had to shoot at dummies dressed in frock coats. Highest points were for shooting the bugger in the throat.
#7 – rope climbing. As dangerous and circus schoolesque as it sounds, this sport was featured on and off in no less than five different Olympics. In the early days you had to climb to the top of a 15m (almost 50ft) natural fibre rope against an opponent. Fastest up wins. Trouble was only two people ever made it to the top. So it shrank to a more manageable height of 7m (25ft). Records do not show how many competitors lost their grip and broke their necks.
#8 – standing high jump. Held at 4 Olympics and won by the same chap every time. Bloke called Ray Ewry was the master at this dull little sport. He managed a world beating and impressive 1m 65cm in July 1900. What is more jaw dropping is that as a kid dear old Ray had been partially paralysed by Polio and spent years in a wheelchair.
#9 – horse long jump. Funnily enough it only lasted one Olympics. But, the delightfully named Constant van Langendonck won on a nag called Extra Dry with a jump of 6m 10cm – almost 2m shorter than the human world record. Thankfully, there was no recorded Olympic hop, step and jump for horses.
#10 – town planning. And no I am not making this up. From 1928-1948 town planning was an Olympic sport. German chap called Alfred Hensel won the inaugural event but Team GB struck gold in the 1932 LA Olympics. John Hughes design for a Liverpool sports centre hit a chord with the judges.
#11 fire fighting – Team GB got silver in the amateur; the US got the gold in the professional event. Only even held once.
#12 – tumbling. Another one timer in 1932. This riveting event involved a 2 foot wide, 60 foot long horsehair matt where chaps would do somersault after somersault in an attempt to impress judges. 4 men from 2 countries took part. Rowland tumbler’ Wolfe from the US took gold.
#13 – tug of war. Britain won 2 golds, two silvers and a bronze and topped the medal table before the death knell of the sport in 1920.
#14 – choral music. During the interwar years and even in 1948 at the London Olympics – choral music was a key Games sport. The big problem with this sport is that the entries never got played out loud – so judges had to guess how good they were from what they saw on paper. It appears they were particularly unimpressed with the quality of the submissions in ’24 and ’36 as they awarded no medals to any of the competitors at all. But in 1948 the amazingly named Pole, Zbigniew Turski, snatched gold.
#15 -croquet. The first croquet was held in France in 1900 and was the first time and first event where women took part. There was just one paying spectator. Croquet only lasted 2 Olympics before being culled.
#16 – underwater swimming. It involved a chap called Charles de Vendeville swimming for 68.4 seconds underwater and going 60 metres. In last place was a chap called Eucher who could only swim 21.5 metres underwater and hold his breath for 23 seconds. It only featured once as, funnily enough, people didn’t think it was a good spectator sport.
#17 – engravings and etchings. Held once at the 1948 Games in London, the Engravings and Etchings competition holds a special place in Olympic history. While Albert Decaris – A Frenchie – came in Gold medal position with his exciting etching entitled ‘Swimming Pool’, it is silver medal British ‘athlete’ John Copley who makes the history books but not for his ‘Polo Players’. At 73 yrs old he became, and still is, the oldest ever Olympic medal winner.
#18 – life saving. It was a demonstration sport for one Olympics and one Olympics only. Sadly, records do not show either how it was judged or who the winner was.
#19 – Cricket. The reigning Olympic Sliver medallists for cricket are amazingly the French. It was 1908, there were only two teams taking part in the entire competition, Britain won and the French team was the British Embassy in Paris office team.
#20 – 200m swimming obstacle race. more like sports day than Olympic event. But the British AND Australians still hold the title thanks to a chap called Fredrick Lane. Not only was he the first Aussie to compete for his country – he was still British. To beat the Austrian who came second he had to climb over a pole and a row of boat and swim under the third row of boats. He did this in 3m 4 secs
#21 – cycle polo. Not content with water polo the 1908 London Olympics experimented with bicycles to replace horses. Ireland won the gold.
#22 – solo synchronised swimming. The LA, S. Korea and Barcelona Olympics all featured this event. Quite how you can do synchronised swimming with a team of one is beyond human comprehension. But it still took organisers 3 Games to work out the oxymoron. No one cared who actually won this silly ‘sport’.
#23 – jeu de paume. Translated from French this is the ‘game of the palm’. However, in English terms we know it as real tennis. Played in the 1900, 1908 and 1924 Games, the sport that Henry the Eighth adored somehow snuck into the modern Olympiad. Only the US and Brits entered and American Jay Gould II won gold. By an amazing coincidence, Jay is the great great uncle of US London 2012 mountain biker Georgia Gould. Small elitist world huh.
#24 – snooker. Between 1960-76 and 1984-88 snooker had actually made it to become a summer Olympic sport. Admittedly it was in the Paralympics but even so it managed to squeak into the Games. Funnily enough, ‘Team GB’ won every single gold medal in this sport although Malta did grab a cheeky bronze once. Alas, snooker was finally culled to make way for sitting volleyball as it was felt the game of green baize had little to do with either summer or most countries on the planet.
#25 – powerboating. probably not what you imagine today – this was held once as an Olympic and once as a demo sport. Twas in the 1908 London Olympics that is was axed. Held off the coast of Southampton so no one could see it, the event saw 6 of the 9 races cancelled due to crap weather. Ave speed was a brutal rib crushing 19mph. Incidentally though, the winner, plucky Brit Thomas Thornycroft, competed again 44yrs later at the age of 70 in sailing in the 1952 Olympics.
#26 – medal design. Yes there were medals given out for designing medals. 5 Olympics had medals for medals. Alas for some bizarre reason in 1948 there was no gold medal winner, but Austrians bagged second and third place. History does not record whether the medal they got was based on their design. here is silver.
#27 – military patrol – let us not forget the bizarre things that medals can be won for in the Winter Olympics. In 1924 an officer, non-commissioned officer and two privates took part. They had to carry a backpack of 5 stone and a pistol. They then had to ski uphill lots and shoot for a while. It eventually developed into the modern day winter biathlon – but now you can be a non army person to do the sport. The Swiss won but several teams pulled out as the weather was crap.
#28 – fishing. The 1900 Paris Olympics were a bastion for weird sports and this continued the tradition. The records are sketchy, but it is believed more than 600 anglers from 6 countries took part in four separate fishing Olympic events. Sadly no one knows either who won, what size fish that person caught or what happened to the fish once it had been hooked.
#29 – Australian rules football. Held as a demo sport at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics this probably must win the title of most introverted, inward looking event devised and held at a Games in its’ 116 year history. Just two teams entered. Both from Australia. The Victoria Amateur Football Association played against a combined Victoria Football Association and Victoria Football League team. Funnily enough, Australia got gold and silver. Rumours surround the IOC that in a desperate attempt to increase the number of medals they win Australia are pressing for it once again to be including as a sport in the 2016 Brazil Olympics.
#30 – standing triple jump. Just like the standing high jump, the standing triple jump does exactly what it says on the tin. The event was held in both the 1900 and the 1904 Olympics. What is jaw dropping is that the winner of the standing triple jump was also the winner of the standing high jump – and the standing long jump. In fact, Ray Ewry (who had polio and was in a wheelchair when young) swept the standing event board at 3 Olympic Games taking an astonishing 8 gold medals in total.
#31 – two handed javelin. Another fly by night one Games wonder but not quite how it sounds. Held in Sweden in 1912, this event consisted of participants throwing the spear three times with the right hand and then three times with the left and then adding the distance of the two best throws together to get the cumulative ambidextrous total. The Fins made a clean sweep of the medals in this fine, yet potentially lethal, event.
#32 – horse ballet. In 1912, a new sport was added to the Olympics – that of horse ballet. Here, for up to 18 minutes, the jockey had to make a nag do various obedience tests. The winner was the one who made the horse walk and jog in a circle or a figure of eight and walk sideways. Sadly, this so-called sport is still in existence and is known as ‘dressage’.
#33 – 100m freestyle swimming for Greek sailors. Held in 1896 and a one time event. 11 Greek sailors entered but only 3 took part (history doesn’t tell us what happened to the other 8). In first place was a Greek Sailor with a dismal time of 2m 20.4s. Second was a Greek sailor. and in third, and last, place was a Greek sailor.