The Olympics once featured poodle clipping, firefighting, solo synchronized swimming and many more.
In case you didn’t know, this is the last Olympics where baseball and softball will be events. They didn’t get enough votes to stay in the Games.
And that got me thinking about other Olympic sports that have been cut. Which led me down a pretty hilarious rabbit hole of former sports and exhibition sports that were included in Olympics of the past. Because it turns out there were a LOT of really strange sports that have made the Olympic roster.
It was hard to cut down my list to just 11 of the strangest, dumbest and weirdest former Olympic sports, but, like a good list maker, I did. And here they are…
1 | Tug-of-War
Tug-of-War, which is now pretty much reserved for church picnics, summer camp color wars and Real World/Road Rules Challenge events, was an actual Olympic sport. At five Olympics, 1900, ’04, ’08, ’12 and ’20.
Olympic tug-of-war was eight-on-eight, and would be won when one team pulled the rope six feet. (Unlike in RW/RR Challenge, when the winning team is the one that dumps the other team in a vat of Jell-O or pudding or KY Jelly.)
In the five Olympics, Great Britain won the most tug-of-war medals (two gold, two silver, one bronze) and the U.S. won the second most (one of each medal).
One more note: Back then, a lot of Olympic athletes were just regular dudes who happened to show up to the right place on the right day. So the Olympic tug-of-war squads weren’t handpicked teams of athletes groomed from birth like our Olympians today. No, the U.S.’s 1904 gold medal winning tug team was the tug-of-war team from the Milwaukee Athletic Club. In 1908, the gold went to the London police force’s team.
2 | Poodle clipping
As this list will show repeatedly, at the second modern Olympic games — 1900 in Paris, France — there was just some crazy shit going on. And nothing exemplifies that to me more than the poodle clipping event.
For this event (which was a trial event), 128 competitors assembled at the Bois de Boulogne, a park in western Paris. A giant (for the time) crowd of 6,000-plus watched as they competed to see who could trim the most poodles’ fur in a two hour period. The gold medalist was 37-year-old Avril Lafoule from Auvergne, France, who clipped 17 poodles.
After the Paris Olympics ended, poodle clipping failed to get the votes to become an official Olympic sport.
3 | Firefighting
Another trial event from 1900 Paris. It’s not clear what exactly was involved in the firefighting event… like, did they light some random Parisian neighborhood on fire and send all the dudes over there to see who could put their designated house out the quickest?
In the volunteer competition, the winner was a team from Portugal; in the professional division, the winner was a group of firefighters from Kansas City.
And even though firefighting never became an official Olympic sport… I gotta feel like an Olympic gold medal in firefighting would feel a lot more prestigious than winning one for something like equestrian or rafting.
4 | Solo synchronized swimming
Lest you think that all the weird events are from the early 1900s… this should prove that Olympic organizers make strange, strange decisions in the modern era, too.
In 1984, ’88 and ’92, there was actually solo synchronized swimming in the Olympics.
And, yes, solo synchronized swimming is the paradox it sounds like… kind of like a three-man barbershop quartet, a two-person orgy or the sound of one hand clapping.
Upon doing my research, I found that the swimmer wouldn’t be synchronized to other people… but rather, to music. So, I guess, if you were solo synchronized swimming to “Shout!” you’d have to kick your heels up out of the water when the lyric says “kick your heels up and shout!” Or something.
Anyway, no one bothered to figure it out and it was cut after the Barcelona games.
5 | Delivery van driving
More from 1900 in Paris. This was another trial event (and tied in with the 1900 World’s Fair that as going on concurrently). The Paris Olympics featured a ton of different motor races, including delivery van driving. French “athletes” got all three medals, although their names aren’t on record.
The motor racing event also included small cars, large cars, seven-seat cars, trucks and taxis.
It looks like France really dominated the event — a guy from the U.S. got a bronze in the small truck division, a German got a bronze in a large car distance race, and, other than that, it was all French victories.
Meaning that this was possibly the brightest moment in the history of both Peugeot and Renault.
6 | Plunge diving
OK, you know how when you were, like, six, you and your friends all stand at the edge of a pool and see who could jump in the furthest? That was once an Olympic event.
At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, there was an event called plunge diving. A diver would stand stationary on the edge of a pool, then, from that stand still, jump as far as possible. Once they got underwater, they could swim forward for up to 60 seconds… or as long as they could keep their head below the surface.
I feel like I could do really well in this, by the way.
Only five people competed and all of them were from the U.S. The winner was William Dickey, who made it 62.5 feet. Which doesn’t seem like that far.
And, like most of the events on this list, plunge diving was a one-and-done event, never appearing again.
7 | Live pigeon shooting
There’s only been one Olympic event in history where animals were (intentionally) harmed. And that was live pigeon shooting, which went down at those absolutely absurd 1900 Paris Olympics.
The goal of the event: Stand there with your gun and kill as many pigeons as possible.
For the event, more than 300 pigeons were shot and killed… and, apparently, afterwards, there was a ridiculous mess of blood and feathers.
Leon de Lunden of Belgium won the event with 21 kills. An American tied for the bronze with 18. It was the first and last time animals were killed for an Olympic event.
At the Paris games that year, there was also a shooting competition centered around shooting running deer… except those were moving cut-outs, not actual animals.
8 | Swimming obstacle race
Now this sounds really cool… and sounds like another thing little kids do in a pool. This is another 1900 Paris event, and took place in the Seine.
First, competitors had to swim to a pole, then climb up it, then slide down it. Then they’d swim toward some boats, which they had to climb over. After that, more swimming to more boats… but this time, they had to go under. Overall, they’d swim 200 meters… with a lot of climbing in between.
Frederick Lane of Australia won the swimming obstacle race, doing it in 2:38.4.
Turns out he also won the 200-meter freestyle those Olympics… swimming that in 2:25. In other words, all the pole and boat climbing only slowed him down by 13 seconds.
9 | Rope climbing
This was in four Olympics: 1896, 1904, 1924 and 1932. It was incredibly simple: Just climb to the top.
The whole event gives me a funny feeling. Like when I used to climb the rope in gym class.
10 | Water skiing
Water skiing was a demonstration sport at the tragic 1972 Olympics in Munich. There were three different events — slalom, figure skiing and jumping.
Apparently it was pretty cool… but there was too much controversy about whether or not water skiing involved any actual athleticism… so water skiing never showed up at the Olympics again.
It did become a staple at Sea Worlds, though, so it’s got that going for it.
11 | Hot air ballooning
And one more from the 1900 Olympics for good measure. During the Paris Olympics, they held several hot air ballooning events, including distance, duration, elevation and targeted stopping. French competitors won every single event.
I think I’d like to see hot air ballooning in the Olympics today, partially because I think a bunch of hot air balloons in the sky looks cool… and partially because I know NBC would spend $80 billion on special cameras to record the event.
They’d also find a way to let us know how one of the American hot air balloonists overcame a lot of adversity to get to that moment. Man I love Olympic tales of people triumphing over adversity. I hope I hear 50 tonight.