The world is a very weird place, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that having the entire world play polo together for two weeks is also, well, very weird. But as strange as the Olympic games may seem now, there have been times when they were even stranger. We’re talking head-scratching, “What the heck am I watching?” strange.
With Olympic games in the near future, we’re looking back on the sports that enthralled us, shocked us, and made us cringe. People just didn’t see the hilarity in some of these competitions back in 1900, but now that we’re older, wiser, and more desperate for entertainment, all we can say is…bring back club swinging!
1. Horse Long Jump: Olympians usually rely on their own physical strength to win medals, but the Horse Long Jump was literally another beast entirely. This competition was more about the horse’s strength than the human’s, which is probably why it wasn’t very popular.
2. Town Planning: Yes, you read that correctly. This non-sport was featured at four Olympic games, and it fell under the architectural design category of the arts portion of the Olympics. We’re curious to see what this would be like nowadays.
3. Tug-Of-War: Yes, tug of war is more than just that game you played in elementary school! It was a staple of the Olympics for twenty years, at least until someone realized that men pulling on a rope is only exciting so many times.
The Official Report of the 1912 Summer Olympics
4. Solo Synchronized Swimming: If this sounds physically impossible, then you obviously weren’t around for the 1992 Olympics. Performers were actually graded on how synchronized their movements were to the music. It’s still a pretty popular sport around the world!
5. Basque Pelota: All you need for this sport is a racket, a ball, and a wall. It’s like a combination between handball and tennis, and even that is a loose description for the wide-ranging sport. It was an official Olympic sport once, in 1900.
6. Plunge for Distance: If you’re a terrible swimmer but a good cannonball-er, then this sport is for you! Included in the 1904 Olympics, all competitors had to do was, well, plunge into water and then be judged on their depth.
Louis de B. Handley
7. Croquet: The Olympics are fast, intense, and physically taxing for the competitors…unless you were on the croquet team. Back at the 1900 Olympics, croquet was downright leisurely, which is probably why it’s no longer featured.
8. Swimming Obstacle Race: The 1900 Olympics were TRULY wild, and the swimming obstacle race competition may be the wildest of them all. Swimmers not only scrambled over obstacles placed in the pool, but they did so in a race against the clock.
Cior Swim Obstacle Course Netherlands 2011/YouTube
9. Tandem Bicycle Sprint: Can you believe this sport lasted from 1906 to 1972? It was actually pretty dangerous, and spectators often watched the two-man teams crash and burn over the course of the race.
Russell Mockridge and Lionel Cox/The Olympians
10. Club Swinging: Finally, an Olympic sport for common folk! Actually, this sport took a lot of practice, precision, and flexibility, and it’s been compared to modern-day rhythmic gymnastics. Some people even play the sport today, just not at the Olympics.
11. Race Walking: You’ve probably seen a variation of this in the form of “mall walking,” AKA the sport of the elderly. It actually takes a lot of patience and concentration to do successfully, as spectators saw at the 2016 Olympics.
Canadian Running Magazine
12. Rope Climb: Not everyone feared climbing the rope in gym class, and some people even earned gold medals for it. It first started at the 1896 Olympic games, and competitors were judged on their time and style.
13. Roller Hockey: This sport debuted at the 1992 Olympic games, but it failed to garner a passionate fanbase. It turns out that taking the rules of hockey but taking away the thrill of the ice just didn’t translate with Olympic viewers!
14. La Canne: If you don’t speak French, we’ll translate: “La Canne” is basically fencing but with canes, and it’s as glorious as it sounds. It was featured in the 1924 Olympics, and it apparently takes much more focus than you’d think.
15. Trampoline: We love this theme of turning childhood games into Olympic sports! The best part is, the trampoline was featured as recently as the 2016 Olympic games, so we just may see gymnasts flipping and somersaulting in 2020.
16. Hot Air Ballooning: Though it was considered a demonstration event and not an actual sport, competitors were still judged and awarded points based on distance, duration, elevation, and design. It was seen at the — can you guess? — 1900 Olympics!
17. Standing High Jump: This event was seen at every Olympics between 1900 and 1912, and it had competitors see how high they could jump from a standing position. It took a ridiculous amount of strength and must’ve been WILD to see in action!
18. Pigeon Shooting: The 1900 Olympics were a pet friendly affair…except, not really. Instead of using clay pigeons, Olympians opted to use actual pigeons in the Pigeon Shooting competition. Over 300 were killed, bringing a new meaning to the term “blood sport.”
19. Underwater Swimming: If there’s a sport that’s the least fun to watch, it may be this one. It was never very popular, mainly because all the action occurred underwater, but with the waterproof technology we have nowadays, it could very well make a comeback.
20. Dueling Pistols: The Olympics can get pretty intense, but no one ever dies…right? In the 1900s, they made sure no one was actually killed during the dueling pistols competition by having the duelers fire upon dummies using wax bullets.
21. As weird as Olympic sports have been over the years, that’s nothing compared to the non-Olympic sports played around the world. Just because these sports didn’t make it to the biggest arena in the world doesn’t mean they aren’t fascinating…and a little bizarre.
22. The Inuit One-Foot High Kick sounds simple: You just kick a suspended ball with one foot. But you also have to land on the same foot, and the ball is hung more than seven feet up, so you have to be seriously agile to win.
23. What makes every game more intense? Fire! Canadian Darrin Bedford had this in mind when he created the aptly named Flaming Puck Unicycle Hockey. Players follow normal ice hockey rules, except they’re perched on unicycles and the puck is on fire.
24. Pesäpallo is Finland’s version of baseball. In it, the ball is pitched vertically. Because of this, batters can directly influence the power and direction of their hits more easily, giving the game a much different look than America’s pastime.
25. When it comes to the Filipino sport Sipà, it doesn’t matter if you play with a rubber band ball, a bean bag, or a “ball with feathers.” What’s really important is your sense of balance. This hacky-sack-like game isn’t for klutzes!
26. Don’t even try to play Sepak Takraw if you can’t high-kick like a ballerina on stilts. Similar to Sipà, this Southeast Asian sport has been described as “volleyball being played with only your feet,” and the agility it requires is next level.
27. If you think sports are for chumps, then consider trying Broomball! It’s a less violent version of ice hockey that uses a ball instead of a puck and a broom instead of a stick. You don’t even need to wear ice skates.
28. Don’t get rugby and underwater rugby confused — they’re vastly different. This underwater sport requires incredible stamina and a sharp eye since everything happens at the bottom of a pool. Just get the salt water-filled ball into the other team’s goal, and you win!
29. Do you think Burro racing sounds like a thing from the past? In Colorado, it’s still very much alive. Instead of riding burros, racers run next to the burro for the entire distance, sometimes for upwards of 29 miles.
30. Ice Yachting is more intense than it sounds, so it’s perfect for American sports lovers. Picture a sleek flat-bottomed boat propelled by sharp skates that you race across frozen lakes. It’s definitely not your average wine and cheese yacht party!
31. Carrera de Cintas is about accuracy, and Costa Ricans turn the sport into a full-fledged community event. The players race on horseback (or on bicycles) to push a peg through a small loop that’s hanging from a wire.
32. Dragon Boating has some of the most intense paddling we’ve seen yet! Yes, “paddling” — unlike rowing, dragon boating has participants use paddles to propel the multi-colored boat forward. This Chinese sport originated some 2,000 years ago.
33. To play Pallone col Bracciale, you need an eye for accuracy and a strong arm. It’s like tennis, but instead of a racket, you wear a spiked gauntlet to send the ball soaring. At one time, it was the most popular sport in Italy.
34. Did you ever dream of swinging all the way around the swing set? In Estonia, they’ve turned this dream into an extreme sport. “Kiiking” requires a knack for timing and a ton of momentum, so it definitely earns it’s “extreme” title.
35. Austus was really just a hybrid form of American and Australian football formed during World War II. Players could throw and kick the ball, which played to the strengths of both teams. The game is rarely played nowadays.
36. The Southern Vermont Primitive Biathlon is a send-up to 19th-century biathlons involving two-mile courses, steel gong targets, snowshoes, and muzzle-loading rifles. It’s usually a laid-back atmosphere, so don’t worry if your rifle stops working because of the cold temperatures.
37. What is “Gaffelhangen” you ask? It’s just as baffling as the name: People compete to see who can hang from a pitchfork the longest. This “sport” is really only played in a small part of the Netherlands, but they still have championships.
38. At first glance, Bangladesh’s national sport, Kabaddi, looks like a strange version of red-rover. But this game requires serious strategy on the part of the “raider,” or the player who runs into the other team’s human chain with the goal of remaining upright.
39. Jukskei is horseshoe’s cool South African sibling. Both teams must knock over a peg in a sandpit using a “skie,” with each successful toss worth 3 points. To win, you must get to 23 points exactly — any more, and you start over.
40. “Crud’ is mostly played in the military, and it’s obvious why: This competitive, fast-paced team sport played on an old pool table requires discipline and persistence. The most important rule to remember? Don’t spill the referee’s beer, or your team loses!
41. It sounds like a sport from the future, but Spaceball was actually invented in the 1960s by the creator of the commercial trampoline, George Nissen. It’s like “bounce-enhanced” volleyball between two players, and it was inspired by NASA’s weightlessness training.
42. Chess Boxing (The Netherlands): Boxers bash each other’s faces for five 3-minute rounds, but in between those brief bouts, they break a mental sweat with an ongoing chess game. You can win by knockout or checkmate.
The Boxing Tribune
43. Shin Kicking (England): Thousands gather for this competition, sometimes described as a martial art, and watch contestants in white coats kick each others’ shins until one of them succumbs to pain.
44. Air Guitar Contest (Finland): Since 1996, contestants have cranked out wicked air guitar solos with crowd-captivating enthusiasm. These rockers jam to a song of their choosing in round one, then a song of the judge’s choosing in round two.
45. Battle of the Oranges (Italy): In the town of Ivrea, participants split into two teams and then spend the day smashing each other with about 500,000 oranges. It’s a citrusy tradition that dates back to the 12th century.
46. Cheese Rolling (England): An old tradition, blokes chase a cheese wheel down a steep hill, which leads to a lot of people falling, twisting ankles, and colliding into each other. The person who catches the cheese wins. Their prize? The cheese.
Cots World Trekker
47. Bo-Taoshi (Japan): The game is simple. Each team has a pole. Each team tries to topple the other team’s pole. “Ninjas” scale said poles and try to keep them steady. Chaos ensues. This sport is played mostly by schoolchildren.
48. Baby Jumping (Spain): Castrillo de Murcia residents gather annually for “The Devil’s Jump,” where men dressed as devils leap over babies to cleanse them of original sin. That’s a long jump over the mattress!
49. Vinkensport (Belgium): “Finch Sitting” pits competitors head to head in an effort to coax male finches (kept in those boxes) to make certain sounds. Winning finches typically make hundreds of calls in the contest’s one-hour limit.
50. Bossaball (Spain): Add a trampoline to any sport and it instantly becomes, like, ten times more awesome. Bossaball, which is volleyball on a trampoline, is proof. The first team to score 25 wins, and though flips are encouraged, they don’t earn you more points.
51. Car Curling (Russia): They’ve given us art, literature, and vodka. Now, the Russians have given us this magnificent twist on the beloved Winter Olympic game. The rules are simple: push a car on ice and get it to stop on a target.
52. Wife-carrying (Finland): For hundreds of years, Finnish men have slung their wives (or any woman, actually) over their backs and competed in an obstacle-laden footrace. The winners earn the wife’s weight in beer.
53. Bog Snorkeling (Whales): Equipped with flippers and a snorkel, swimmers brave water-filled trenches cut through a peat bog and, without using conventional swimming strokes, fight through decaying plant muck. The fastest swimmer wins.
54. Worm Charming (England): Kids and adults alike dig up earthworms in this wild competition. In the World Worm Charming Championship of 2009, 10-year-old Sophie Smith, below, set records when she snagged 567 worms from a 9 meter square in 30 minutes!
55. Ultimate TASER Ball (United States): Legal and medical ramifications put a stop to this electrifying sport, in which teams tried to put a ball into a goal without being stopped…by opponents with TASERs.
56. Tuna Throwing (Australia): Folks gather annually at the Tunarama Festival in Port Lincoln to hurl rubber tuna fish really far. Aussie hammer thrower Sean Carlin holds the record toss distance at just over 122 feet.
57. Ski Bobbing (Austria): First created as a way to navigate the treacherous Alps, the ski bike is, well, a bike frame on skis. Today, thrill seekers and easy-going kids can shred some snow with these!
58. Headstand Chugging (Czech Republic): As part of “Wonder Week,” competitors rebuke the advice of medical professionals everywhere and chug beer while doing a handstand. Everyone watching is the winner.
59. Chili Pepper Eating Contest (United States): A pretty self-explanatory competition, contestants in North Carolina eat increasingly hotter peppers and hot sauces until they can’t stand the heat. Finalists must finish an orange habanero.
60. World Sauna Competition (Finland): Competitors gathered in a 210-degree sauna and just roasted for as long as they could stand it. Last man or woman standing won. Unfortunately, organizers canceled the competition after someone died in 2010.
61. Pig Feet Bobbing (United States): Born as a spoof of Atlanta’s ’96 Summer Olympics, the annual Redneck Games — hosted in Georgia — feature this southern take on bobbing for apples. The winner gets a pig foot.
62. Hurling (Ireland): With origins over 4,000 years old, this sport features teams of 15 violently clashing to send a cork-based ball into a goal. Because injuries piled up in almost every match, officials mandated helmets in 2010.
Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
63. Crab Racing (Jamaica): Watching crabs race might seem like watching paint dry, but rest assured, people go nuts to see these little fellas go claw to claw on the track.
64. Buzkashi (Afghanistan): The country’s national sport, this game played on horseback is exactly like soccer. Except, instead of a soccer ball, you toss around a goat carcass.
65. Ferret-Legging (England): Animal welfare groups have pretty much driven this competition, which consisted of men sticking sharp-clawed weasels in their pants and trying to withstand the pain because why not, out of existence.