While gymnastics, swimming and track and field consistently take center stage at the Summer Olympic Games, their supporting cast is often a revolving door of athletic accoutrement.
This summer, Rio 2016 adds kitesurfing to the bill and brings golf and rugby 7s back, but it will once again be lacking baseball (1992-2008) and softball (1996-2008)—much to the dismay of Jennie Finch fans everywhere.
Baseball and softball were officially removed from the Olympic docket via an International Olympic Committee vote in 2005, becoming the first sports officially taken off the roster since polo was eliminated in 1936. Events, or competitions under a sport umbrella (i.e. steeplechase as part of the track and field program), have been eliminated and replaced on a more regular basis, forming the revolving door we’ve come to expect from the Olympic Games.
The 2005 vote proved that few Olympic events are truly safe as competitive mainstays, as wrestling, one of the few remaining events from the Ancient Olympiads, was later voted out of the 2020 Tokyo Games in 2013. An emergency revote saved the sport at the 11th hour, but not before sending a warning to the rest of the Olympic disciplines.
While the wrestling decision ruffled some feathers, a few historic Olympic ax-jobs may have been a bit more warranted. After all, the international sporting event has a knack for including some very strange competitions. (Two-handed javelin, anyone?) Here are some of the strangest ghosts of Olympics past.
Turns out that this schoolyard competition hit the big stage as a track and field competition for two decades starting in 1900. The event was actually part of the Ancient Olympiads dating back to 500 B.C., but its modern reincarnation featured two teams of eight in face-to-face battle. During its short run, the sport was dominated by the British, who captured two gold medals and a silver during the rope pulling event’s Olympic tenure.
Featured as part of the 1900 Paris Games, this competition occurred over a 60-meter distance, awarding participants two points per meter traveled and one per second submerged. Two French walked away with gold and silver, but it was actually a third place finisher from Denmark that stayed underwater a full 30 seconds longer. His undoing? He swam in circles.
The 2000m Tandem Cycling Race (!) graced the Olympic bill off and on for nearly 70 years, beginning in 1906. Yes, that ridiculous two-seater bike you and your friend have been riding around town belongs to a rich sporting history; the world’s best teams would race in a sprint-style competition around a traditional velodrome track.
Perhaps the most contradictory title in all of Olympic sports, solo synchronized swimming was featured in three Olympic competitions between 1984 and 1992. Not surprisingly, the act of dancing alone in a pool was not a huge fan favorite, despite its 2-person and 8-person counterparts’ continued popularity at the Summer Games.
Believe it or not, the rope climb managed to experience success beyond the confines of Hollywood high school gym class as a staple of the Olympics gymnastics program for five Olympics between 1896 and 1932. The format was simple—first to the top wins—but, in 1896, only two athletes were able to reach the top at all. Both were from Greece, the host of that year’s Games.
We’re not making this up—promise. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics hosted a series of art competitions and handed out gold medals for brains in addition to brawn. The arts competition was organized into five categories— architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture—with medals handed out for each. Two athlete-scholars even medaled both in arts and athletics. Hungarian Alfréd Hajós, who won two gold medals in swimming in 1896, captured a silver medal in architecture nearly 30 years later.
(Photo courtesy majorpeterne/flickr)
Kade Krichko is a journalist and photojournalist that finds inspiration in the hairy folds of sports, culture, and current event along with the never-ending search for the world’s best late night burrito. You can follow him on Twitter @caskade88 or at www.kadekrichko.squarespace.com