By Keith Miller
There’s no doubting the growth of the Olympic Games. Back at Athens in 1896, 43 medals were handed out across 10 sports. In a year’s time, the IOC will be dishing out an incredible 306 medals across 41 variations of 28 different sports.
Whilst many will scoff at the inclusion of the likes of the two new sports (Rugby Sevens and Golf – with some justification), or some of the more settled events such as Tennis and Synchronised Swimming, there are a number of other sports that have appeared at the games that quite frankly beggar belief.
In no particular order of silliness, here are 8 sports that you never realised had appeared at the Games:-
You heard me. In London in 1908 (well, Southampton to be more geographically correct), two nations battled it out for supremacy across three race categories. France and England were the only countries that saw the need to send competitors to an event that quickly turned even more farcical than it sounds. Only two boats were able to make the starting line in each of the three events, and of these, only one finished in appalling conditions, rendering the Silver and Bronze medals redundant. The IOC then – quite rightly – decided that motorised sports should have no part in the Olympics, and Water Motorsports was consigned to history.
After first appearing as a demonstration sport in Berlin in 1936. Gliding looked to have a rosy future at the Olympics. Seven nations sent 14 pilots, including Hungarian Lajos Rotter who flew down to watch the sailing events 336.5km away – the longest pre-declared gliding flight at the time. But after gaining full recognition for Tokyo in 1940, World War II put paid to its full Olympic debut, and it hasn’t been seen since. Probably just as well – the starting list of 14 in Berlin was reduced by one when the wing on Austrian pilot Ignaz Stiefsohn’s snapped off during an acrobatic display and he was killed.
1908 must have been a very strange Olympic Games. Not content with “real tennis” events such as Jeu de Paume and, errr, Tennis, the organisers decided that Rackets should also play a part. Originally created by prisoners in confined spaces (which is quite often the case with prisoners), this pre-cursor to Squash had its one and only appearance in London. Not surprisingly, England was the only nation to provide competitors, automatically boosting their medal count. Basically, nobody else knew what the hell it was.
Croquet made an appearance in Paris in 1900, but when St Louis held the Olympics four years later, those cunning Yanks decided to introduce their own creation – Roque. Essentially a version of Croquet, the American version was played on a hard clay surface with boundary walls to create an Octagon, with the walls being used for bank shots. Much like Rackets in 1908, the home nation was the only one to supply competitors, increasing their medal count as a result. It was such a stupid game that in 2004 the American association suspended national tournaments when fewer than 10 people registered to play. Perhaps the only interesting fact about Roque is that in Stephen King’s “The Shining”, Jack Torrance wields a Roque mallet, and not the axe seen in Jack Nicholson’s hands in the film adaptation. And if that’s the only interesting fact about Roque, it’s little wonder it was never seen at the Games again.
Just when you thought you’d heard everything, Paris introduced us to Kite Flying as an Olympic Sport in 1900. To be fair, it was a registered as an unofficial sport. But god knows how it was judged, who competed, and perhaps most importantly, why it was even considered. Incidentally, as the 1900 Games were held alongside the World Fair, this event must have the most strangely diverse range of unofficial “sports” of all time. Outside of this monstrosity, other unofficial sports included Life Saving, Cannon Shooting, Angling, Pigeon Racing and Fire Fighting. Very, very strange. Not surprisingly, the IOC does not recognise any of these as playing a full part in the Olympic Games.
Ahhhh….Paris 1900. The gift that keeps on giving. Ballooning was included as a demonstration sport in 1900 for the first, and thankfully last, time. If I had the inclination I’d dig deeper into history and let you know who won. But I simply can’t see the point.
When the IOC decreed that a sport native to the Host Nation must be included in the programme as a demonstration sport, Melbourne didn’t have to look too far from home in 1956. A Victorian Amateur Football Association selection took on a combined VFL/VFA team of amateurs at the MCG, complete with a ground announcer providing a running commentary. For what it’s worth (not a lot I’d suggest) the VAFA team won by 26 points, and Hawthorn’s Brendan Edwards played well. Fun Fact – the game was held at the completion of the Football bronze medal match in which 3-0 winners Bulgaria (really?), beat India (reeeeeaaallly?).
Munich in 1972 included Water Skiing as its demonstration sport. Probably one of the more successful demonstration sports in Olympic History (for example it was certainly a better option than Glima in Stockholm in 1912 – don’t ask), 20 countries were represented by 35 different competitors.