As many exciting sports as there are in the Olympics, there used to be many more, and some of them were rather odd and quite frankly dangerous. Although morals have changed significantly since these sports were around, one can’t help but wonder what some of them were thinking.
One of the most useless sports was called the distance plunge. It was part of the aquatics program at St. Louis in 1904 but seems to have more in common with a children’s game than an actual athletic event. The event itself required “athletes” to dive into the pool and coast underwater. They were forbidden from moving their limbs for sixty seconds, or however long it took for them to need to come up for air. The refs then measured the distance the athletes had drifted. The gold medal winner was United States athlete William Dickey, though only Americans partook in the event in the first place.
A quite cruel sport at the beginning of the 20th century was live pigeon hunting. Though hunting was a staple of the Olympics since 1896, competitors were aiming clay models, not live animals. The 1900 Games in Paris decided to go with the more animated version. Live birds were released, and athletes took aim at the moving targets. More than 300 birds passed away due to the event. PETA wasn’t yet around to protect these animals; the Olympic officials decided to skip the living targets from that point on. Even in the London Games of 1908, where running deer were featured as targets in the hunting event, cardboard cut-outs were used.
Tug-of-war is now a hallmark of picnics and county fairs. The thing of it is, the event was at one point considered an Olympic worthy event. It was first played at the Paris Games in 1900 and stuck around until the Antwerp Games of 1920. The rules stated that an eight-man team had to drag their opponents six feet to win. If neither team managed to do so, judges gave the players an additional five minutes, then declared the team that had dragged the furthest the winners. The British team was uncommonly talented and usually featured a group of London City police officers. They won two gold and one silver medal in the years tug-of-war was featured.
The rope climb, as surprising as it seems as it is the worst nightmare of high school students everywhere, was an official event in the earliest modern Olympics (Athens, 1986). Competitors were once judged on speed and style, 20th-century athletes just had to race to the top. The most impressive win to ever grace the event was in 1904 when American gymnast George Eyser won the gold medal despite having a wooden leg. The rope climb was taken off the program after the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932.
In the Paris Games of 1900, horses were given the opportunity to see how far they could leap. To explain, this was essentially the equestrian version of the long jump. As part of the horse events, horse long jump only had one chance to make its mark on the Olympics, and it completely failed to do so. The qualified horses are very athletic, to be sure, but they are not designed for long jumping. The winning leap from Belgium’s Constant Van Langendonck atop the horse “Extra Dry” measured 6.10 meters. That’s not bad until you consider the world record for a long jump by a human is 8.95 meters.