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The Weirdest Olympic Sports of All-Time


The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will soon commence. Athletes from across the globe will come together to compete in 42 different Olympic sport disciplines. The vast majority of them, such as swimming, gymnastics, basketball and track and field are widely recognized. These Summer Games also will mark the return of golf after more than a century and the debut of rugby sevens.

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However, there are some sports, historically and today, that have us wondering one thing — WHY?! Here is a look at some of the weirdest actual events in the history of the modern Olympics.

Dueling Pistols

It is hard to believe that dueling pistols was an actual Olympic event, but it was part of the 1906 Summer Games in Athens. Despite the name of the event, competitors were forced to fire at mannequins with bulls-eyes affixed to their chests. Evidently, the lack of bloodshed made this shooting event unpopular, as it was not renewed in future Olympics.


Remember playing Tug-of-War in elementary school during gym class? In the early days of the modern Olympics, this event was a mainstay of the games, with the Tug-of-War being held at every Olympiad as a track and field event between 1900-20. The sports’ greatest scandal came in 1908 when the City of London Police Club purportedly wore illegal footwear that was so heavy the men had trouble moving their feet.

The champions were as follows: 1900, a combination Swedish/Danish team; 1904: the Milwaukee Athletic Club, representing Team USA; 1906: Germany/Switzerland; 1908: The London Police Club, representing Great Britain; 1912: Sweden; and 1920: Great Britain.

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Rope Climbing

One of the more unusual events in the history of the modern Olympic movement, Rope Climbing was part of the gymnastics programs in 1896, 1904, ‘06, ‘24 and ‘32. Starting in a seated position, competitors raced to the top of a roughly eight-meter rope and were judged on both their time and style. The sport is gaining popularity in France and the Czech Republic, giving hope for those who wish to see this event return to the Olympics.

Race Walking (20km and 50km)

It seems ridiculous that race walking continues to be an Olympic sport while more popular sports like baseball and cricket continue to be snubbed by the International Olympic Committee. For the uninformed, Race walking differs from running in that competitors must maintain contact with the ground at all times with at least one foot. While the event is very technically difficult (competitors are continually judged for proper form and docked if caught using illegal technique), there is nothing exciting about watching a bunch of people walking at a brisk pace. Finally, it doesn’t help that the athletes look like constipated penguins when competing. See for yourself.

Rhythmic Gymnastics

IOC members, if you’re reading this, please rethink the inclusion of Rhythmic Gymnastics for 2016. While there’s no denying the technical difficulty and beauty of the competitors’ performances, this activity has no place in today’s Olympics. The sport is simply painful to watch and is guaranteed to put viewers at home into a deep coma. Proponents argue that the sport combines elements of modern dance, ballet and artistic gymnastics but that does not prevent the uninitiated viewers from seeing a bunch of girls dancing around with a ribbon and hula-hoop.

Solo Synchronized Swimming

This was an official Olympic event from 1984-92. What’s most shocking about this is that it took the IOC three Olympics to realize that it was an oxymoron since a person swimming alone cannot be synchronized with someone else. In reality, competitors were judged for their synchronization with the music. Quite frankly, we’re OK if this event never returns from the abyss of retired Olympic sports.

Did You Know?

The 1900 Paris Olympics has the distinction of being the only Olympics where athletes killed animals for sport.  Although it was a non-Olympic sport, separate from the other shooting events that awarded medals, three different competitions involving live pigeon shooting took place. Nearly 400 birds were killed over the course of the competitions, in which the winners were awarded a monetary prize. Not surprisingly, this exhibition did not go over well with animal activists, and the official IOC record of the 1900 Summer Games doesn’t even include the results of these live pigeon shooting events.