5 Ridiculous Sports You Won't Believe Were Olympic Events
In the Olympics as we know them today, new events have to go through a long process of careful consideration before inclusion in the esteemed games. Baseball and softball have recently been cut, for example, while rugby and golf have made inexplicable comebacks. We can't just have any random spastic game of Calvinball gaining entry into the pinnacle of human athleticism, right? Right!
They have to be very special random spastic games of Calvinball. Like one of these actual former Olympic events:
Swimming Obstacle Race
With the games still in the early years of their revival, the Summer Olympics were going through a bit of a trial and error period. In 1900, Paris had the honor of being the host site. Unfortunately, the Olympics weren't nearly as big of a draw back then, and since they were being held in conjunction with the world's fair, they ended up taking a backseat to the bigger spectacle. As a result, several new "events" snuck past the velvet rope at the Olympic Club and made fools of themselves on the international dance floor. The swimming obstacle race was one such embarrassment: It was just like a normal swimming race, save for three strange obstacles placed haphazardly around the course.
The most dangerous obstacle: an aquatic Minotaur.
First, participants had to climb up a pole and slide back down before getting into the water. Then they swam out to a barrage of boats, which they had to climb up on, and then run across to get back into the water. This was followed by more swimming, and then yet another group of boats, which they swam beneath to reach the finish line. This was presumably after they spun around a bat 10 times and passed the orange back and forth without using their hands, of course.
Their hands were busy grab-assing.
But there's another twist: There were no swimming pools in turn of the century France big enough to play a good game of Miscellaneous Water Bullshit, so they had to hold the event in the Seine River, which, at the time, was the outlet to the Paris sewer system overflow. Because of this "oversight," many of the competitors also had to struggle against the current of the river, a dangerous and exhausting process for any swimmer, even when it's not mostly comprised of Frenchman poo.
"I had trois fiber shakes this morning!"
On the day of the race, only 12 people even bothered to show up. The winner was an Australian named Frederick Lane, a swimmer who'd also taken first in a much more dignified event: The 200 meter freestyle. Perhaps most interesting is that the time difference between him winning by purely swimming and winning by switching back and forth between swimming and something bored children would make up when the playground flooded was only 13 seconds.
It should also be noted that 1900 was not only the first time the swimming obstacle course appeared in the Olympics, but the last.
Plunge for Distance Diving
In 1904, St. Louis was the host of the third Olympic Games, and also decided to hold them alongside their own World's Fair. back then, the Olympics were apparently like the 4-H competition being held in that smelly tent just behind all of the really fun stuff. So sadly, just as in Paris, the Olympic Games remained an afterthought. They were so poorly run, in fact, that they were nearly never held again, and with events like the "plunge for distance diving," it's not hard to see why.
Above: Slightly less thrilling than a bowel movement.
Remember those trips to the community pool as a child? Remember when you and your friends found an open spot and, having only seconds to make up something fun to do, invariably panicked and just decided to run and jump at the pool as hard as you could? Well, back in 1904, you'd find a medal waiting for you when you resurfaced. The plunge for distance dive had two simple rules. 1) Jump off a platform and 2) go into the water as far as you can go without moving your arms or legs.
So ... the long jump, but with the possibility of drowning.
Making this the first Olympic sport that literally any suicidal person could win.
Participant's leaps were measured after either 60 seconds had passed, or once their bodies had broken the surface. What stunning athletic drama that must have been: A guy in a comically striped old timey swimsuit runs awkwardly toward the water (because there is no graceful way to run near a pool without cracking your skull open), he jumps as far out as he can, you wait in respectful silence for a minute, clap and then go home to invent television so you don't have to put up with this crap anymore.
"You know what would spice this up? A world war. Let's do that."
Another event from the 1900 Olympics, pelota was a game played by two people with a bat on each side of a wall, throwing a ball back and forth until one competitor finally missed it. It's basically a competitive game of catch. In addition to being generally tedious to play unless you're a five-year-old or so high that you're functioning on the level of a five-year-old, the game was also extremely region-specific: Pelota was a traditional Basque game, meaning it was rarely seen outside of Spain and France. In 1900, only two teams (for a total of four people) showed up to the games. The countries? Spain and France of course. A single game was played. Then, having no other competitors, everybody just kind of shrugged and walked away. The score? No one knows: No officials bothered to show up. Although the few fans who did attend said Spain won, so everybody just rolled with that.
"Do any of us really 'win' here?"
After the embarrassing medal ceremony where Spain got the Gold for beating France, and France got the silver for ... attendance, we guess? Pelota was cut out of the Olympics to make room for sports that technically existed.
We're starting to think the 1900 Olympics were all a mean-spirited practical joke on the part of the French. As evidence of that claim, we present yet another debut event: underwater swimming. Pretty self explanatory, really: competitors swam underwater for time and distance. Sound boring? It's worse than you think: Remember that this was way before the advent of the waterproof camera, so actually watching the event consisted of staring at a river for a few minutes, and then asking your kid to stop crying or you'll take him back to the pelota match. Luckily, for entertainment's sake, the organizers made one big mistake: They held it in a river with a crazily strong current. Fourteen brave souls volunteered to swim in the event. Only two made it the 60 meters in under a minute.
What's the opposite of inspiring? This is that.
Obviously, underwater swimming was cut immediately: Spectators complained about the event because they couldn't see who was winning or how they were progressing in the murky water, and the only way to tell it was finished was when everybody either climbed out of the water to towel off, or the search and rescue teams arrived.
"Hooray! Something memorable!"
Solo Synchronized swimming
But not everything is the fault of turn-of-the-century Frenchmen (God, we never thought we'd say that). Enter the 1984 Olympics. Desperately needing to add to the programs, the IOC finally gave in to the appeals of the synchronized swimming groups and added a duet competition. Synchronized swimming is the only thing in the world that operates inverse to the natural law of homoeroticism: It actually gets more gay the fewer wet, mostly-naked members of the same sex there are dancing together. Need proof?
We don't really need to elaborate any further: The title of the sport itself is one of the most perfectly self-contained jokes we've ever seen. But in the interest of completeness, we shall forge bravely ahead. The sport amazingly continued in two more Olympic games after its debut, before ultimately being dropped after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Listed reasons for the cut: low spectator appeal, confusing scoring systems and the distracting, raucous laughter of the judges as they watched someone put on their serious face and then dance alone in a pool for two minutes.
The definition of the term "serious face" varies.