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.
Via Wiki Commons
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!"