8 of the strangest sports played in Olympic history

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1920: England beats U.S. in tug of war, the Olympics.
1920: England beats U.S. in tug of war, the Olympics.

Image: Bettmann Archive

When we think of Olympic athletes, swimmers, gymnasts and runners come to mind. But tug-of-war champions and rope climbers? 

In the early days of the modern Olympics, host countries had discretion over the games program, which usually consisted of quirky and unconventional sports that highlighted the country’s talents and traditions. 

At the 1900 Paris Olympics, hot-air ballooning was a demonstration event, the 200-meter swimming race took place in a river and featured an obstacle course, and live pigeons were used as targets during the shooting competition. 

As the Olympics developed, live pigeons were replaced with clay targets, swimming and diving competitions were moved to pools and the International Olympics Committee began sanctioning the events. Which is why today the games include a fairly consistent roster of sports including swimming, gymnastics, and track and field.  

Here are eight of the strangest events that have at one time or another taken place at the Olympics.  

The tug- of-war event was held at the Olympics from 1900 to 1920, as part of the track and field athletics program. Tug-of-war was part of the ancient Olympics, which date back to 776 BC. In this photo, the U.S.  tug-of-war team competes during the 1908 London Olympics.

The tug- of-war event was held at the Olympics from 1900 to 1920, as part of the track and field athletics program. Tug-of-war was part of the ancient Olympics, which date back to 776 BC. In this photo, the U.S.  tug-of-war team competes during the 1908 London Olympics.

Image: Topical Press Agency/Getty

A drawing depicting  the sport of shooting live pigeons. The 1900 Olympics in Paris was the first and only time hundreds of live pigeons were released as targets for gun-wielding competitors. Today, shooting is still a part of the Olympic line-up, however, live pigeons have been replaced with clay targets.

A drawing depicting  the sport of shooting live pigeons. The 1900 Olympics in Paris was the first and only time hundreds of live pigeons were released as targets for gun-wielding competitors. Today, shooting is still a part of the Olympic line-up, however, live pigeons have been replaced with clay targets.

Greek athlete Nikolaos Andriakopoulos on his way to win the gold medal in the rope climbing event at the first modern International Summer Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece  on April 10, 1896. Rope climbing was held as part of the official gymnastics program in 1896, 1904, 1906, 1924 and 1932. In the event, competitors raced to the top of the rope using only their hands.

Greek athlete Nikolaos Andriakopoulos on his way to win the gold medal in the rope climbing event at the first modern International Summer Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece  on April 10, 1896. Rope climbing was held as part of the official gymnastics program in 1896, 1904, 1906, 1924 and 1932. In the event, competitors raced to the top of the rope using only their hands.

Plunge for distance (diving) was only part of the Olympic program at the St. Louis Olympics in 1904. After diving into the water, divers had to remain motionless underwater for one minute or until their heads broke the surface of the water, whichever came first. The winner was determined by distance.

Plunge for distance (diving) was only part of the Olympic program at the St. Louis Olympics in 1904. After diving into the water, divers had to remain motionless underwater for one minute or until their heads broke the surface of the water, whichever came first. The winner was determined by distance.

Motorboating was an official sport at the 1908 Olympics and a demonstration sport in 1900. The event, strictly for men, involved racing five laps (or 40 nautical miles) around a course.

Motorboating was an official sport at the 1908 Olympics and a demonstration sport in 1900. The event, strictly for men, involved racing five laps (or 40 nautical miles) around a course.

The original form of tennis,  jeu de paume, was only played as an Olympic sport at the 1908 London Olympics. Nicknamed the "palm game"  it more closely resembles racquetball, as the walls of the court were used in the game.

The original form of tennis,  jeu de paume, was only played as an Olympic sport at the 1908 London Olympics. Nicknamed the “palm game”  it more closely resembles racquetball, as the walls of the court were used in the game.

Pistol dueling was an associate event at the 1908 London Olympic Games. Confusingly, the event consisted of no actual dueling as individuals merely shot at plaster dummies dressed in frock coats from a distance of 20 or 30 meters.

Pistol dueling was an associate event at the 1908 London Olympic Games. Confusingly, the event consisted of no actual dueling as individuals merely shot at plaster dummies dressed in frock coats from a distance of 20 or 30 meters.

There has only been one one croquet competition in Olympic Games history, which was played at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Croquet is credited with being the first Olympic event in which women participated.

There has only been one one croquet competition in Olympic Games history, which was played at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Croquet is credited with being the first Olympic event in which women participated.

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