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Tug of War
For 20 years, from 1900 to 1920, tug of war wasn't just a kid's game — it was an Olympic sport.
Stockholm, Sweden. 1912.Wikimedia Commons
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Hot Air Ballooning
One of the many unofficial events at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, hot air balloon racing, had several different events. Pilots competed for distance, elevation, and duration over 18 separate events.Wikimedia Commons
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During the 1900 Olympics in Paris, professional firefighters competed in tests of endurance. This was unofficial event and was rarely reported upon — except in the United States, the nation of the gold medal winners, where it was treated like a major event.Imgur
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Anthropology Day Archery
The 1904 Olympics in St. Louis held "Anthropology Days," in which people from non-European cultures were dressed up in outsized versions of their traditional clothes and made to compete for the audience's amusement.Wikimedia Commons
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During the 1908 Olympics in London, competitors could duel with pistols loaded with wax bullets.Wikimedia Commons
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Sled Dog Racing
During the 1932 Winter Olympics in New York, teams on sled dogs competed for the gold.Wikimedia Commons
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Mail Coach Racing
During the 1900 Olympics in Paris, horse racing wasn't just for jockeys — carriage riders could also race on mail coaches.Timeline
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Korfball, a mixed-gender ball game that requires four men and four women on each team, has been in the Olympics twice: 1920 and 1928.
Amsterdam, Netherlands. 1928.Wikimedia Commons
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Basque Pelota — a racket game related to tennis — might not be the most well-known sport, but it's been in four different Olympics.
Paris, France. 1900.Wikimedia Commons
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During the 1928 Winter Olympics, one of the events was skijoring: skiing behind a riderless horse. Switzerland won every medal.
Skijoring, though, isn't limited to horses. Pictured are skijorers skiing behind a speeding motorcycle.
Germany. 1963.Wikimedia Commons
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Up until 1972, riding a bicycle made for two was an Olympic sport.
Munich, Germany. 1972.AFP/Getty Images
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Even jumping through barrels has been an Olympic sport.
St. Louis. 1904.ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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During the 1924, 1928, 1936, and 1948 Olympics, soldiers competed in military patrols, sliding on skis and firing rifles at their targets.
Amsterdam, Netherlands. 1928.Wikimedia Commons
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From 1912 to 1932, the Olympics held literature competitions. The first was won by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee.Wikimedia Commons
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Believe it or not, sculpting was once an Olympic event.
This piece is by Walter W. Winans - one of only two people to medal in both Olympic arts and sports, winning the gold for shooting.Wikimedia Commons
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Artists could medal in painting, drawing, watercolors, engravings, and graphic works at various Olympics.
This drawing, "Rugby" by Jean Jacoby, won the gold medal at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928.Wikimedia Commons
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For years, climbing up a rope as fast you could was an Olympic event. The most amazing win came in 1904, when George Eyser won gold with a wooden leg.
Tug Of War And Other Forgotten Olympic Events Of Decades Past
The Olympics didn’t exactly get into the swing of things right away.
In the first few years, the International Olympic Committee still hadn’t settled on the major events that would define the games. They tried a lot of different things before they landed on the events we know today – and, in the meantime, there were a lot of incredibly weird Olympic sports.
Some of these were major events – like a tug of war. From 1900 to 1920, this was one of the main competitions at the Olympics, with grown men struggling to pull each other over a line in front of audiences of thousands.
At the 1900 games in Paris, athletes from around the world competed in weird Olympic sports including kite flying, firefighting, cannon shooting, and even pigeon racing.
Sometimes, the unofficial games took weird, vaguely racist turns – like in 1904, when the St. Louis Olympics held “Anthropology Days.” Non-Europeans would be dressed up in a costume version of their traditional clothes and made to perform in front of a gawking crowd, eager to see if they could compete with the white man.
Then there were the art competitions. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics, trying to add a touch of culture to their festival of machoism, and gave out medals for the works of the creative mind. Instead of feats of strength, men would compete in feats of architecture, literature, music, and art.
Two men even managed to medal in both the arts and in sports. Walter W. Williams managed to take home the gold in both sculpting and shooting. Other wins, though, were a little more controversial – like the first gold medal for literature, which ended up in the hands of the founder of the International Olympic Committee.
Today, we’ve cut out some of the weird Olympic sports and narrowed things down to some more basic contests of athleticism. But, as the photos above reveal, there once was a time when the Olympics had a variety you wouldn’t believe.