Tug Of War And Other Forgotten Olympic Events Of Decades Past

Published June 12, 2017
Tug Of War 1912
Olympic Baloons
Fire Fighting 1900 Olympics
Anthropology Day Archer 1904
Tug Of War And Other Forgotten Olympic Events Of Decades Past
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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.

For more strange, little-known sports, check out history's most obscure sports as well as the most extreme sports of all time.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Oliver, Mark. "Tug Of War And Other Forgotten Olympic Events Of Decades Past." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 12, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/weird-olympic-sports. Accessed June 15, 2024.