10 Weird Olympic Sports That No Longer Exist, from Tug of War to Pole Archery

#10 should make a comeback

weird olympic sports

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games are almost here, and I certainly look forward to watching talented athletes compete for gold medals. This year, the games will feature 329 events in 32 sports, including a few exciting new additions—like skateboarding and breakdancing. So, naturally, I've been curious to learn about all the weird Olympic sports that are no longer part of the sporting spectacle.

For example, did you know that tug of war was an official team event in the Summer Olympics during the early 1900s? Or that people won gold medals for pistol dueling? Keep reading for ten weird Olympic sports you probably didn't know existed.

weird olympic sports ballooning
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1. Ballooning 

Ballooning, which involved pilots using gas balloons to compete in events like distance, altitude, duration and longest distance traveled, was included as part of the Summer Olympic Games in 1900. Held in Paris, this marked the only year that included ballooning as an official event.

weird olympic sports tug of war
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2. Tug-of-War 

Per the Tug of War Association, this event occurred at five Olympic Games between 1900 and 1920. At the first two games, teams included five to six pulling members, while the later games included up to eight people per team.

The first-ever tug-of-war Olympic gold medal went to a combined team from Sweden and Denmark, after they defeated France.

weird olympic sports pistol dueling
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3. Pistol Dueling

The Olympics got a taste of the Wild West when it included pistol dueling as an official event in 1906. Contrary to what the name suggests, it didn't involve any actual dueling. Rather, competitors had to fire their pistols at human-shaped dummies designed with a bull's eye on the chest. One event had them shoot from 20 meters and another, from 30 meters.

weird olympic sports croquet
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4. Croquet

Like ballooning, croquet was only included at the 1900 Games in Paris—likely because only French athletes participated and only one spectator attended to watch. However, it's worth noting that croquet was the first Olympic event in which women participated. Events included One Ball Singles, Singles—Two Balls and Doubles.

weird olympic sports rope climbing
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5. Rope Climbing

It's a nightmare-inducing feat for most teens in physical education (been there), but believe it or not, the activity was an official Olympic sport in 1896, 1904, 1906, 1924 and 1932. At the very first event, competitors had to start from a seated position and climb up a 14-meter rope as fast as possible, using just their hands and arms. Initially, athletes were scored based on their speed and climbing style. At the following games, however, the length of the rope was reduced to 25 feet, and competitors only had to race to the top.

weird olympic sports plunging
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6. Distance Plunging

This one may bring back childhood memories of diving with your friends in a backyard pool, but unbeknownst to many, it was an official sport at the 1904 Olympics in Paris. Athletes were required to dive into the pool and remain underwater, completely still, for at least 60 seconds or until they returned to the surface. Divers who drifted the longest distance won the event, and U.S. athlete William Dickey took home the gold medal for reaching 62 feet, 6 inches.

weird olympic sports dumbbell contest

7. All-Around Dumbbell Contest

Gym buffs would fare well in this event, which was designed for the strongest. It was only held at the 1904 Olympic Games, but the competition consisted of ten different dumbbell movements, including one-arm curls and optional bonus exercises. Each section was awarded a certain amount of points, and U.S. athlete Oscar Osthoff took home the gold for earning a total of 48 points.

weird olympic sports pole archery
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8. Pole Archery

Also known as Popinjay, this archery event, which was held at the 1900 and 1920 games, involved shooting artificial birds on cross beams that were suspended from a large pole. In 1900, there were two events: On the Perch at the Harrow and On the Pole at the Pyramid. In 1920, however, the setup was quite different. It included an individual event and a team event, and both had either small birds or large birds as targets.

Only the Belgian team participated in the small and large birds team events, which earned them the gold medal.

weird olympic sports vaulting
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9. Equestrian Vaulting

Here's what I like to describe as a cross between gymnastics, dancing and horseback riding. This fascinating sport, also known as Figure Riding, was included as part of the 1920 Summer Olympics. Essentially, athletes had to compete in four sections, which involved jumping onto the horse from a standing position, jumping over them and performing freestyle moves on a walking horse. Only Belgium, France and Sweden participated in the event, and Belgian athlete Daniël Bouckaert won the gold medal.

weird olympic sports obstacle race
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10. Obstacle Race

Imagine a fun obstacle course, but for swimmers. The 200-meter obstacle race was only held at the 1900 Olympic Games, and obstacles included climbing over a pole and swimming under a row of boats. Athletes also got to do a 200-meter freestyle event, and Australian swimmer Frederick Lane came in first place.

The competition was held in the River Seine, so something tells me that this would be a huge hit if it were to return for Paris 2024.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...