Island of misfit sports: 13 defunct Olympic events
As a global institution for almost 120 years, the modern Olympic Games have evolved just like the world around it. Not surprisingly, many sports have come and gone, and in 2014, it's hard to imagine how some of them made the cut in the first place. From baseball to pigeon shooting, take a look at some of the events that have since been discontinued from the Winter and Summer Olympic programs.
A wonderful hybrid between water skiing, horse riding and dog sledding, skijoring requires a competitor on skis getting tugged through the snow by a horse. The sport was never a medal event, but it was a demonstration at the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which was the first Winter Olympics not held in conjunction with the Summer Games.
2. Sled Dog Racing
Like skijoring, sled dog racing made just one appearance at the Winter Olympics, also as a demonstration sport. At the 1932 Lake Placid Games, seven American and five Canadian athletes with six dogs apiece ran twice over a 25.1-mile course. Winnipeg native Emile St. Goddard finished first with a total time of 4:23:12.5.
3. Live Pigeon Shooting
Unfortunately, the sport of live pigeon shooting is exactly as it sounds. Featured only once at the 1900 Paris Olympics, competitors were tasked with shooting down as many live pigeons as they could and were eliminated after they missed twice. The sole winner in the event's history was Belgian shooter Leon de Lunden, who gunned down 21 birds. A gruesome mess, the sport was discontinued thereafter.
4. Tug of War
A staple in the early modern Olympics, tug of war made appearances at five consecutive Games from 1900–20. Teams consisted of five to eight members, and countries could enter more than one team, which led to the U.S. taking gold, silver and bronze at the 1904 St. Louis Games. However, Great Britain — which typically sent teams of police squads — paced the rest of the competitors overall, taking home five total medals, including two gold and two silver.
5. Swimming Obstacle Race
Given the prevalence of endurance obstacle races such as Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race, it almost makes sense to stick the swimming obstacle race back into the Olympic program. The event was held just once at the 1900 Paris Games, where competitors completed a 200m swim in the River Seine that involved climbing over a pole, scrambling across a row of boats and swimming under another row of boats. Aussie Frederick Lane won the event, finishing the course in two minutes, 38 seconds.
An early favorite, polo was on the Olympic program five times: 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924 and 1936. Great Britain dominated the field with three gold, four silver and two bronze medals. However, they also fielded 29 total competitors over the five Games, 18 more than the next largest contingent, which was the U.S., who had 11. The sport went out with a bang at the 1936 Berlin Games, as 45,000 showed up to watch Argentina defeat Great Britain, 11-0, to take gold.
Motorboating made just one appearance as a medal sport — to disastrous results — in 1908. There were three categories of competition and nine races scheduled, but due to weather, just three races took place. The races themselves were duds, as just one boat finished in each, primarily due to a gale that was blowing during the events. Speeds only averaged around 19 mph, too. Deeming motorized events unfit for Olympic competition, the IOC but the kibosh on motorboating.
8. Winter Pentathlon
Today's biathlon is one of the Winter Olympics' more intriguing sports, where athletes must possess two distinctly different skill-sets: cross-country skiing and shooting. But the stakes were raised during the 1948 St. Moritz Games, where winter pentathlon was on display as a demonstration sport. Akin to the Summer Olympics' modern pentathlon (running, swimming, fencing, equestrian and shooting), this event provided an array of competition, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, shooting, fencing and horse riding. Sweden's athletes proved most versatile, sweeping the medal stand.
9. Basque Pelota
Basque pelota is technically an umbrella term that encompasses any court sport played with a ball, using a racket, bat or even one's own hand. The sport made its lone appearance as a medal event in Paris at the 1900 Summer Games, featuring just one match between Spain and France, in which the Spaniards won by an unknown score. Pelota has a habit of breaking into the fold though, reemerging as a demonstration sport in 1924, 1968 and 1992.
Now a popular niche sport in high schools and colleges across the United States, lacrosse twice graced the Olympic stage as a medal event in 1904 and 1908. The first edition boasted just two Canadian teams and one U.S. squad, while the second iteration involved just one team apiece from Canada and Great Britain. The quick, hard-hitting sport reared itself again as a demonstration event in 1928, 1932 and 1948.
America's pastime has only made a brief appearance on the world stage, popping up at the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. Although current American MLB stars such as Stephen Strasburg wet their feet in Olympic competition before starting their big-league careers, the U.S. has claimed only three medals and just one of them was gold. The Americans even failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympiad. Cuba, whose teams have feature major leaguers such as Orlando Hernandez, Alexei Ramirez and Jose Contreras, led the pack with three gold medals and five total. The International Baseball Federation is pushing for the sport's inclusion into the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Like baseball, softball has also only had a quick stint on the Olympic program from 1996–2008. The event was thoroughly dominated by the American women, who took gold in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, and silver in Beijing. Additionally, the sport made a household name out of Jennie Finch, the star pitcher of the 2004 and 2008 teams. Finch has since become a celebrity in American sport. The International Softball Federation is also making a push for the sport's inclusion into the 2020 Summer Olympiad.
13. Tandem Cycling
For being a Summer Olympic staple for so long, the 2000m tandem cycling event is often glossed over. The race debuted in 1908, appeared again in every Olympiad from 1920–72. While tandem cycling has been left off the Olympic program for 40 years, it's still very much a part of the Paralympic program.