Great Olympic Events of Yore: Tug of war

Mad Men, the AMC show centered around a 1960s New York advertising firm, began its much-anticipated second season last night. The show's depiction of early-‘60s life has made some viewers nostalgic for that time-period; they wish they could live in an era where hard drinking, worry-free smoking and casual sex were the norm in the workplace. I'm not one of those viewers.

I'm nostalgic for a different time in the 20th century, namely the first 20 years. It was a dizzying time to be alive, with airplanes, automobiles and handle-bar mustaches coming into vogue. Had I lived back then I could have hob-nobbed with Albert Einstein or tickled the ivories with Irving Berlin, all whilst canoodling a radiant Lillian Gish. I would have looked resplendently foppish in a three button frock coat and tweed knickers, topped off with the sharpest homburg this side of 5th Avenue. But most importantly, I could have watched tug of war at the Olympics.

Yeah, that's right: Tug of war. From 1900 to 1920, tug of war was a medal event at the Summer Games. Twelve men, one rope, six feet to destiny; it sounds like the perfect addition to any Olympics. But like many obscure sports of old, it was taken from us too soon, depriving modern audiences of enjoying what Upton Sinclair once called "a primal ballet of brute strength and subtle delicacy".*
It's really a travesty that diving is still on the Olympic slate but tug of war got the boot. If it was around today, do you know who would watch Olympic tug of war competitions? Everyone, because seeing gargantuan dudes pulling against each other with a rope is the sort of drama on which the Olympics thrives.

Each country takes pride in their Olympic teams, but what does winning a soccer gold really mean? "Oooh, we can kick a ball into a goal better than you can." That's for suckers. Tug of war would decide which countries were the real superpowers. Maybe, in time, all of our skirmishes would be settled with ropes rather than guns.

Would each country's tug of war team be a microcosm of their nation's tendencies? For instance would the U.S. team start losing badly in matches only to implement a huge surge after all hope seemed lost? Would the Iranian team talk about having big guns at the anchor but actually have a scrawny 16-year old there instead? And would France immediately surrender in every match? Like you wouldn't watch to find out.

* Upton Sinclair may or may not have said this.

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