116 Years of Very Strange Sports
The Summer Olympic Games are the time to celebrate the athletic accomplishments of men and women around the world. And it turns out that those accomplishments have taken, and continue to take, a lot of very odd forms. Over the past century, Games organizers have thought better of including sports like solo synchronized swimming and rope climbing. But that doesn't mean the events that are left are entirely normal, either: Racewalking and trampolining can still get you a gold medal. These 10 events represent the utter strangeness that Games past and present have included, along with all the glory and spectacle.
Slide 2: Equestrian Long Jump
While humans still compete to jump as far as they can in current Olympiads, horses were cut from the sport in 1900, after their only chance at gold, in Paris. The winning jump was measured at just over 20 feet, by Constant van Langendonck on his horse Extra Dry. For the record, Langendonck got the medal, not Extra Dry.
Olympic gymnasts are capable of incredible tricks using nothing but their own bodies. So it seems like overkill to give them a trampoline; it's a bit like strapping a jet pack to sprinters. Competitors pull off some real high-flying stunts, but they never feel quite as impressive as what they can do on the ground. Trampolining became an Olympic sport just 12 years ago; after all, the modern trampoline has only been around since 1936.
Solo Synchronized Swimming
The strangest thing about this one is the oxymoronic name. The sport itself, in the Games between 1984 and 1992, consists of one person dancing in the water, alone, but to music. It's doubtful many people were surprised or upset when it lost its Olympic status.
Slalom is a word that usually refers to the ski event in the Winter Olympics. But the Summer Games include canoe and kayak slalom (women can only compete in the latter). In what's also known as whitewater canoeing, medalist hopefuls paddle through (artificial) rapids, swinging back and forth through 25 gates.
At the 1906 Games in Athens, Frenchman Léon Moreaux took gold in the 20 meter pistol shooting event, Greek Konstantinos Skarlatos won the 30 meter. Of course, it wouldn't be in the spirit of the Olympics to put athletes in front of firing bullets; competitors fired at mannequins dressed in frock coats.
READ MORE: 10 Hilarious Sports that Have (Nearly) Gone Extinct
Even events in the modern Olympics can get outdated. In 1912, Pierre de Coubertin's modern pentathlon debuted at the Stockholm Games. Just as the Ancient Greek pentathlon demanded five skills required by the soldier of the day (long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, running, and wrestling), the modern version was inspired by the pre-World War I soldier. In 2012, modern pentathlon athletes compete in pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, jumping on an unfamiliar horse, and cross-country running: all skills the late 19th century cavalry soldier relied on when stuck behind enemy lines.
That's right -- the gym class activity you probably hated as a child was actually an Olympic sport until the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. Part of the gymnastics category, the event consisted of a climb, using only the hands and arms, to the top of a rope around 25 feet long. (The details varied with each Olympics.) Speed was usually the name of the game, but at the 1896 Games, athletes were judged on their form as well, the ideal being holding the body in a perfect "L" shape.
50 Kilometer Race Walk
The obvious silliness of speed walking, or race walking, is balanced by the length of the longer event: 50 kilometers, just over 31 miles. The most amazing part of the sport is that when it comes down to the wire, no one loses their composure and breaks into a run in a desperate bid to take home the gold medal.
Standing High Jump
These days, the ability to jump from a standstill is really only important to basketball and football players looking to impress talent scouts. But from 1900 until 1912, the standing high jump was an Olympic sport. Amazingly, American Ray Ewry won the gold at all five of those Games. Even more impressive is the fact that he spent part of his childhood in a wheelchair after contracting polio. It's an inspirational sports movie waiting to happen.
Team Pursuit Cycling
Team pursuit cycling consists of two teams of four cyclists in a four kilometer race: pretty normal. What's strange is how the actual event works. The two teams start from opposite ends of an indoor track; they approach the finish line from either side. The four cyclists race in single file, letting the leader take the brunt of the wind resistance. After a set interval, he swings to the outside of the track and joins the group at its back. It's not the first member of the team to cross the line who determines the final time; nor is is the fourth: The third racer is the one who matters. To take advantage of this quirk, one rider will go for a "death pull" in the closing moments of the race, pedaling 100 percent to give his teammates behind him an extra advantage, then pulling out and letting them go for the gold. Follow Alex on Twitter.
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