Top 10 Weirdest Olympic Sports

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Weirdest olympic events ever

Athletes from around the globe will gather for the Olympics in Paris this summer and compete in a wide range of sports. Some of those on the program this year seem a little eccentric – dressage, race walking and modern pentathlon, for instance, take some explaining.

The newest arrival on the program for 2024 is break dancing, called ‘breaking’ for short, the first dance sport ever to feature at the Games.

But if you think that’s odd… let us tell you about 10 of the weirder Olympic sports to grace the schedule over the years. We promise you will be amazed by the activities that people have won medals for over the years!

Now, in no particular order of eccentricity, here are our top 10 weirdest Olympic sports.

1. Solo synchronized swimming

With its sequins, smiles, and nose clips, synchronized swimming is one of the features on the current program that could make a claim to be included on any list of weird Olympic sports.

So how odd was it that for three editions of the Games in the late 20th century, there was a category for individual competitors?

Tracie Ruiz of the United States was the first gold medal winner, at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Presumably for staying in sync with herself, as well as with the accompanying music.

Solo synchronized swimming was staged for the last time in Barcelona eight years later, since when the only synchro events on the calendar have been for teams of more than one person.

Weird olympic sports - solo synchronized swimming
Image credit: Kendel Media/Pexels

2. Pigeon shooting

It’s appropriate that we’re looking at the weirdest Olympic sports in the countdown to a celebration in Paris because the Games held in the French capital in 1900 featured several contenders for this list.

Among them was pigeon shooting. Now, you might not think of this as an odd sport, given the perennial presence of clay pigeon shooting on the Olympic program.

So let’s spell it out… in Paris in 1900, they used live pigeons.

The birds were released one at a time… and Leon de Lunden of Belgium took gold for hitting 21 of them. In total, more than 300 birds were killed.

Not surprisingly, animal rights campaigners were horrified. Their protests ensured that no such events were ever held again – and the shooters have targeted clay pigeons ever since.

3. Pistol dueling

While we’re on the subject of shooting, it would be wrong not to mention the inclusion of pistol dueling at the 1908 Games in London.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the event did not involve gauntlets being thrown down and insulted men demanding “satisfaction” at a meeting in the misty dawn. Competitors used wax bullets and were heavily protected when they fired at each other.

In the interest of accuracy, it should be pointed out that the event did not appear on the official roster of activities at the 1908 Games, but happened to take place at the same time – much like the exhibition sports that have been appended to the roster in modern times.

Victory went to a three-man French team, and the idea of adding pistol dueling to the list of actual Olympic events went no further.

Weird Olympic sports - pistol dueling
Image credit: Krus/Twitter

4. Swimming obstacle course

The Olympic Games of the early 20th century feature heavily in any assessment of weird Olympic sports. Some were so odd as to appear, to modern eyes, insane. So it’s appropriate that one entrant on this list was literally in Seine.

Paris’s river was the venue in 1900 for the 200-meters swimming obstacle race. Competitors had three obstacles to overcome: a pole, and two rows of boats.

A dozen hardy swimmers took part in the event, and the winner was Frederick Lane of Australia, who completed the course in 2mins 38.4secs.

Lane’s achievement was all the more praiseworthy given that he had won the main 200m event just 45 minutes earlier.

Weird Olympic sport - obstacle swimming
Image credit: Public domain

5. Sculpture

Sport-themed artistic competitions were held around the Olympics for more than 20 years, starting at the 1912 Games in Stockholm.

The main driver of this development was Pierre de Coubertin, the godfather of the modern Olympics, who believed the Games should encourage links between sport and the artistic world.

As a result, competitions were held in five categories: architecture, literature, painting, music, and sculpture.

The 1912 Olympic champion for sculpture, Walter Winans of the United States, had won a gold medal four years earlier in shooting.

One entrant in the literature category that year was De Coubertin himself. Competing under a false name, he won gold for his “Ode to Sport”.

6. Roque

As you might guess from the name, Roque is a similar game to Croquet. The main difference is that it is staged on a hard surface rather than a grass lawn.

Croquet itself had appeared on the Olympic roster at the 1900 Games in Paris. Most of the competitors were French – including some of the first female Olympians – and all the medalists were from the host nation.

Four years later, it was Roque’s turn at the 1904 Games in St Louis. This time there were only four contestants, all from the United States. The gold medal went to 64-year-old Charles Jacobus.

Only one spectator turned up to watch, so maybe it’s no surprise that Roque never featured on the program again.

Weird Olympic Sports - Roque
Image credit: Public domain

7. Tug of war

Many of the events on the program at the early versions of the modern Olympics would not have looked out of place at a county fair or a village fete.

One such competition was the tug of war, which featured at five successive Games between 1900 and 1920.

Nations were allowed to enter more than one team, which is how the United States swept the board in St Louis in 1904.

Great Britain repeated that feat in London in 1908, when a team from the City of London Police topped the podium ahead of two other sides supplied by police forces.

The British won again in Antwerp in 1920 and are still the reigning champions – the sport never featured on the roster again.

Weird Olympic sports - tug of war
Image Credit: Public domain

8. Motorboat racing

It’s hard to think of any Olympic events that are motorized. One of the few ever to appear on the program deserves its place among the weirdest Olympic events, not least because of the chaotic circumstances in which the medals were decided.

At the 1908 London Games, many of the sailing events were held in Southampton Water, on the south coast of England.

High winds blew throughout the two days of competition, and in all three motorized classes only a gold medal was awarded – because only one boat finished each.

The French boat Camille, piloted by Emile Thubron, won the Open class, while the British crew of Gyrinus took victory in both other categories.

The event was swiftly removed from the list of Olympic sports by the IOC, which decided motorized competition was not appropriate to the Games.

9. Plunge for distance

Imagine a cross between diving and the long jump and you get the plunge for distance, which appeared at the Games in St Louis in 1904 – and never since.

Competitors would dive into the pool from a standing position and cover as much distance as possible without using their arms or legs to propel them. They had up to 60 seconds to float as far as possible.

There were just five competitors in St Louis, all members of the New York Athletic Club. William Dickey won the gold medal with a distance of 62ft 6in, just over 19 meters.

Edgar Adams, who took silver, went on to set several plunge records. But the event would never return to the Olympic program.

Weird Olympic sports - plunge for distance
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

10. Town planning

We’ve saved arguably the very weirdest Olympic sport for last. One of the artistic categories we mentioned earlier was architecture – and a sub-category of this was in town planning.

Medals were awarded four times between 1928 and 1948. The 1932 winner was British architect John Hughes, with his design for a sports stadium and recreation center in Liverpool.

Four years later, Germany carried off the top award with a plan for a Reich Sports Field, while the final gold was won in 1948 by Yrjo Lindegren of Finland. He also designed the stadium in Helsinki where the Games were held in 1952.

Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed our tour of weird Olympic sports. And we’ll finish with a cautionary note.

Some of the sports to feature at the Games have been so unusual and unlikely that there is now a regularly told story that the program at the Paris Games of 1900 included Poodle Clipping.

But, hold off trying to find odds on it at an online sportsbook, the fact that this is a hoax is given away by the name of the supposed winner, Avril Lafoule.

If that sounds a bit like the French for April Fool, it’s because that’s where the story comes from – a UK newspaper column from April 1 2008.

However, fact could yet turn out to be as strange as fiction. There have been calls for sheep dog trials to be included at the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane…

Enjoy the Games!

Martin Booth
Sports & Casino Expert
Martin Booth
Sports & Casino Expert

Martin brings extensive experience from the gambling industry to the task of writing about global online sports betting and casino operations. He spent more than two decades in senior roles on the sports desks of UK national newspapers, then moved on to work in a B2C and B2B capacity for major gambling firms. He now runs an award-winning copywriting consultancy and has written extensively for sites such as Gambling.com, Bookies.com, Casino.org and Horseracing.co.uk. Martin has been interested in gambling for more than 50 years, ever since he had two shillings each way on Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National.