SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I won’t dwell on the problems with getting the Sochi Winter Olympics ready in Russia, mostly because I dwelled on those last week. Instead, let’s look at some past Olympic sports that are no longer in the games.
Most recently, baseball and softball were pulled from competition. The American women dominated in softball, while in baseball Americans … well, they only got three medals in five tries. The Cuban team grabbed the gold. There’s not much else to do in Cuba, except play baseball and stare longingly toward Florida, where senior citizens have high speed internet and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Lacrosse was a medal event—in 1904 and 1908. It involves people in facemasks hitting their balls with big fly swatters. It died out in the early 1900’s because only the Canadians, British, and Americans were willing to take the punishment; former lacrosse players are now employed as dog catchers and butterfly collectors.
Basque pelota was only a medal event in 1900, because nobody could figure out how to pronounce it. It’s played on a court with a ball, sometimes using a racket, but sometimes not.
In other words, it’s handball. If they’d called it that, basque pelota-ites would be on Wheaties boxes.
Tandem cycling was popular in the Olympics from 1920-72. It’s being considered again with new, more interesting rules: The guy in front steers, while the guy in back can lash out at other competitors with lacrosse sticks. It’s now a favorite of retired hockey players.
Winter pentathlon was a difficult event, although the Russians might beat that with their new sport, team gay-bashing. In 1948 winter pentathlon was put on as a demonstration sport, and consisted of downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, shooting, fencing, and horse riding.
All together. In the same event.
Sweden, which remained more or less neutral through World War II, had a whole army of young men just itching to shoot something: They swept all the medals. However, the sport was discontinued after ski-clad Swedes on horseback shot all the competitors’ horses while jumping over the fencing.
Motorboarding was tried in 1908, and ended with only one boat finishing in each of three races. It turns out the Swedes used their winter pentathlon rifles to shoot up the other boat engines, leading officials to change to rowing.
Polo was a favorite Olympic event in the early 1900’s, but it was canceled after the Swedes sent in their entry forms.
The Olympics also tried an obstacle course … involving swimmers. Competitors had to climb over a pole, go over a row of boats, and then swim under another row of boats. Luckily they had an excess of boats left over from the motorboat races.
Speaking of swimming, in 1984 they tried solo synchronized swimming.
Think about it.
Then there’s the one Olympic sport I actually participated in: Tug of war. Not in the Olympics, but we won, and didn’t even have to borrow Swedish rifles to do it. Between 1900 and 1920 the sport was dominated by Great Britain, which sent teams of police officers. And remember, back then their cops were unarmed. Good thing the Swedes didn’t have a team.
Distance plunging would have been interesting … or not. Athletes would dive into the pool and coast underwater, without moving.
That’s it. The winner is the one who drifted the longest in sixty seconds, or when they floated to the surface, whichever came first. An American won the gold, although it should be noted that this competition happened only once, in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. It should also be noted that only Americans competed.
I’m not sure how they could tell whether the athlete was winning, or drowning.
Also at St. Louis, another US competitor did an impressive job winning the gold in a sport that gives this old gym class hater nightmares: the rope climb. Why was George Eyser so impressive? Because he had a wooden leg.
In 1906 they tried the sport of pistol dueling. No, it wasn’t won by a Swede. It wasn’t really dueling, either: Competitors shot at a dummy dressed in a frock coat, and by dummy I don’t mean the guy who planned the Sochi games. It’s a good thing they cleared up how they did it, because I was thinking this would be one sport where the silver and bronze medals were awarded posthumously.
Finally, here’s a sport they tried just once, at the 1900 Paris Olympics:
Live pigeon shooting.
When the feathers cleared, a Belgian named Leon de Lunden got the gold for downing 21 birds, none of which had a say in the matter. Then he celebrated with a steak dinner.
Once the onlookers got a look at the mess left behind, they decided the Swedes weren’t so bad.