Discontinued Olympic Sports

The modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896 and, except during major wars, has continued every four years ever since. This year’s 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro will be an eagerly-watched worldwide spectacle. But the events in the summer Olympics have changed significantly over the last 120 years. Here are a few of the discontinued Olympic sports featured in past Olympics that are no longer a part of the modern games.

discontinued olympic sports

The Tug of War competition from 1904 is a discontinued Olympic sport. Public domain.

Tug of War

Tug-of-war is a common pastime at schools, family reunions, and other gatherings. It was an Olympic sport six times in the years between 1900 to 1920. The event consisted of two teams of eight men, some of which were from city police forces or specific athletic clubs. The teams would try to drag the opposing team over a distance of six feet. If there was no clear winner after five minutes, the team that had pulled themselves furthest within the six feet won the medals.

Club Swinging

Another of the older games was called Club Swinging and was included only in the 1904 games in St. Louis. This event was a cousin of juggling, except that the clubs did not leave the competitor’s hands. Instead, they were swung near the body in a cross between dance and gymnastics. There was an event in 1932 called “Indian Clubs” which may have been similar.

100m Freestyle for Sailors

Only the initial Athens games in 1896 contained the self-explanatory swimming event 100m Freestyle for Sailors. It featured competitors solely from Greece’s navy. The winner was one Ioannis Malokinis who completed the race in 2:20.4.

Solo Synchronized Swimming

The misnamed Solo Synchronized Swimming featured in the Olympic games of 1984 – 1992. As the Topend Sports website says, “It is surprising that it took the organizers three Olympics to realize that a person swimming alone cannot be synchronized with anyone else.” After 1992 in Barcelona, the synchronized swimming events always contained more than one person.

Solo Synchronized Swimming is a discontinued Olympic sport.

Solo Synchronized Swimming became a discontinued Olympic sport. CC2.0 University of Wisconsin.

Water Obstacle Course

The Paris 1900 games featured a water obstacle course where swimmers would race while hampered by poles and boats that needed to be climbed or swum underneath. Instead of a pool, the course was set up in the River Seine.

Equestrian Vaulting

The equestrian events also featured different challenges in the past. The 1920 Antwerp games featured another men-only sport called Equestrian Vaulting. Similar to the Club Swinging event noted above, this sport was a combination of dance and gymnastics. A man would have to jump up onto a horse and then back down the other side of the animal. Then he would have to do the same in the other direction. They would also have to somersault over horses and ride them in a normal fashion. Athletes from Belgium won the two top medals in the competition.

Horse Jumping

Also in the Parisian 1900 games, horses and riders would compete to see which horse could jump the farthest. The rider on the horse named Extra Dry won that contest at a little over 20 feet.

One Hand Weight Lifting

Most people are familiar with the two-handed weightlifting events in the modern Olympics. In the Olympics of 1896, 1904, and 1906, men would compete by lifting a weight with only one hand. The athlete had to lift weights with the right hand/arm and then switch to the left. The winner would be the man who lifted the highest weight of combined sides.

discontinued olympic sports

Weightlifting became an Olympic sport at the 1904 games. Image: Chicago Daily News collection, SDN-002638

Figure Skating

Figure skating is not a discontinued sport, but many people don’t know that it was originally part of the summer games before it became a stalwart in the first winter games in 1924.

Pentathlon of the Muses

Originally, there were also competitions that had nothing to do with sports. The 1912 Stockholm games were the first to feature what is generally known as the Pentathlon of the Muses. This Olympic attraction featured superior art compositions in sculpture, literature, music, architecture, and painting for which medals were awarded. The event was surprisingly popular and was featured in every Olympic game between 1912 and 1948. They were not discontinued due to lack of interest but due to the fact that the competitors were from among the ranks of professional artists and writers, and as the Olympics were intended solely for amateurs, this Pentathlon was dropped.

The Olympic games remain fluid. The 2016 Rio games will feature golf for the first time. And who knows what the 2020 Tokyo games will add or remove.

topendsports website, pulled 6/19/16.
Summer Olympic Games website, pulled 6/19/16.

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Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

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