Tug of war? A swimming race exclusively for sailors? We look back at the strange events that once graced the Olympic stage


Horse long jump

A rarely staged event which made its one and only appearance at the Olympic Games in 1900, the horse long jump was part of the equestrian programme in Paris. The inaugural (and last) gold medal was won by Belgian Constant Octave van Langhendonck on his trusty steed ‘Extra-Dry’, with a leap of 6.10 metres.

Plunge for distance

An intriguing, albeit odd, combination of diving and holding one’s breath, plunge for distance featured at the Olympic Games St Louis 1904 and required competitors to jump into the pool from a standing position and then glide underwater without further propulsion. The winner was the athlete who registered the furthest distance, measured after either 60 seconds or when they surfaced to breathe.

Water motorsport

A bizarre mechanical addition to the Olympic Games London 1908, three motorboat events were held in the English Channel near Southampton, with competitors racing over five laps on an eight nautical mile course. Inclement weather caused havoc with the event, however, as a howling gale blew entrants off course and one, the British boat Wolsely-Siddely, onto a mud bank.

Tug of war

Introduced at the Olympic Games in 1900, the centuries-old pastime proved surprisingly popular in France and was retained as part of the Games programme for the next 20 years. Teams were required to pull their opponents six feet for victory, but if this didn’t transpire after five minutes of huffing and puffing, the winners were determined by who had shuffled backwards furthest.

Solo synchronised swimming

While seemingly a glaring contradiction in terms, solo synchronised swimming made its first splash at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984. It resurfaced in Seoul four years later, but 1992 saw the sport’s last appearance, making way as it did for the far more logical team version of the event at subsequent Games.

Rope climb

The beguilingly simple discipline of ascending a rope was unveiled at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The first competitors were judged on the style and speed of their vertical progress, but by 1932 in Los Angeles – the event’s swansong at the Games – it was determined only by time. In 1904, American George Eyser was crowned king of the rope, despite the distinct disadvantage of having a wooden prosthetic leg.

100-metre freestyle for sailors

The very definition of a niche event, the race was staged at the Olympic Games Athens 1896 and was open only to serving members of the Hellenic Navy. Only three mariners took to the waters near Piraeus, with Ioannis Malokinis taking gold in the inevitable Greek clean sweep of the medals.


A one-time Olympic sport, croquet was part of the Olympic Games Paris 1900 and, although generally regarded as a quintessentially British pastime, it was France that provided all 10 competitors and, by default, all the medallists. It was not exactly a hit with spectators though, with just one ticket sold for the event.


A bizarre and bruising sport, similar to fencing, in which competitors attempted to hit each other with a blunt wooden shaft, singlestick made its Olympic bow in St Louis in 1904 but never appeared at the Games again. Albertson Van Zo Post won gold – one of the five medals claimed by the American swordsman in the fencing events. 

Swimming obstacle race

Twelve athletes from five countries converged on the River Seine at the Olympic Games Paris 1900 for this unusual race, which required entrants to complete a 200-metre course. Competitors had to climb over a pole and then a row of boats, before swimming under another row of boats en route to the finishing line.