10 unlikely sports you probably didn’t know were in the Olympics

10 unlikely sports you probably didn’t know were in the Olympics

The Olympic Games have always been a showcase of human athleticism and skill. But with anything that’s been around for this long, there’s bound to be a few flops sprinkled in with the cool and inspiring. From the bizarre to the arguably dangerous, here’s a list of 10 sports that have graced the Olympic stage. As we gear up for Paris 2024, let’s meander through Olympic history and peek at some exciting newcomers.

1. Breaking (2024 debut)

Photo via Flickr by James Everett

Breaking, better known as breakdancing, is making its grand Olympic debut in Paris, with main events being held at La Concorde. 32 B-Boys and B-Girls will battle it out to randomly selected beats, judged on five categories: Musicality, Vocabulary, Originality, Technique, and Execution. Battles will be one-on-one, with competitors showcasing their best power moves, footwork, and freezes. It’s a far cry from traditional Olympic events, but it’s sure to bring some serious style to the games and a more diverse audience. Mark your calendars for August 9th and 10th!

2. Skateboarding (2020 debut, returning in 2024)

Photo via Flickr by Phil Roeder

From California sidewalks to Olympic glory, skateboarding rolled into the Tokyo 2020 Games and is set for an encore in Paris. This sport celebrates individuality and self-expression, making it a refreshing addition to the Olympic lineup. Competitors will showcase their skills in two disciplines: Street (featuring stairs, handrails, and benches) and Park (more complex curves and deep bowls). Expect to see jaw-dropping tricks and gravity-defying stunts as skaters vie for gold.

3. Sport Climbing (2020 debut, returning in 2024)

Photo via Wiki Commons by FancyBeaver

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll know that climbing has basically become the new cross-fit and now it’s in the Olympics. Sport climbing combines boulder, lead, and speed disciplines. For people who aren’t familiar with this sport, in bouldering, climbers tackle short but intense courses without ropes. In comparison, lead climbing tests endurance on taller walls, while speed climbing is a vertical sprint to the top. It’s sort of like watching a bunch of people auditioning to be Spider-Man’s stunt double. These athletes scale walls with superhuman agility and strength, making for a pretty mesmerizing spectacle.

4. Surfing (2020 debut, returning in 2024)

Photo via Wiki Commons by Brigitte Bourger

Surf’s up in Paris! Well, not exactly. Since the Paris Games are landlocked, the surfing events will take place in Tahiti’s legendary waves at Teahupo’o, an appropriate pick as it’s a French overseas territory. Surfers will be judged on the difficulty of maneuvers, innovation, variety, speed, power, and flow. This addition brings a taste of beach culture to the Olympics, demonstrating the incredible skill and bravery required to ride nature’s most powerful forces.

5. Roller Speed Skating (2024 debut)

Photo via Flickr by chuci

Rollerblading enthusiasts are finally getting the representation they’ve been wanting. This high-octane sport promises heart-pounding action as skaters fly around banked walls with lightning speed and precision. Events will likely include sprints, longer distances, and possibly team relays, offering a mix of individual prowess and strategic teamwork.

6. Tug-of-War (1900-1920)

Photo via Wiki Commons (1912 summer olympics tug of war)

Believe it or not, this schoolyard favorite was once an Olympic sport. From 1900 to 1920, nations sent multiple tug-of-war clubs to compete. Teams of eight would grapple with a rope, trying to pull their opponents over a line. Most notably, countries could win multiple gold medals if different clubs came out on top. The sport was incredibly popular, with police and city clubs often representing their countries. It might seem silly now, but it was serious business back then.

7. Club Swinging (1904)

Photo via Wiki Commons by Unknown Author (Indian club swinging team, St Paul’s Young Men’s Club, Ipswich, 1890s)

Imagine this: an athlete standing perfectly straight, twirling two giant, heavy clubs around their body in complex patterns. This was club swinging, which made its first (and only) Olympic appearance in 1904 in St. Louis. Competitors performed routines lasting several minutes, showcasing strength, flexibility, and coordination. The clubs, similar to bowling pins but heavier, would be swung in circles, figure-eights, and other intricate patterns. Essentially, it was like rhythmic gymnastics met weightlifting, and had a strange baby out of wedlock.

8. Solo Synchronized Swimming (1984-1992)

Photo via Wiki Commons by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin

If you’re confused, so am I. This sport was the epitome of an oxymoron. Solo synchronized swimming debuted in 1984, with athletes performing intricate routines… alone. The idea was that they were synchronizing with the music, not other swimmers. Competitors performed a technical routine with required elements and a free routine showcasing creativity. American Tracie Ruiz won the first gold in this event. This head-scratcher of an event was retired after 1992, probably because everyone kept asking, “Wait, how does this work?”.

9. Rope Climbing (until 1932)

Photo via Wiki Commons by Albert Meyer

Remember that dreaded rope in gym class? Well, it used to be an Olympic event. Athletes raced up a 25-foot rope, with the first to ring the bell at the top taking home gold. Initially, climbers were judged on both speed and style, but it eventually just became a race. The most impressive win? George Eyser in 1904, who clinched gold despite having a wooden prosthetic leg. This was obviously before the Paralympics.

10. Pistol Dueling (1906)

Photo via Wiki Commons by Les Sports Modernes

Don’t worry, no one actually shot at each other. This short-lived event, featured in the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, involved participants firing at human-shaped targets from 20 or 30 meters away. Competitors used real pistols with wax bullets, wearing protective face masks. It was less Wild West showdown and more marksmanship contest, but it still ranks as one of the strangest Olympic events ever.

As we look forward to Paris 2024, it’s clear the Olympics are evolving to embrace more diverse and exciting sports to capture peoples’ waning attention spans. The inclusion of breaking, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing shows a commitment to staying relevant and appealing to younger audiences. These new additions promise to bring fresh energy and excitement to the Games, inspiring a whole new generation of athletes and fans.

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