Every two years, some of the world’s top athletes convene at a central location and go head-to-head to prove which country reigns supreme in competitive sports. You should know this little event by its formal name, The Olympics.
Whether you prefer the summer or winter version, you might have always wondered if the current lineup of activities has always been this way. Spoiler: It hasn’t. In fact, several have been cut from the roster over the years. With the next Summer Olympics around the corner, let’s take a look at some of the sports that are no longer part of the program.
Now relegated to summer picnics, family reunions, and awkward corporate retreats, tug-of-war was once an official Olympic sport. The activity first debuted in 1900 at the Paris Olympics and continued in the summer lineup through the 1920 games. (The exception to this was in 1916, which would have been held in Berlin. However, World War I lasted longer than organizers anticipated, and the entire event was canceled.)
Surprisingly, tug-of-war was a hotly contested sport as teams weren’t based on nations but clubs. As a result, a nation could technically win multiple medals by submitting several clubs to compete. For example, the United States swept the winning tallies in the 1904 games and won all three medals in the sport.
This is an unusual one as softball continues to be added and removed from the program almost at random. If you remember the modern Summer Olympics of the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen softball as one of the competitive events. This popular sport first appeared in the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and continued until the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The sport was cut for the 2012 and 2016 games but is slated to return in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Once again, while this sport was a part of the games, the U.S. won three of the four gold medals.
Cricket is a fairly popular game in the United Kingdom and India. So you might be surprised that this sport appeared only once, at the Paris 1900 Olympics. During the course of the cricket matches, the teams didn’t even realize they were competing in the Olympics. Somehow, the game was promoted as part of the World’s Fair that was taking place during the same time as the Olympics.
It’s important to note that in the early years of the modern Olympics, the games lasted longer than the two weeks that we expect today. In 1900, they spanned five months between May and October.
Now a popular high school and college sport, lacrosse was also once part of the Summer Olympics. The sport appeared officially in two programs, the St. Louis 1904 and London 1908 games, yet appeared as an exhibition in several more between 1928 and 1948. For both of the official appearances, Canada won gold. However, much like with tug-of-war, teams weren’t based on countries, and Canada was able to submit two teams in 1904.
Polo has always been considered an elite sport, and once upon a time, it was an Olympic one as well. However, it received the same treatment as softball and was added and removed multiple times on the official Olympics program. The sport appeared at only five of the nine Olympics between the Paris 1900 and Berlin 1936 games. The 1900 games featured a mixed nationality team that took gold, but in later years the United Kingdom and Argentina each earned two gold medals in polo.
After reading this list, you might be wondering what criteria the International Olympic Committee (IOC) uses to make a sport official. One major factor is the number of nations that actively participate in, or plan to participate in, a particular sport. If only one nation submits athletes for an event, that sport will be cut. This is what happened with water motorsports. This broad category appeared at the Paris 1900 and London 1908 games before being removed. And as mentioned, the only nation that submitted competitors was France.
Rugby Union (fifteen-a-side)
Like some Olympic judging, this one is a bit of a technicality. Officially, rugby is still an Olympic sport, but not fifteen-a-side, or 15 members per team that play 40-minute halves. Rugby Union — which refers to fifteen-a-side — first appeared at the Paris 1900 Olympics. Of all the Olympic games since 1896, this version of rugby has been included in only five official games. The most recent was at the Paris 1924 games. However, Rugby Sevens debuted at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 games and will also be included in the Tokyo 2020 games.
Did any of these sports surprise you? Or is there one that you know is no longer an Olympic sport but we didn’t include on the list? Either way, you’ve got a great list of interesting facts to make you the star of the next trivia night.