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7 Unusual Sports That Used to Be in the Olympics

The Olympics have been around for centuries, so it’s no wonder that some once-popular sports are no longer relevant to today’s athletes. Here's a look at some of the strangest sports that we're fairly certain no one is training for right now.

Swimming obstacle race

Group of people wade through water-based obstacle course, crawling and climbing
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If you think swimming laps isn't action-packed enough, you might be a fan of a sport that appeared at only one Olympic Games; at the 1900 Games in Paris, there was a swimming obstacle race. It was a 200-meter race in which participants had to climb over a pole, scramble over one row of boats, and swim under another before reaching the finish line without ever leaving the water. To make it even more interesting, the event was held outside in the River Seine. Not only did swimmers have to compete with each other, they also had to fight the current.

Club swinging

Man in gray sweatshirt holding brown wooden bat in right hand
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The Olympic sport of club swinging is exactly as it sounds. Competitors held two large, bowling pin-like clubs in each hand and twirled them around their bodies as quickly as they could following a complicated routine. Points were awarded for the execution and complexity of the routine. It’s often thought of as a precursor to the modern Olympic sport of rhythmic gymnastics in which competitors dance around with ribbons and rings while performing complicated gymnastic moves. Club swinging was featured only twice, at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis and the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Pankration

Two martial artists grapple and fight in close combat arena cage match
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Pankration is an ancient Olympic sport that hasn’t been featured at any of the modern Games — and for good reason. Pankration translates to “all force,” and that’s exactly what it was. It was a combination of boxing and wrestling in which anything was permitted except for biting, gouging, and attacking genitals (solid parameters, considering the ancient Greeks competed in the nude). Besides that, there were no rules. The only way to win was for your opponent to submit, so it was common for competitors to be wounded or, in some instances, even killed.

Solo synchronized swimming

Synchronized swimmer in large pool balances in headstand with legs above water
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Is it really synchronized swimming if there’s no one to synchronize with? This oxymoronic sport debuted at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was also featured at the 1988 Games in Seoul and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Solo synchronized swimming was the same as regular two or eight-person events that are still in the Olympics — just with a single, solitary swimmer in the pool.

Plunge for distance

Swimming blocks rest on a pier beside large body of water, sun reflecting off waters surface
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Participants in the plunge for distance started on a diving block, dove in, and tried to cover as much distance while drifting underwater as possible. As you can imagine, the plunge for distance wasn’t the most exciting sport to watch. It was only featured in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics before being discontinued. The winner of the one and only Olympic plunge for distance was William Dickey from the United States, who managed to drift an impressive 62 feet and 6 inches.

Roller hockey

Up close view of roller hockey players, showing roller blades and hockey sticks
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In 1992, the Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona featured a sport normally only seen at the Winter Games: hockey. It was called rink hockey, but it was identical to the standard roller hockey you'd see played on cul-de-sacs and parking lots. Instead of on ice, roller hockey was played on a hardwood floor with in-line skates. It debuted as a demonstration sport in which 12 countries competed but never made the jump to a full-fledged event (congrats to the gold medal team from Argentina though!).

Motorboat racing

Group of motor boats race across waters, with huge foamy wakes and waves
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It might sound strange that a sport that doesn’t rely on athleticism would make it into the Olympic Games at all, but one did. Motorboat racing made its Olympic debut at the London Summer Games in 1908. In the event, competitors had to navigate their crafts around an 8 nautical-mile track five times and cross the finish line first. Think of it like NASCAR on water.

During the event, the weather was so bad that it forced some of the competitors to stop and even ran some of them aground. By the end of the race, there was only one boat left — making it a rather anticlimactic end to the new sport. It didn’t come as a surprise when the Olympic committee omitted motorboats from there on out.

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