Olympic Track & Field 2012: The 5 Strangest Olympic Events and Their Origins

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor IAugust 6, 2012

Olympic Track & Field 2012: The 5 Strangest Olympic Events and Their Origins

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    The Olympics certainly has some interesting events, several of which are being contested in track and field. The women's steeplechase is about to begin, and the men's hammer throw has already finished. 

    The triple jump works in reverse, as the women have already completed the event and the men begin on Day 11.

    Race walking is so interesting it has two different events for the men. One is completed and the other is held on Saturday along with the women's event.

    Then there is the modern pentathlon, an event that is so strange it received its own classification. We know that it is not "track and field" per se. But as it involved a few track and field disciplines, we're throwing it in the mix.

    One other item that stands out with these events was the significant delay until women's events were included in the Olympics.

    The following slides will provide a little information on each event, including its origin, first year it was included in the Olympics and a few interesting facts.

5. Triple Jump

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    First Olympics

    The first modern Olympics of 1896, 1996 for women

    Origin of the sport

    The sport has been traced back to the Greek Olympics. In some variant of three consecutive jumps, contestants would achieve distances of over 50 feet. The modern world record is only 51 feet.

    Interesting facts

    The three jumps are broken down into the "hop," the "bound" and the "jump." The hop and bound are off the same foot, with the jump coming off the other leg.

4. Hammer Throw

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    First Olympics

    1900, 2000 for women

    Origin of the sport

    The hammer throw is easily traced to the Scottish Highland Games, where they still compete in the event. It features a ball-shaped weight affixed to a cane handle.

    Interesting facts

    The name of the hammer throw comes, unsurprisingly, because contestants originally threw a sledge hammer. The event has progressed to a 16-lb lead ball attached to a handle with a metal chain.

    The oddity of the hammer throw can be found in both the tight spin the contestants must achieve along with them being enclosed in a cage with a narrow opening, for obvious reasons.

3. Steeplechase

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    First Olympics

    1896, 2008 for women

    Origin of the sport

    Steeplechase originated in the British Isles. It was a race from one town to the next, with church steeples being the logical targets given their visual prominence.

    The race required jumping over stone fences and leaping over streams.

    Interesting facts

    This competition moved to a flat course with created obstacles in 1865. The University of Oxford featured a two-mile event (3,200 meters) that created the basis for the current 3,000 meter length.

    The track has four larger barriers and one water jump; contestants complete seven laps.

    Some individuals take this event very seriously. Thank you, Andrea Hangst, for your Twitter comment:

    Stop teasing the Steeplechase final NBC and just show it to me!

    — Andrea Hangst (@FBALL_Andrea) August 6, 2012

2. Race Walking

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    First Olympics: 1904 as a precursor to the decathlon, 1908 as a stand-alone event, 1992 for women

    Origin of the sport

    Racewalking was an offshoot of the British pastime of pedestrianism. This sport was designed to determine the most fit person, often including length walks that would span several days.

    The roots have been traced as far back as 2,500 B.C. to Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was included as part of the original track and field events by the English Amateur Athletics Association in 1880.

    Interesting facts

    The rules of race walking have two main components to make a stride a walk instead of a run. 

    First, the toe on the back foot can't leave the ground until the heel on the front foot touches the ground. The other requirement is the front leg must be straight when it touches the ground and remain so until it passes under the body.

    Contestants use short strides with exaggerated pelvic rotation to achieve maximum efficiency of movement.

    The primary issue with judging is it is done with the naked eye. This allows contestants to stretch the rules, as it is difficult to discern if both feel are off the ground for a microsecond. 

    Just to prove racewalking is a real sport, it now has controversy, as shared by Reuters on Twitter:


    — Reuters Sport (@ReutersSports) August 6, 2012

1. Modern Pentathlon

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    First Olympics

    708 B.C. for the pentathlon and 1912 for modern pentathlon, 2000 for women

    Origin of the sport

    Technically, this is not part of "Track and Field." And it stands as its own Olympic sport. But it's close enough in some of its disciplines that we threw it in here.

    The sport originally consisted of discus, javelin, long jump, running, and wrestling. Mythology states that it became a sport to reward Peleus, a competitor and friend of the organizer, who had come in second in everything except wrestling.

    It is more commonly believed that the pentathlon was a combination of events that embodied an ideal warrior.

    When Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern games he wanted to update the events to reflect the ideal soldier of the 19th century.

    He chose to replicate a member of the cavalry trapped behind enemy lines. He would have had to ride an unfamiliar horse, shoot a pistol, sword fight, run for long distances and would possibly have to swim.

    Interesting facts

    The pentathlon was originally a five-day event, but waning interest and a desire to make it more audience-friendly led to the current one-day format.

    It includes fencing, with each contestant facing all other competitors. That is followed by a 200-meter swim and riding/jumping on a randomly chosen horse.

    Pistol shooting was combined with the 3,000-meter run to finish the event.

    Modern pentathlon isn't actually part of track and field. The pentathlon is so unique that it has its own Olympic category.

    But it does include running as a discipline so I'm considering it fair game.

    The video above is a promotional ad attempting to garner support for the event, as Olympic organizers have considered its elimination from the Games.

    The video claims pentathlon has "The World's best all round athletes." They are not exactly helping their cause by referring to their participants as round.