Scenes from the Iditarod dog-sledding race. Dog-sledding is no longer a sport in the Winter Olympic Games.
The Winter Olympics has always been a bird of its own feather. Those uber-privileged Summer Games are so much easier to understand. So much simpler and more universal, with their running and throwing and liquid water.
Both have their quirky sports, but the Winter Olympics take it to another level. These Games seem to make up for in personality what they give away to their warm-weather cousins in brand recognition.
Curling, for example. Now there's a sport with personality. Or ski jumping. Who doesn't end their channel search the moment they see a ski jump in progress? It's like the fun-loving party neighbor. Maybe you don't want to spend several hours a day with that person, but once in a while, it's great.
And those are just the sports that are actually in the games. Wait until you see the sports that hit the cutting-room floor. Curious as to what those might be? Strap on those snow shoes and stride onward.
As you read, you'll see most of these were demonstration sports, which means the sports were essentially tested once or twice and, in these cases, not picked up as a full, formal part of the Games for various reasons. Medals are awarded but not considered "official" Olympic medals.
The sports are ranked in order of their craziness, or just general strangeness or novelty factory. Remember: "craziness" is a completely objective metric, so no arguments are allowed. Make sense? Great. Mush!
Years Demonstrated: 1932, 1952
What Is This: Dog sled racing
I realize we're not all hardcore winter-sports experts. I realize there are fair-weather fans who only care once every four years. Luckily, I'm here to help those individuals out.
In this sport of "dog sled racing," a team of dogs are being "raced" on a "sled" by a "person." The person attempts to entice the dogs into running faster than the dogs the other people have.
You're very welcome.
It's hard to tell why this sport never caught on at the Olympic level. It remains relatively popular today, particularly the iconic Iditarod race through Alaska.
The modern biathlete has roots in the sport of military patrol.
Year As An Official Medal Sport: 1924
Years Demonstrated: 1928, 1936, 1948
What Is This: Cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering, rifle shooting
Many sports (wrestling, track and field, etc.) grew out of military exercises. Apparently that tradition is particularly strong in winter sports.
Unlike the biathlon or winter pentathlon, military patrol is a team sport, usually involving a 25-kilometer cross-country ski (or 15 kilometers for women) and a 500-1,200-meter mountain climb, in addition to the shooting. Sounds pretty grueling.
In 1960, the sport formally gave way to the biathlon. Military patrol still exists in some form, but it doesn't appear to be widely practiced in its original incarnation. This is the only sport on the list that was a full-fledged medal sport, though only for the 1924 Games.
Years Demonstrated: 1936, 1964
What Is This: A regional variation on curling
I'm sure I'm missing some nuance here, but in essence and for most intents and purposes, this sport is curling with a vertical stick at the top of the stone instead of a handle. The "stone" is smaller and is picked up and flung in more of a bowling style, but yeah. It's curling.
Also known as "eisstocksport" or Bavarian or Austrian curling, the sport is most popular in Germany and Austria. The sport is also old, dating back to the 16th century.
Check out those player intros in the video. At first, I thought the fog machine was a little much, especially on top of the strobe lights. But now I think it adds just the perfect touch of mystique.
Year Demonstrated: 2002
So What Is This: Using surprisingly fancy shoes to race on top of the snow
You may know snowshoes from the old storybooks you read as a kid. Made of saplings and roots and such, were they?
Well, move over, Hans Brinker, or whomever. This is the modern age, and snowshoeing is a serious science. Take it from the people of Vermont, who hosted the event in this video. Feast your eyes on the pageantry and action contained therein. Listen to the eerie sound of 150-plus pairs of snowshoes slapping the powder simultaneously. If it gets too real for you, you can always hit the "pause" button.
Snowshoe advocates (oh, they exist) have been pushing to add the sport back to the Olympic menu for years now, with no success.
Year Demonstrated: 1952
What Is This: Like hockey, just with a ball instead of a puck
As with ice stock sport, bandy is a casualty of simply being too similar to another sport, in this case ice hockey.
Bandy also shares common traits with soccer. Both sports have 11 players and two 45-minute halves. And because there is a ball, there is more "dribbling" in bandy than in traditional ice hockey, where the puck slides up and down the ice with less of a need for control.
Also, unlike ice hockey, the bandy goalkeeper has no stick. Maybe that's part of why scoring can be more plentiful in bandy compared with hockey.
For instances, take the 22 goals the German national team hung on a team of Somali refugees living in Sweden. Now that's just wrong. Especially considering the Somali team's harrowing and really likable back story.
Bandy is alive and well in Scandinavia, Russia and similar areas. It is also played in India, Kazakhstan and England. But it doesn't seem like a likely candidate to return to the Olympic Games.
Year Demonstrated: 1948
What Is This: Competition blending cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing, horseback riding.
This is clearly an old-school cousin of the modern-day biathlon. As you might imagine, both sports have military roots, tracing back in particular to Scandinavia (shocking!). There was an attempt to integrate the two sports several decades back, but evidently it didn't take.
I very much enjoy this. It's like if James Bond was given a license to invent a sport. Guns? Horseback riding? Fencing? I wonder: Where are the martini-shaking and helicopter-dangling portions of the competition? Why isn't it legal to shoot opponents with tiny poison-tipped darts out of an otherwise very ordinary-looking wristwatch? Let's be thorough, James Bond. Let's be thorough.
Year Demonstrated: 2002
What Is This: Teams perform routines involving various formations and maneuvers.
Make way for the youngster of the list. No ancient military roots on this one. In fact, it seems plausible we could see "synchro" back on the demonstration menu at a future Games.
Think figure skating crossed with competitive cheerleading. The growing sport involves teams of as many as 20 skaters working in unison. That's way more impressive than those two-person synchro swimming teams.
Years Demonstrated: 1988, 1992
What Is This: Choreographed routines performed on smooth slope
Also known as "acroski," ski ballet is no longer an official part of either the Olympic Games or general ski competitions. It is, however, a component of freestyle skiing, a full-fledged event at the Games since 1992.
In its pure form, ski ballet is akin to figure skating. It involves flips, jumps and other moves, with the routine being scored by a panel of judges.
Check out the moves on this guy in the video.
Year Demonstrated: 1992
What Is This: Skiing down a mountain in a straight line.
This is the sport unknowingly practiced by some of my jerkier high school friends who had a very clear and very vocal "straight-to-the-bottom" philosophy whenever they got to the top of the slopes.
In their case, methinks it was to cover up certain technical deficiencies like "the ability to ski properly," attract the attention of the ladies and just generally be the public nuisance that so many of our teens strive to be.
Was this the same rationale of the Olympic speed-skiers? Open question. But it's an interesting sport to watch, and they do get moving. The world record is 156.2 miles per hour, set in 2006 (and in this very video) by Italy's Simone Origone.
Year Demonstrated: 1928
What Is This: Skiing behind a horse (or dog, or motor vehicle).
Think wakeboarding for the frozen-water set.
Maybe this sport seems old-fashioned to you. Maybe you believe skijoring is a casualty of these modern times of ours. An animal pulling a skier? Inefficient, you might say. Like the hand-crank ignition system, or non-instant oatmeal.
But you would be mistaken. Skijoring remains a fixture today in various sled-dog-centric sports events. Horses were used in the Olympics demonstration, and to be honest, horses are the way I prefer it as well.
But let this hardcore skijoring purist dismount from his soap box now. As far as the sport itself, like wakeboarding, there are versions of skijoring where jumps or tricks are the point. But in its conventional form, this is a pure speed race. Those wakeboarding similarities are furthered by the fact it's a battle for control and for harmony between two cooperative, but competing, physical bodies. Way more difficult than the eye test might suggest.
But at the end of the day, it all boils down to this: Are your dogs and skis equal to my own dogs and skis? That was—and is—the question. Only a rousing skijoring match can answer that particular question.