Olympics: Top-5 Most Unusual Sports in the Modern Games
The Olympic Games is the foremost international competition for the world’s most popular sports. Since the start of the modern Olympics in 1896, the events included in the Olympic Games have changed just as much as the times themselves.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) only includes the world’s most widely practiced sports in the Games. Among the inclusion criteria, a sport must be popular in at least 75 countries across four or more continents. A sport must also be recognized by an internal sports federation and then be voted onto the Olympic program by at least a two-thirds vote of IOC members.
Due to the IOC’s stringent inclusion criteria, many sports have been dropped from the program—as others have been added.
The following are the top-five most unusual discontinued sports of the modern Summer and Winter Olympic Games—from the perspective of the world’s current cultural norms. It includes the Games’ official sports and demonstration sports, which are played to raise their international popularity.
The list does not include unofficial sports of the Olympic Games, such as those prevalent in the 1900 Games: ballooning, cannon shooting, fire fighting, kite flying and life saving.
5. Basque Pelota
The sport commonly known as Basque pelota made its one and only Olympic appearance as an official sport in the 1900 Games in Paris, France. It was a demonstration sport in other Games as well, including the 1924, 1968 and 1992 Summer Olympics.
The chistera form of this sport was played in the 1900 games. It involved the players using a basket-shaped racket to catch the ball and throw it against the wall, opposed to one’s own hand—which was another common form of the sport.
A match is played between two teams of pairs, and each team attempts to win the match by outscoring the opposing team. In simplistic terms, points are awarded to a team if it can bounce the ball off of the wall in a fashion that prevents the opponent from returning the ball to the wall before it bounces off the floor more than once—similar to the scoring of tennis.
Currently, forms of this sport are still popular in parts of Europe and Asia, but they are unusual throughout the rest of the world. One of the leading criticisms of this sport is the dangers related to the high speeds the ball reaches during play. The dangerously fast speeds of the projectiles are evident when stunt performer Steve-O was struck by an orange that was thrown from a Basque pelota racket.
4. Ice Stock Sport
Ice stock sport, also known as Eisschiessen, is a winter sport that is similar to curling. Two teams of four players compete head-to-head, and the team with the most points after six innings wins the game, according to the Internal Federation of Ice Stock Sport. An inning consists of all eight players shooting one stock towards that target, also known as the “Daube.”
Essentially, a team scores by shooting the closest stock to the Daube. The team with the closest stock at the end of an inning is given three points. The team with the closest stock also gets two more points for every additional stock that landed closer to the Daube than the competitor’s closest stock.
Ice stock sport was a demonstration sport during the 1936 and 1964 Winter Olympics. Because it failed to significantly gain in popularity, it was never made into an official Olympic sport. However, it’s still popular in many European nations: Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovenia.
3. Military Patrol
Military patrol was one of the six sports in the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, the first modern Winter Olympic Games.
The competitors were military units of participating countries. Each unit normally consisted of four members: two privates, one non-commissioned officer and an officer.
The event consisted of 25-kilometer cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering a total climb of approximately 500 to 1200 meters and one rifle-shooting bout at stationary targets of a distance of 50 meters from the prone position, per International Military Sports Council regulations for skiing events.
Then, in the 1960 Winter Olympics, the military patrol evolved into the modern-day biathlon, consisting of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
2. Speed Skiing
Speed skiing is essentially exactly what it sounds like: a drag race competition on skis. Each skier in the competition would race in a time trial down the slope of a mountain in a direct path, and the skier with the fast time won.
Speed skiing was a demonstration sport in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. In the Albertville Games, the course was 1,740 meters in length and had a maximum declivity of 70 percent. Competitors were allowed to wear aero suits in order to decrease drag and maximize their speeds.
The speed skiing competition has yet to make another Olympic appearance since the Albertville Games. The reason is likely due to the inherent dangers of skiing down a mountain at such blazing speeds. When a skier loses control at such high speeds, it rarely ends well, as seen in a crash at World Cup Canada in 2010.
1. Ski Ballet
Arguably the most majestic event in the history of the modern Winter Olympic Games was ski ballet. That's right: ballet on skis.
The competitors each performed a choreographed routine to music. The routines included leg crossings, flips, jumps, spins, rolls and everything in between on a smooth slope. Scores were given by a panel of judges who scored the performances for style and execution.
However, the true makeup and beauty of the sport cannot be captured by words alone, but rather by observation, as evident in a performance by Rune Kristiansen at the 1993 World Cup and in the video above.
Ski ballet was a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately for all lovers of all things marvelous, ski ballet will not be in another Olympics in the foreseeable future, as it was dropped by the International Ski Federation as an official freestyle ski sport in 2000.