Aiming For Gold

10 strange sports you didn’t know were in the Olympics

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared during the 2012 Summer Olympics. It has been updated for this year’s games.

Story highlights

Rope climbing was at the original 1896 Modern Games but last appeared in 1932

Club swinging was the precursor to rhythmic gymnastic events such as ribbons

CNN  — 

Basketball, track and swimming have been staples at the Olympics for decades, drawing thousands of spectators. But solo synchronized swimming or live pigeon shooting?

They are among the strangest events that have, at one time or another, taken place at the Games.

Here are the 10 oddest sports that have actually graced the modern Olympics:

Solo synchronized swimming

Oxymoron alert! Yes, this sport features one female swimmer synchronizing with herself. The sport made its debut in the Los Angeles Games in 1984, with U.S. swimmer Tracie Ruiz winning the gold medal.

Similar to the group event, a swimmer performs a kind of water ballet. A lonely water ballet.

Despite the seemingly misleading title, organizers of the sport say the swimmer is actually in sync with the music.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

No. But there will be the team synchronized swimming events that most people are familiar with. The solo event was discontinued after 1992.

Club swinging

Club Swinging debuted in 1904. The athlete stands erect, holding clubs that resemble bowling pins in each hand. He then twirls and whirls them around. The more complicated the routine, the more points he wins.

Historians say the sport was the precursor to rhythmic gymnastic events that use ribbons and hoops


Will we see this sport in Rio?

No. Sadly. Club Swinging was only in the Olympics twice, ending in 1932.


Once a very competitive Olympic sport, tug of war employs teams that struggle and strain to pull a rope past a certain point. Great Britain actually won the most medals in this event, historians say.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

Nope. Tug-of-war was an Olympic event until 1920, and was then relegated to the church picnic circuit.

Live pigeon shooting

The 1900 Olympics in Paris had the great distinction of being the first Games where women competed. It also wore the ignoble badge for this sport, where athletes aimed to bring down as many pigeons as possible.

Nearly 300 birds were slain, historians say, leaving a bloody, feathery mess. The winner shot down 21 pigeons.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

Yes! Just kidding, come on now. The 1900 Games in Paris was the only time pigeon killing was featured in the Olympics.

Swimming obstacle course

As strange as this sport may seem, the obstacles swimmers had to overcome are even more unusual. In the 1900 Games in Paris, swimmers crawled over boats, swam under them and climbed a pole – all the while swimming 200 meters in the Seine.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

No, but if we did the water quality itself would probably be the biggest obstacle.

Roller hockey

Maybe if this was the 1970s and there was a disco ball, this sport would have taken off. Roller Hockey debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. The game follows the rules of ice hockey, but with roller skates. Argentina took the gold.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

No. The Barcelona Games was the only time Roller Hockey was in the Olympics.

La Canne

Ok, think fencing. Now take away the saber and replace it with a cane. You know, the walking stick type of thing? Voila, now you have the French martial art La Canne, that debuted at the 1924 Olympics.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

No, but you can watch the fencing events and imagine how much more awesome it would be with wooden canes.

Rope climbing

Yes, the activity that made you feel like a weakling in your physical education class debuted as an Olympic sport in 1896. Just like in your gym class, climbers are timed to see how quickly they can shimmy up a braided rope.

But unlike your classmates, these athletes didn’t run out of steam before reaching the top.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

No. After 1932, the Olympics thankfully left rope climbing behind. Kind of like you did after high school.


Despite seeming like an activity you did in your backyard when you were 10, trampoline debuted as an Olympic sport in 2000.

Gymnasts take to the trampoline, somersaulting and flipping as stern-faced judges keep score.

“Precise technique and perfect body control are vital for success, with judges delivering marks for difficulty, execution and time of flight, minus penalties,” Olympic officials say.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

Yes. Both men and women trampolinists (yes, that is a word) will bounce for victory.

Race walking

In this sport, competitors try to outrace one another – without actually running. Huh? Even though the premise seems a little goofy, race walking has actually been an Olympic sport since 1904.

To ensure that athletes do not run, race walkers must have one foot on the ground at all times or risk disqualification. The result? A distinctive sashay that elicits many a giggle.

Will we see this sport in Rio?

Yes. Ready, set, sashay!

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