Do you have the itch yet?The Olympic opening ceremonies are just a couple of days away, and I’m pretty excited. Unlike the World Cup, in which I pretend to like soccer every four years, I genuinely love watching the Olympics. I think I like the winter games slightly better. This may be because it’s on during the winter when I am likely to be watching more TV, and it also probably has to do with the fact that Canada has a better chance at winning the big events in the winter games over the summer ones. I think my favourite summer event is the marathon. I think I just like to see the countryside of a particular country on that particular day and time. And there’s always a chance to see some dude puking, which you don’t normally get to see at other events.
This year, a member of the platinum circle of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” is actually in England for a holiday and to soak up some of the Olympic atmosphere. She doesn’t know it, but she’s actually a sleeper correspondent for this blog, and as soon as she reads the words “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Wetter” she’ll be activated and will begin to, um, correspond for us. That’s the plan, anyway. I hope those hypnotism lessons were worth the money…
You may well know that this is the first year that baseball and softball are not included. Dropped like a randy ferret, I suppose. To make room for golf and rugby in 2016? This makes me sad, of course, because baseball is the game of games, a national pastime in one country, and inarguably the best game around for curious names. (Stubby Clapp, anyone?)
But I hold no ill will towards the IOC. They have to make changes here and there to keep up with the times and all that.
To that end, there is a list of my top 5 favourite (here he goes with those DAMN lists again! I hear you say) former Olympic events, not including baseball.
Before the IOC began deciding what was an official olympic event and what wasn’t, the host country had way more say as to what could be included in the Olympics, and leave it to the French to come with some doozies. Croquet appeared only once, in the 1900 games in Paris. Croquet, also known as “lawn polo” to some, is a game meant for family gatherings involving barbecued meats and cold alcoholic beverages. Is it a game for athletes? I’ll leave that up to you, but it may interest you to know that France swept the competition in 1900, and although a similar game called Roque was played in 1904, croquet itself never appeared again.
4. Tug of War
Tug of War appeared in every Olympics between 1900 and 1920. Like croquet, you may think that Tug of War should remain the exclusive domain of church luncheons, but in fact it was a staple of the ancient games and I guess organizers thought, “Why the hell not?” A combined Sweden/Denmark team won in 1900 with the USA getting the silver. I guess the USA figured out this was a bullshit event and spent the next four years training a crack squad of tuggers because in 1904 the TOP FOUR TEAMS were all from the United States. That doesn’t seem right somehow? A country could enter multiple teams? I guess so, because after a combined Germany/Switzerland team took the gold in 1906, Great Britain owned the podium in 1908. Sweden won it one more time in 1912 and Great Britain took the gold in 1920 before organizers came to their senses and discontinued it. Fun fact: Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, a tugger for France in 1900, was the first black Olympian!
3. Club Swinging
This sounds like the type of thing that 1960’s era advertising executives would be really good at, but it’s actually a little bit like JUGGLING! The contestant (I can’t bring myself to use the term “athlete” in this instance) holds a bowling pin in each hand and twirls them around to preset choreography. I’m not making this up! The event first appeared in 1904, and then disappeared until strangely returning in 1932. Both times, all three medals went to the United States. Impressive, yes? Although in 1904 there were only three contestants, and in 1932 there were four: three from the US, and one poor beggar from Mexico. Not so fun fact: the gold medalist in 1932, George Roth, was actually unemployed due to the Great Depression, and had to hitchhike to and from the games, juggling clubs for hobo nickels!
2. Live Pigeon Shooting
You know how sometimes at the opening ceremonies of the olympics, or maybe at somebody’s wedding or something you’ll see people releasing doves? You know how you tend you look up and smile as the doves fly around and away, and then you turn to the people around you and smile at them because you’ve all seen something lovely? Well now imagine those doves are actually pigeons and instead of watching them fly away you actually see olympic athletes open fire on them. That’s what happened at the 1900 games in Paris. (Yes, the French again.) You were eliminated if you missed two birds, but that didn’t stop winner Leon de Lunden from Belgium from killing 21 for the gold, Maurice Faure of France killing 20 for the silver, and Aussie Donald MacIntosh killing 18 for the bronze. Apparently 300 birds were killed in all, and it was the only time in Olympic history that animals were intentionally harmed. (Unless you count whatever method Ben Johnson used to get that horse urine in 1988, Heyo!) The weirdest part about this event was that instead of medals, the winner was given 20,000 francs. Even weirder was that the top 4 shooters agreed to split the cash!
1. 200 m Mens Swimming Obstacle Race
There were so many I could have chosen for number one, I really couldn’t decide, but this one is pretty great. Again, we have the French to thank, as it only appeared in the 1900 games. Competitors had to climb a pole, then run over a series of boats, then swim under another series of boats and then swim to the finish line. Oh, and I forgot to mention that they had to do this in the Seine, so you’re dealing with the current and whatever debris you may encounter. I’m sure it was fun to watch and I’m not entirely sure why it didn’t make it to another Olympics. Wouldn’t you love to see Michael Phelps running over boats on the Thames? Maybe they could incorporate a jet-ski or something?
Honourable Mention: Poodle Shaving at the 1900 Paris Games
Now I’ve been known to not let the truth get in the way of a good story, and I so wanted this to be a real event, but apparently this was an April Fools’ gag from the Telegraph and it was picked up as a meme and before you know it legitimate sites were reporting that this was a real event and that the winner would be the person who shaved the most Poodles in a two-hour period. (17, in case you were wondering!) But you know by the sounds of things, if it were to happen anywhere, it would be a good guess that it happened in Paris.