Tokyo Olympics: The most bizarre Olympic sports in history as the Games approach


The Olympics have long since been home to the good, the bad, the ugly and, more often than not, the strange. 

The showpiece is a sporting phenomenon, a home for some of mankind’s greatest achievements in a variety of arenas, and guarantees to make for gripping viewing.

We’re edging ever closer to the opening ceremony on Friday now, and the excitement around the world is reaching fever pitch. 

The Olympic Games has experienced its fair share of weird and wacky sports over the years

The Olympic Games has experienced its fair share of weird and wacky sports over the years

The likes of race walking (pictured), tug of war and live pigeon shooting have all taken place

The likes of race walking (pictured), tug of war and live pigeon shooting have all taken place

The official plaza, where the 11,000 athletes will be staying, has been unveiled, and the competitors have mostly arrived in the Japanese capital.

However, while we may be returning to a semblance of normality in that regard, a number of events held at the showpiece in years gone by simply cannot be put in that category. Instead, they have been zany and downright confusing.

It is only prudent, then, for Sportsmail to revisit some of the most bizarre ones to date…

Solo synchronised swimming

At least two of these words seem to contrast each other. Where better place to challenge the norm than the Olympics, though? 

That most certainly happened in 1984, when contestants effectively acted out ballet in water.

The sport made its debut in Los Angeles, with US swimmer Tracie Ruiz taking home the gold medal. 

Organisers stressed that the athletes will sync their moves to the music, making the title of the activity itself very odd indeed.

Team synchronised swimming events still take place, but the solo event was scrapped after 1992. It’s not too difficult to understand why.

Synchronised swimming made its debut in 1984, with athletes synching moves to the music

Synchronised swimming made its debut in 1984, with athletes synching moves to the music

Tug of war

An activity usually reserved for sports days between overly competitive parents has featured at the Olympics, that’s right. 

The aim of the game is for two teams to strain on a rope and try to haul it beyond a certain point. Historically, Great Britain have enjoyed great success in this field. 

The groups of eight on either side would have to pull their opponents by six feet to win, or make the most progress against the clock in five minutes.

GB’s team was reportedly mainly made up of police officers, making them the favourites, and they won two gold medals, as well as a silver medal, while the event was in the Games.

It was eventually banished to small gatherings on the green in 1920.

Great Britain excelled in tug of war at the Olympics, but the sport was later scrapped in 1920

Great Britain excelled in tug of war at the Olympics, but the sport was later scrapped in 1920

Live pigeon shooting

This was genuinely once a sport at the Olympics, and certainly feels archaic in the modern age.

In 1900, women competed for the first time in a hugely positive leap forwards, but the year was more than marred by this particular activity.

Almost 300 birds were shot out of the sky, it is said, and the winner took down 21 of them to clinch the medal.

To little surprise, this one has only taken place at the Games just the once, and there’s zero chance of it making a comeback in the future.

The year 1900 saw the showpiece marred horribly with live pigeon shooting having been held

The year 1900 saw the showpiece marred horribly with live pigeon shooting having been held 

Roller hockey

Ice hockey and roller skating were once combined to form a bizarre mash-up at the Olympics. Coined as roller hockey, the sport made its debut in 1992 in Barcelona.

It followed the usual rules of ice hockey, but instead of skates, roller blades were used instead. Argentina ended up taking the gold.

The outing remains its sole appearance at the Games, though, but credit has to be given to the organisers for trying to think outside of the box.

Roller hockey sees players pull on blades rather than skates, and has only taken place once

Roller hockey sees players pull on blades rather than skates, and has only taken place once

La Canne

This activity is effectively fencing, but with the sabre replaced by a cane. With this change made, you’re all set for La Canne, the French martial art.

It debuted at the 1924 Olympics, but was quickly discontinued. A bout takes place in a ring, with each player armed with a cane which they are able to switch between hands.

Points are given for landing strikes, but both athletes aren’t allowed to attack each other at the same time.

Standard fencing still takes place at every summer instalment of the Games, and has done since the beginning of the modern Olympic movement in Athens in 1896.

La Canne, the French martial art, sees competitors spar with a cane in a similar style to fencing

La Canne, the French martial art, sees competitors spar with a cane in a similar style to fencing

Race walking

This high-octane sport (only at relatively acceptable speeds, of course) sees competitors attempt to beat each other in a race, but without running.

Despite the concept causing raised eyebrows, this activity has been at the Olympics since 1904.

There are strict rules in place. To make sure that athletes aren’t able to break out into a pace even close to resembling running, they must have one foot on the ground at all times.

If they fail that, they may be disqualified. As a result, the end result is a little strange, with footage of the races always culminating in the participants swaying towards the line in rather comical fashion.

To see for yourself, watch out for this in Tokyo. You won’t regret it.

Race Walking has been ever present at the Olympics since 1904 but makes for bizarre viewing

Race Walking has been ever present at the Olympics since 1904 but makes for bizarre viewing

Rope climbing

Here’s one for those Olympians who can’t get enough of heights. Rope climbing made up part of the gymnastics programme at the Games in 1896, 1906, 1924 and 1932.

Athletes were tasked with making their way up a rope, which was suspended vertically down, using just their hands and arms. In a difficult twist, no legs were permitted.

Competitors were initially judged on their speed and style, but climbers in the 20th century just had to scramble to the top.

The history books show a very impressive triumph for US gymnast George Eyser, who won in 1904 despite his wooden leg.

Rope climbing had made up part of the programme at the Games in 1896, 1906, 1924 and 1932

Rope climbing had made up part of the programme at the Games in 1896, 1906, 1924 and 1932

Swimming obstacle race 

Another unusual event on this list took place in 1900 in Paris, and undoubtedly looks like great fun.

Stretching across 200m, the race was a combination of standard speed swimming, with an obstacle course thrown in for good measure.

Competitors would have to clamber over poles, make their way across a row of boats, and then dive underneath some more flotsam and jetsam.

This took place in the picturesque River Seine, meaning the athletes were also faced with an often unforgiving current.

The sheer drama and audacity of the sport means that there are likely to be very few grumbles should it make an incredibly unlikely return.

The swimming obstacle race in 1900 in the River Seine saw athletes scrambling over boats

The swimming obstacle race in 1900 in the River Seine saw athletes scrambling over boats

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