THE BLOG

Late Lamented Olympic Sports

Jul 30, 2012 | Updated Sep 29, 2012

So the Games have begun and we are all now rightly immersed in Synchronized Swimming, Taekwondo and Greco-Roman wrestling. But spare a thought for the sports that have fallen by the Olympic wayside. Some of them should be welcomed back with open arms.

Live Pigeon Shooting -- a feature of the 1900 Games in Paris -- we can probably do without. What with the unfortunate immolation of several doves of peace at the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at Seoul '88, the deaths through heat-exhaustion of many of their predecessors at Mexico '68 and the bizarre, moth-like representation of the birds in London the other night, the Columbidae family has suffered enough. Who can argue, on the other hand, that the Games have been enriched by the demise of rope climbing, duelling pistol shooting and one handed weightlifting? But we don't want to be greedy, so we'll restrict ourselves to campaigning for the resuscitation of four defunct Olympic sports.

The first group of events deserving of a reprieve are the Standing Jumps, long, high and triple. The first two featured at every Games between 1900 and 1912, the latter in 1900 and 1904. Prior to 1912, the category was monopolized by one man -- Ray Ewry, aka the Human Frog. Born in Indiana in 1873, he was confined to a wheelchair by a childhood bout of polio but exercised his way out of it, developing prodigiously strong legs in the process. He could leap nine feet backwards, never mind forwards or upwards. But Ewry's best standing jumps have since been exceeded. The record for the long version now stands at 3.71 metres (12 feet 2 inches) and for the high at 1.90 metres (6 feet 3 inches).

Another event it would be good to see back is Bicycle Polo, a more democratic alternative to the form involving expensive ponies. Admittedly the game appeared at the Games just once (in 1908) and then only as a demonstration sport -- Ireland beat Germany 3-1 in the final, which was played on grass. But a three-a-side hard court version has been approved by the International Cycling Union and is growing in popularity.

For our third pick we can't decide between Croquet (contested in 1900) or Roquet (a strange hybrid between croquet and billiards played at St. Louis in 1904). The former wasn't exactly a crowd puller -- one reporter only managed to locate a single paying spectator -- but the latter had a certain peculiar charm. It was played on a concrete surface with a raised border off which contestants were permitted to bounce their shots.

It is frankly bewildering why our final choice was ever dropped at all. The Tug of War, in which eight-man teams strove to pull their opponents six feet forwards over the space of five minutes, featured at every Olympics between 1900 and 1920. It was exciting then, particularly when a furious row over footwear broke out between the U.S. team and the Liverpool Police in 1908, and it would be even more exciting now. Imagine the tension surrounding a match-up between Israel and Palestine, Greece and Turkey or North and South Korea...