Peggy Shinn Blog - Before reality TV
Although hundreds of sports and their various disciplines have been added to the Olympic program since the first modern Olympiad in 1896, some of my favorites are the discontinued events. Club throwing anyone? A triathlon that combined gymnastics and track & field perhaps? Or running deer shooting, which hopefully did not involve actual galloping deer?
Some of these discontinued events, were they to be reinstated, might pull in new TV viewers. Like tug-of-war, the ultimate reality TV game show, with national pride at stake.
From the 1900 Olympics until 1920 Games, tug-of-war was contested with teams of five to eight competitors. At the 1904 Olympics, held in St. Louis, the U.S. swept the podium. But at the 1908 Games in London, controversy erupted when the Liverpool Police team pulled the U.S. contingent over the line in seconds.
"The Americans immediately protested that the Liverpudlians had used special illegal boots with steel cleats, spikes, and heels," wrote David Wallechinsky in his compendium, The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics. "The British maintained that they were wearing standard, run-of-the-mill police boots, and the protest was disallowed, whereupon the Americans withdrew from the remainder of the competition. After the tournament, the captain of the victorious London Police team challenged the Americans to a pull in their stockinged feet, but there is no record of such a contest actually taking place."
And here's a discontinued event that might attract Japanese game show enthusiasts, or fans of the reality TV show Survivor: The 200-meter obstacle swim race, held only at the 1900 Olympics. Swimming in the River Seine - with the current - competitors climbed over a pole, scrambled over a row of boats, then swam under another row of boats.
The winner, a 133-pound Australian named Freddy Lane, scrambled over the stern of the boat - apparently easier than climbing across a boat's midsection - and beat runner-up Otto Wahle from Austria, 2:38.4 to 2:40.0.
According to Australia's Olympic Hall of Fame, Lane's swimming form was perhaps his greatest obstacle. He swam using the trudgeon stroke, an awkward overhand stroke that often left him exhausted. He won the 200-meter freestyle the same day he claimed the obstacle race title. His time of 2:25.2 was only 13 seconds faster than his 200m scramble over and under the boats.
Then there's the underwater swim, also held during those fun-filled 1900 Games.
Charles de Vendeville from France won after he stayed underwater for 68.4 seconds and swam 60 meters. Bronze medalist Peder Lykkeberg from Denmark stayed submerged for 90 seconds but was only able to propel himself 28.5 yards. With two points given for each meter swum and one point for each second submerged, de Vendeville claimed the gold.
I'd like to see Brendan Hansen swim the 100m breaststroke underwater. The U.S. swimmer and world record holder in the event at 59.13 (long course), he might even improve upon that time without all that pesky breathing.
Of the other discontinued sports, it is doubtful that croquet will ever again fall under the Olympic flag. It was held only in 1900, and according to the IOC, had only French players. Even worse, no one cared. An Englishman was the sole spectator.
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.