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7 Weird “Sports” You Won’t Believe Used to Be in the Olympics

The original Olympics used to be a hodge-podge of weirdly wonderful events we can only hope they bring back (except for maybe that live pigeon shooting one).

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Distance plunging: Swimming without having to swim

Ever dive into a pool and just glide underwater? You have? Congratulations, you could have participated in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. This was a sport for people who liked to swim without having to swim. “Athletes” leapt into the pool and coasted underwater without moving their limbs for 60 seconds. Whoever drifted the farthest without drowning won. These 13 Olympic moments changed history.

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Tug-of-war: From color war to the Olympics

Clearly, it’s a short leap from Color War to the Olympics. That’s because from 1900 to 1920 tug-of-war was recognized as an Olympic sport. Could the egg toss be far behind? Eight-man teams faced off and whichever side pulled their opponents six feet won. How popular was the sport back in the day? India, among other nations, had a tug-of-war federation. The United States, though, was probably most upset to see the sport go. In 1904, America fielded three tug-of-war teams and managed to capture gold, silver, and bronze. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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Dueling pistols: Poor plastic dummies

This sounds like it could have been the greatest Olympic sport of all time!!!!! Alas, it wasn’t. People didn’t go all Hamilton/Burr on each other. Instead, individuals fired away at plaster dummies. No wonder the sport only appeared once, and that was at the 1906 Intercalated Games, an event held in Athens under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee.

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Live pigeon shooting: Lasted just one Olympics

Here’s the event that was voted “least favorite Olympic game” by birds around the world. In 1896, the Olympics offered clay pigeon shooting. Four years later in Paris, it was decided to up the ante with live pigeons. As a result, more than 300 birds were killed in the event, reports Time. That’s a lot of Coq au Vin, but nevertheless, live pigeon shooting’s heyday was brief, lasting the one Olympics. Check out these fascinating secrets about Olympic medals.

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Croquet: Only for the French

The only way this could have been a great event is if the games were played while sipping gin and tonics. Everyone’s favorite worm-smashing sport was featured once at the 1900 Olympics and only the French partook. Everyone else had too much self-respect. Well, that is, except for the Americans. In 1904, the St. Louis Olympics saw Roque, which is an American version of croquet but played on a hard surface. By then even the French had had enough of the sport and just Americans had the guts to play. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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Solo synchronized swimming: Um, huh?

This only-female sport had one swimmer trying to swim/dance in synch with … her imaginary friends? We’re not the only ones confused, that’s why the sport only survived three games from 1984 to 1992.

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Hot air balloon: A slow race

The mental gymnastics involved in calling hot air ballooning a sport was probably more demanding than the sport itself. Yet the very slow, tedious race was indeed an event one time at the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.