Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top 10 Olympic Demonstration Sports That Didn't Quite Make It

I think the Olympic roster of sports is pretty comprehensive at this point. There don't seem to be any glaring sporting omissions other than golf, and that's being remedied at Rio 2016 (they're adding Rugby too, but I don't have enough global awareness to know whether that makes sense or not. That said, I'm already predicting Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa on the podium in some order).

That said, we're all familiar with the concept of "demonstration sports". Where some sport gets a trial run or two, then is either included or tossed out. Many of today's sports started as demonstrations: Curling, speed skating, tennis, taekwondo... the list goes on.

We're not here to talk about those sports.

What I want to talk about are the sports that didn't make it in. Those sports that for whatever unimaginable reason didn't get bumped up to full medal status. I mean, really. How could the sports below not be a part of the Olympic Games?

Let me start by saying this is not a comprehensive list. There have been a lot of demonstration sports so I'll just skip over some, such as the two times the US tried to jam American Football onto the roster (1904 St Louis, Los Angeles 1932), or when Australia retaliated by trying to slip Aussie Rules onto the list at the 1956 games in Melbourne (two sports which I have blogged about previously). Not that those are the only examples; half the countries who have hosted an Olympics tried to quietly stack the deck with an event they were pretty sure they'd win (can I get a "what up" to Calgary 1988 for the addition of Curling and Short Track Speed Skating as a demo?). So let's focus on the most awesome sports. In this case, the Top 10 most awesome.

But first, the close-but-no-cigars:

Cannon Shooting - Paris 1900
Literally, shooting cannons at stuff. In the most egregious example of ballot-stuffing in the history of the Olympics every competitor was French. Of course, considering what happened 14 years later I don't think the Germans were very impressed by their performance.

Fire Fighting - Paris 1900
By the way, the Paris 1900 Olympics get the gold medal in ridiculous sports. In this case it's fire fighting. Really? Fire fighting? This only makes sense when you consider that there was also:

Lifesaving - Paris 1900
My guess is that they had people show up for the event, lit the grandstand on fire, then saw how everything turned out.

Pigeon Racing - Paris 1900
Yep, we're back in Paris again where people are basically raising pigeons then hoping for the best. We're not really hoping for athletes in peak physical condition at this point, are we? Also, homing pigeons have to be bred in the place they're flying back to. Which means anyone wanting to compete had to move to the location of the games. A bit of a hometown advantage, no?

Cycle Polo - London 1908
Polo. On bicycles. Discuss.

Angling - Paris 1900
Fishing? Apologies to my fish-fanatic wife but this had to be the most boring spectator sport in the history of the Olympics:

HUSBAND:  "Hey honey, what do you want to get tickets for, Gymnastics or 'Old-Guys-Trying-To-Stay-Awake-In-Boats?"

WIFE:          "..."

HUSBAND:  "Honey?"

WIFE:         "I'm still thinking..."


So pretty:

Eric Ward from Provo, UT, USA

I'm thinking that in 1900 there was a lot less in the way of safety associated with going up in a hot air balloon so we can give them some bonus points in the "risking life and limb" category. That said, isn't this exactly the same as turning the opening ceremonies into an actual medal event? Also, this is another sport that the French invented, put on the list, then subsequently won every event in. Way to go France! You're the best. Hey, did you know that I'm the Olympic champion at snarky blogging on Tuesdays in my pajamas? It's a demonstration sport in the Glebe 2012 games.

I'm not a big fan of anything involving a motor in the Olympics and apparently the IOC isn't either, having unilaterally banned motorsports from the Olympic Games. Also, let's factor in that this event took place in 1904! What did it look like? Were there cranks on the front of these things to get them started?

Fortunately I was able to find footage of a race held in downtown Vancouver in 1900 where they actually mounted a camera onto one of the vehicles. I didn't know they had the ability to record sound back then, but it really adds to the video:

I found a transcription of the early meeting where they determined which 5 events would make up Winter Pentathlon:

GUSTAF:  We need to make sure those Biathlon guys don't get in ahead of us, so let's start with cross-country skiing and shooting. That'll kill their momentum.

BERTIL:    Great call Gustaf. What else?

KLAUS:    Downhill skiing right? I mean, that's kind of a tap-in.

    YES! Gustaf, Klaus, you guys are on fire! Only two left!

GUSTAF:  Uhh...

KLAUS:    Snowmobiles?

 No, they're kind of out on the whole "motor" thing.

KLAUS:    Yeah, that's true. 

 Dogsleds are an option...

KLAUS:    That's a great idea Gustaf. Let's just hand a gold medal to those effing Alaskans and their "Oh look at me, I'm so cold" Canadian neighbours. 

 Aw crap, you're right. Sorry about that.

KLAUS:    ...

GUSTAF:  ... 

KLAUS:    ... 

GUSTAF:  Screw it, let's just tack on fencing and equestrian. We'll make 'em do it outside. 

BERTIL:    That's our five! Really awesome meeting guys, I'm super pumped. You guys pumped? Who wants to go to Applebees?

GUSTAF:  Shut it Bertil.

Ok, so I know everyone is expecting a fat joke here. I think there are more compelling arguments out there:

Ouch. I'm sorry Bowling, we just can't have that lack of professionalism in an Olympic sport. I mean, I get it. Who wouldn't be upset when some guy has a bad run on the craps table at the Mohegan Sun and wanders into your professional sporting event at the worst possible time? But please, you need to tone it down for the cameras.

Clearly seeking to recapture some of the event-rigging magic from the 1900 games, France introduced two demonstration sports that are french martial arts. Let me describe them for you, and I promise I am not making this up:

La Canne: Hitting people with a cane. For some reason they did not call it "caning".
Savate: Translates as "old shoe". It's kicking someone with your shoes on. No, really.

Here, I found some footage. Fast-forward to 2:38:

Unlike the other sports I desperately want this one in the Olympics. Why? Because it's awesome! Sure, it is almost identical to basketball in about a thousand different ways (other than being able to play behind the hoop, and no backboard), but it specifically has to be played as a mixed-gender sport! I love this! There are definitely not enough mixed gender sports in the Olympics. For instance, curling should have a mixed team.

Still, it's one thing for a sport to have both mixed and mono-gender teams like tennis or badminton, but to specify that teams are mixed? That's fantastic. By the way, if you're wondering what Korfball looks like take a gander. Just scrub through to wherever you like:

Not convinced? Well I bet this ass-kicking promotional video will change your mind:

It's going downhill as fast as you can! What's not to like? If the slalom is the Winter Games' equivalent of the hurdles, this is the 100m sprint! So what does it have going against it? Well, for starters it's as boring as hell. Don't believe me? Watch this and tell me it wouldn't be tiresome after two runs (skip ahead to 1:47):

In the track events we at least get to see the other runners; you know who crossed the line first. Here it's just some guy moving in a straight line and you have no idea what the hell just happened when he's done. Can you imagine how boring the 100m sprint would be if every athlete ran separately?

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention this as well:

"So, Princess Vespa. You see how large my helmet is..."

One last thing: In their demonstration year one of the guys hit a ski grooming machine at 225km/hr. Not the best way to impress the IOC.

Kite. Flying. People flying kites. How could this get more ridiculous?

Oh. It's a judged sport. With music. Like, for instance, "Caribbean Queen" by Billy Ocean. I'm going to move on now.

Words... cannot describe:

But wait, there's more!

The second one is my favourite. I don't know what I like more: The ninja pole swinging, the moonwalk, or the fact that the announcer complements him with the word "slim".

Honestly... Ski Ballet?

I don't know what's more bizarre: That this was ever a sport, or that it appeared four times* in the middle of WWI and WWII. Are you kidding me? You've just come off the worst war in the history of mankind and the first thing you do is add a Demonstration Sport consisting of the military competing against each other? THAT'S WHAT THEY JUST DID! And it's not bad enough they did it between the wars, they also tossed one in after WWII because hey, why not?

You know what else? I don't even know what this sport is. All I could find out is that a) it took place in the snow, and b) it was judged by actual members of the military. In fact, here's a photo:

Those are the referees, they're from Italy, Switzerland, Poland, and um France. Wow, that must have been awkward. Apparently during judging Italy took France's vote while France just stood there, then Switzerland refused to vote at all. Meanwhile the Polish judge was never heard from again. By the way, can you guess who won that year?

The German Team

Norway. Yeah, I didn't see that coming either.

*Four appearances is the most for a sport that was never an actual Olympic event, but that's nowhere near the record for appearances as a demonstration sport. That distinction goes to Baseball, who suffered through demonstration sport status an incredible seven times (1912, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1984, and 1988) before the IOC finally took pity on it and gave it a courtesy run from 1992-2008 before dropping it in 2012.

Basically, baseball just wouldn't leave the IOC alone until they finally had sex a couple of times, only then the IOC realized it had made a huge mistake and dumped baseball. It told baseball a couple of things about "It's not you, it's me. The roster's just too big and we don't have the facility space for you", then proceeded to totally make out with golf. Now they're getting married, so baseball retaliated by getting a boob job and trying to send her A-game to the world cup but it's just kind of sad and awkward for everyone.

It's hard enough to win an Olympic medal in one sport, it blows my mind when people win them in two. Granted, that usually happens when there's similarity between the sports, such as in tug-of-war and rugby (yes, those were both Olympic sports. France just used their rugby team for both events) or Volleyball and Beach Volleyball (I'm looking at you Karch Kiraly). But there's other people who've done it in sports that have nothing to do with each other! Who are these people? How do you find the time? What is it you were fed as a child? Here's some examples:

Clara Hughes (CAN) - Speed Skating and Indoor Cycling (1996-2010)
Yes, both sports require crazy pistons for legs, but we're giving some serious bonus points for the fact that these are Winter and Summer sports (and she's Canadian). That's a lot of training. Plus, she's won an astounding 6 medals across two sports and wasn't far off the podium in 2012... in road cycling.

Rebecca Romero (GBR) - Cycling and Rowing (2004-2008)
Umm... what pod did this girl come out of? She wins a silver in Athens as a rower, then a back injury forces her to retire in 2006. Now she's bored, so she takes up cycling... and two years later she wins a gold medal in Beijing. WTF?

Jacob Tullin Thams (NOR) - Sailing and Ski Jumping (1924-1936)
Ski Jumping and Sailing? What? What sequence of events puts you in those two sports? Shouldn't this guy be a duke or something? Who else has that kind of free time? Jacob, you are officially the most random athlete of all time.

Gösta Åsbrink (SWE) - Gymnastics and Modern Pentathlon (1908-1912)

Roswitha Krause (GDR, aka East Germany) - Handball and Swimming (1968-1980)
There's very little info I can find about this woman, but I think it's safe to say that she had gigantic hands.

Fernand de Montigny (BEL) - Fencing and Field Hockey (1908-1924)
Sure Fernie, why not. I mean, there's absolutely no overlap between those sports so why wouldn't you be good at them? Oh by the way, you know what else isn't like Fencing and Field Hockey? Architecture. Whoops, did I forget to mention he was the architect of the Antwerp 1920 Olympic stadium? Oooookay then.

I wouldn't want to be any of these people's kid, those are some tough shoes to fill.

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