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Thursday, August 21, 2008

12 Sports Cut From The Olympics

by Ethan Trex

As the Beijing Olympics wind down, so do the runs of baseball and softball as Olympic medal sports. Although the two sports won’t be on the Olympic schedule for the 2012 Games in London, they won’t be alone; throughout the years the IOC has slashed a number of sports from the official Olympic program. The full list reads like this:

1. Cricket

1904-olympics.jpgCricket made both its Olympic debut and swan song at the second modern Games, held in 1900 in Paris. (Organizers originally wanted to have a cricket tourney at the 1896 Games, but the event didn’t draw enough entries.) Things got off to a rough start when the Belgian and Dutch teams withdrew from the field prior to the start of play, leaving just a British touring team, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers, to take on the French Athletic Club Union’s squad. The teams apparently weren’t even aware they were playing in the Olympics; they thought the two-day match was just a part of the World’s Fair Paris was hosting at the time. According to one contemporary report, the teams squared off in a cycling arena fit for 20,000 spectators but had only a dozen soldiers as an audience. The English side won the match and received silver medals and miniature Eiffel Towers for their trouble; the French team got bronze medals.

Everyone returned home without knowing they had been Olympians, and it wasn’t until the IOC sat down to make a comprehensive record of the Games in 1912 that the two squads received official recognition as gold and silver medalists in cricket. The sport never returned to the Games.

2. Croquet

Like cricket, croquet only saw action at the 1900 Paris Games before fading into Olympic oblivion. The host Frenchmen made the most of the opportunity, though; they claimed all seven medals awarded in the sport. Records are sketchy, but it would seem that across the three events, nine of the 10 competitors were French, which probably facilitated their dominance. Even the players’ first names are lost to history; all we know is that a Mr. Aumoitte and a Mr. Waydelich earned medals and presentation mallets for heading French sweeps of the two singles events, and that Aumoitte teamed with a Mr. Johin to win the doubles event. Since no one earned a doubles silver medal, it’s reasonable to assume the team may have competed uncontested.

3. Basque Pelota

The Paris Games of 1900 saw one last sport make its sole Olympic appearance. Basque pelota, a sport with ancient roots in which teams of two players use a curved basket to fling a ball against a wall in a racquetball-like game, made the Olympic program for Paris. Unfortunately, like cricket, participation was a bit of a downer; only two teams showed up. The duo from Spain, where the sport enjoys great popularity, beat a French pair in the sole Olympic Basque pelota match to claim the gold medals. The score of the game is lost to history.

4. Golf

Golf made its Olympic debut in 1900, but like the cricket match at those Games, it was poorly organized and lost in the shuffle of the Paris Exposition. Men played a 36-hole stroke-play tournament, which American Charles Sands won with a score of 167. Women played a 9-hole round, which American Margaret Ives Abbott won by two strokes with a 47. How poorly organized was the tournament? Abbott apparently never knew she was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She didn’t even know she’d played in the Olympics; she spent her whole life thinking she’d just won a little golf tournament in Paris.

shark.jpgGolf again received a slot on the program at the 1904 Games, albeit with a men’s team event taking the place of the women’s competition. Americans took five of the six medals available in team and singles events, with Canadian George Lyon’s gold in the singles the only blemish on their record. (This feat is admittedly less impressive when one considers that St. Louis hosted the games, meaning 74 of 77 golfers who entered were American.) Golf didn’t make the cut for any Games after that, although certain pros like Greg Norman are agitating for the sport’s inclusion on future programs.

5. Roque

Give yourself fifty bonus points if you know what roque is. The sport is a croquet variant played with short mallets on a hard rolled-sand court with a wall off of which players can bank the balls. The sport’s official rules tout it as “the most scientific outdoor sport in existence,” but it didn’t hold up so well at the Olympics. Roque debuted at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Americans swept the medals, and the sport promptly disappeared.

6. Jeu de Paume

Jeu de paume, or “real tennis,” is a tennis precursor that was originally played without racquets—players hit the ball with their hands. By the 1908 Games in London, the sport had evolved to the point where small racquets played a key role, but the largely indoor variant remained separate from what we think of as tennis, which was also played at the Games under the name “lawn tennis.” American railroad scion Jay Gould II claimed the gold, and Charles Sands, who won the gold in golf in 1900, competed but lost in the first round. “Real tennis” made a brief reappearance as a demonstration sport at the 1924 Games before fading away.

7. Lacrosse

Despite lacrosse’s relative popularity in the English-speaking world, it never really caught on as an Olympic sport. It made the program in the 1904 and 1908 Games, and since only five teams combined entered the event over the two Games, every team that played won a medal. Canada won both golds and a bronze (they sent two teams in 1904), while American and British teams claimed the two silvers. Lacrosse was a demonstration sport at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Games, but it never regained its medal status.

8. Rackets

If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, it’s worth pointing out that if you hosted an early set of Games, you could pretty much railroad whatever sport you wanted to onto the program to help your countrymen get medals. The rackets competition at the 1908 Games in London was no exception; every single entrant was British. The sport itself is very similar to squash, which originated as an offshoot of rackets in the 19th century, and remains popular in the U.K. The seven-man all-British field included John Jacob Astor V of the famed Astor family; he won a gold in doubles and a bronze in singles competition.

9. Polo

Apparently the Olympics could never quite figure out how to handle polo, as it popped on and off the program throughout the first 40 years of the modern Games. Polo was a medal sport at five different Games, with competitions appearing in 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924, and 1936. Only the British team competed in all of these Games, although the U.S. and Argentina both managed to claim gold medals during this time.

10. Water Motorsports

Motorboat racing first appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1900 Games, and in 1908 it received full medal status. Captains in three classes were set to race five laps around an eight-nautical-mile course in the only Olympic event to ever involve motors. However, the English weather didn’t feel like complying and whipped up a ferocious gale. Two boats entered each class, but due to the terrible weather, boats started to fill with water, ran aground, suffered engine problems and had to quit. As a result, only one boat finished each race, meaning that the only Olympic water motorsports medals ever handed out were gold. The British boat Gyrinus won two of the races.

11. Tug of War

Unlike some of the other discontinued sports, tug of war had a fair amount of staying power; it made the program for every Olympics between 1900 and 1920. The sport was played in pretty much the same way you remember from grade-school field days, but it was also a magnet for Olympic controversies.

As we’ve covered before, the 1904 gold medal–winning American squad was ostensibly representing the Milwaukee Athletic Club, which was terrific until further research established that the team was actually composed of ringers recruited from Chicago. Scandal struck again at the 1908 Games when the American squad protested that the police boots worn by the British pullers from the Liverpool Police team were equipped with illegal cleats for extra traction. When the protest failed, the American pullers left the Games in a huff. All told the British teams grabbed five medals to the Americans’ three before the sport fell off the program following the 1920 Games.

12. Rugby

Rugby union has enjoyed intermittent medal status as well. It was part of the Games in 1900, 1908, 1920, and 1924 before the IOC pulled the plug. Like many of the other doomed sports, participation was a bit of a problem; none of the four competitions ever included more than three teams. Perhaps the best story came from the 1920 Games, when a band of relative neophyte American rugby players showed up in Antwerp and shut out France in the tournament’s only game to win the gold. Most impressively, this was American team member Morris Kirksey’s second gold of the 1920 Games; he pulled off the rare feat of winning gold in two sports after running for the victorious American squad in the 4×100m relay. (Kirksey also took home the silver in the 100-meter dash.)

Although rugby hasn’t been on the program since 1924, there have been attempts to bring it back to the Olympics—the sport made the finals for addition to the 2012 Games before losing out to squash and karate.