Even if you don’t like sports, it was hard not to get excited about the Summer Olympic Games. The pageantry, the colorful uniforms and swapping pins with spectators from all over the world make it a must-see event. But, they didn’t start out that way.
The original competitions have expanded from six simple feats of strength to more than 26 individual events contested on the ground, in the air, underwater, on grass, inside and outside of elaborate, multi-million-dollar athletic stadiums that ultimately wind up taking their place in history as second class bluegrass music venues and swap meets.
The Paris Summer Olympic Games of 1900 provided a watershed of athletic hopefuls. The first one was Lawn Bowling. Heavy, metal balls (weighted on one side – God only knows why) were rolled down a grass-covered lawn to see who could get closest to the “Jack” or the “Kitty.” Even though it’s still watched on BBC by over three million enthusiasts, the International Olympic Committee felt that even watching paint dry on a wall was more exciting than Lawn Bowling, so they dropped it from contention.
In the same year, Hot Air Ballooning made its debut, but was ultimately eliminated because the spectators could never figure out the best venue to watch the competition. Long before helicopters, television, sky-cams and Jumbo Trons, thousands of fans would huddle around the starting line cheering on dozens of colorful balloons as they flew off into the sunset, never to be seen again. That was it. Back to the hotel.
The original Greek Tug of War was resurrected from the games of 500 B.C. According to the rules, eight men on each side strained and grunted, attempting to pull the opposing team six feet across the center line. Because all of the contestants were so equally trained (this was long before anything like blood doping, human growth hormone and anabolic steroids gave one side a winning edge), the competition usually resulted in watching 16 men grunt, fart and spit in a Mexican standoff until the spectators got bored and left. As anticipated, the event was cancelled due to lack of interest.
Finally, there were two other competitions vying for the public’s attention: Live Pigeon Shooting and the Plunge for Distance. Prior to the days of clay skeet shooting, a dozen competitors with shotguns stood at the ready, waiting for the officials to release more than 300 live pigeons into the air. The object was to shoot down as many birds as possible in the least amount of time. While a crack shot could surgically remove more than 20 birds, the majority of the contestants ended up decimating the flock, blanketing the countryside with a stomach-churning layer of mangled bird meat, blood and feathers.
But, by far, the most boring event was the Plunge for Distance. Competitors stood perched on top of a high diving platform over a deep swimming pool. When the signal was given, the contestant dove off the platform to the bottom of the pool where they lie motionless until they ran out of breath – which felt like years to the spectators watching from the sidelines. Eventually, the crowds grew bored watching a group of men lay on the bottom of a pool and left, leaving the divers clinging to life – their eyes fixed on the gold medal.
Since then, there have been dozens of other demonstration events that never made the grade: the 200m Obstacle Swimming Race, One Hand Weight Lifting, Glima Wrestling and Korfball. Many other sports such as Buzkaski, Shin Kicking, Wife Carrying and Ferret Legging are popular and played over the world – just not enough to find a permanent spot in the Summer Olympic Games. Maybe someday…