Unusual sports that are no longer in the Olympics

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As Olympic chiefs look to engage with a more youthful audience to keep the Games appealing and relevant to future generations, so the Olympic programme has changed in recent years in adding sports which have raised some eyebrows.

For the Tokyo Olympics, surfing, skateboarding, climbing and karate were added to the programme by International Olympic Committee chiefs, while breakdance will be a new sport for the Paris 2024 Games.

The Olympics can now be seen as a truly varied mix of sports, a world away from the nine sports which were first involved in 1896.

Over the last 120 years, there have also been plenty of sports which have fallen by the wayside, some of which have been eclectic and unusual to say the least.

Below is a list of the most bizarre sports to have been included in an Olympics.

Pistol duelling

Despite its name, Olympic duelling did not allow competitors to shoot at each other. Athletes used pistols with wax bullets, and had to hit a mannequin positioned 20 or 30 metres away. The event was held in only two editions of the Olympic Games, in 1906 and 1908.

Underwater swimming

Included only once in 1900, underwater swimming was a test of both endurance and distance. Competitors would score two points for every metre travelled and one point for each second underwater.

Tug of war

Considered more of a children's game than a sport, tug of war was contested at the Olympic Games from 1900 until 1920. Two teams of eight men were placed face to face. and the goal was to pull the other team six feet (or two metres).

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 09:  Sledge hockey player Han Min Su of South Korea climbs via rope with the torch during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games at the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on March 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images,)
Han Min Su of South Korea climbs via rope with the torch during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 in a throwback to an older Olympic event. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Rope climbing

A common practice in physical education classes in the past, rope climbing was also an Olympic sport. Included in five editions of the Games, the event judged the speed and posture of athletes who had to climb about 15 metres. In its first edition, only two participants made it to the top.

Motorboat racing

Contested only once in 1908, the event was a total failure. Organised in Southampton, six of the nine races were cancelled due to weather conditions. To make things worse, only one competitor made it to the finish line in each of the three races that were actually run.

Mace dancing

Similar to a bowling pin, the mace can be made of wood or plastic and weighs at least 180g. This rhythmic sport consists of holding a mace in each hand and performing a sequence of movements and dance steps. Unlike juggling, which also uses maces, in dancing the mace must remain in constant contact with the participant's hand. The event was included in only two editions, in 1904 and 1932.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 05: A pigeon is seen during the 2021 AFL Round 03 match between the Geelong Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 05, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Pigeon shooting was controversial at the time and included in the 1900 Olympics. (Getty)

Pigeon shooting

This sport was controversial at the time and was only included in the 1900 Olympics. The competition consisted of shooting the highest number of live pigeons within a stipulated time. The winner on the day, Leo de Lundel, killed 21 pigeons during the competition. The sport was still contested from 1908 to 1924, but with clay pigeons instead of live ones.

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