The Olympics is one of the most popular worldwide sporting spectacles. While the event is a big hit, there have been some misses over the years. Some sports once deemed worthy of Olympic sporting events have been discontinued due to low participation, controversy or just plain weirdness.

From oddball events conducted on horseback to playground-games-turned-world-class sporting events and many strange events in between, here are the weirdest sports that were once in the Olympics.

Horse Long Jump

Woman on horseback jumping over pole
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You’ve heard of the long jump... but did you know that once upon a time, it was also attempted on horseback at the Olympics?

That’s right. Similar to traditional running long jump, the horse would run to a certain point and then take a great leap. This event was offered at one and only one Olympics event, in 1900. At the event, Belgian rider Constant van Langhendonck and his horse Extra Dry won with a mighty leap measuring just a hair over 20 feet.

That may sound like an impressive distance, and certainly it is a substantial jump. However, it’s not quite as impressive when you consider this: The longest record for a human running long jump (without any animal assistance) is over 29 feet.

Live Pigeon Shooting

Pigeons flying in a plaza
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Unfortunately, animals were in fact harmed in the making of the 1900 Olympics. In fact, quite a few of them. This was the one and only time when live pigeon shooting was featured among the events.

The goal was simple: Competitors needed to kill as many pigeons as possible. Six birds were released for each contestant, and each contestant was eliminated after missing two birds.

There were two separate events, and the winners of each shot 21 and 22 pigeons, respectively. Overall, it was messy and brutal. Over 300 animals were killed in total. As you might expect, animal rights activists jumped in, and the event was discontinued.


A person holding a sword for a fencing competition
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Also referred to as “cudgels,” this is a martial arts/fencing-type event that employs a wooden stick. Traditionally, this sport has been a training technique for fencers but evolved into its own event.

Men’s singlestick was part of the fencing events at the 1904 Summer Olympics. However, it was perhaps too obscure a sport to make a big splash at the games. Only three participants competed, and they were all from the United States.

While it was a great event in that everyone who participated placed, the event was not reprised in future games. However, fencing does remain an Olympic sport.

Tug Of War

Silhouettes of five people pulling a rope
Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek /

You may think of tug of war as a children’s playground game. And for the most part you’d be right. But at the turn of the century in the early 1900s, it was an Olympic sport for several games running.

Between 1900 and 1920, tug of war was, in fact, an official Olympic event. It was slightly more formal than the playground version, but declaring a victor remained vague. In 1908, there was a big controversy following Great Britain’s win over the U.S., where the losing team accused the winners of wearing illegal spiked footwear.

The game wasn’t overall a huge success, and after several events, it was dropped from the Olympic roster.

The Olympics is one of the world’s most inspiring sporting events. Featuring world-class athletes and impressive events, it’s been captivating audiences for centuries. However, not every event has been a success at the games. These unusual events act as proof that even the Olympics makes mistakes on occasion.