The 2014 Winter Olympics are well under way in Sochi, Russia, bringing a spirit of fun competition between countries throughout the world. And while the Winter Olympics are frequently a showcase for some of the oddest sports, like biathalon (cross country skiing mixed with shooting a rifle) or curling (ice shuffleboard), there are plenty more odd competitions to be found.
Throughout the modern history of Summer and Winter Olympics, athletes have competed in some of the strangest competitions known to man. Some have found underground popularity for decades. Others only graced us with their supremely odd presence for one year. In either case, they deserve the occasional spotlight.
Handball – Yes, the sport you probably played in elementary school is eligible for a gold medal. But this version is a little different, more akin to soccer, but all hands instead of feet. You may not know it, but this has been a fairly consistent presence since the 1936 games!
Ski Ballet – Take figure skating, remove the skates, replace them with skis, put the athletes on snow, and let the awkwardness ensue! While only a demonstration sport in the ’88 and ’92 games, these choreographed routines made of flips, jumps, splits, rolls, and spins on smooth slopes will live on in our ‘90s-loving hearts.
Shooting – Your stance on gun control may vary, but the Summer Olympics consider shooting to be an athletic event. Men and women compete in pistol, rifle, or shotgun competitions. No, they don’t duel. They aim at targets or skeet.
Skeleton – The luge, but way more dangerous! Basically, one athlete lies down on his or her stomach on a tiny metal sled without brakes, and then bombs down an icy chute face first. What could go wrong?
Dressage – Otherwise known as “horse dancing.” That about sums it up. No running, no jumping, just looking as elegant as possible while on horseback.
Modern Pentathlon – The most obscure competition may actually be the most similar to a competition of super soldiers. Competitors must run three kilometers, demonstrate show jumping on an unfamiliar horse, freestyle swim for 200 meters, fence, and shoot pistols. Does this sound like equal parts awesome and antiquated? That’s because it’s meant to “simulate the experience of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines. This competition is still happening!
Speed Skiing – As if Winter Olympic sports aren’t dangerous enough, this competition was all about speed. This sport has a skier slam straight downhill while trying to go as fast as humanly possible. Competitors regularly hit speeds greater than 125 mph. This was only a one-time demonstration sport at the ’92 games and will probably not be seen again.
Racewalking – The philosophical opposite of speed skiing. Speed walking is an Olympic competition! It’s like running, but one foot must stay on the ground at all times. There’s a lot of swaying hips, pumping arms, and anticipation that an athlete will just get fed up and break into a sprint at any moment.
Have any other strange favorites not on the list? Let the Olympics enthusiasts at the law firm of Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP know!