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Trending that caught Doug's eye... bizarre Olympic events

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Like the rest of the country, we were "totally stoked" on Day 11 of the Sochi Olympics watching Canada's Mike Riddle soar to a silver medal.

Not that we're old-fashioned or out of touch, but we were just a little confused by the debut of the hybrid Olympic event in which the 27-year-old Albertan won his sparkly medal.

Riddle was competing in something called freestyle ski halfpipe, which is what you would expect if you combined Alpine skiing, gymnastics and a snowboarding halfpipe competition into a single sport.

It's just one of 12 new events added in a sincere and humanitarian effort to make the stodgy old Games hipper, sexier and more appealing to the jaded eyeballs of young sports fans.

Riddle flipped and flopped to the podium in the middle of a snowstorm by hitting back-to-back "double cork 1260s" featuring 31/2 rotations with two twists per trick, which, along with being totally awesome, is also potentially lethal, which is why it makes compelling TV viewing.

The ski halfpipe seems even more hazardous than the snowboard cross, introduced at the Vancouver Games, which is essentially NASCAR meets roller derby on the side of a snow-covered mountain. The weirdest Olympic events of all time? Not even close. Consider these five oddball classics from previous Games:

 

5) Rope Climbing -- The rope climb, the reason most of us hated phys-ed classes, made its Olympic debut in the 1896 Athens Summer Games. If you were required to haul your skinny carcass up a braided rope in gym class as a 98-pound weakling, you had the makings of an Olympic athlete. Competitors were required to start in a seated position on the floor and then, using only their hands and arms, race to the top as fast as humanly possible. In 1896, the rope was about 15 metres long and competitors were also awarded points for style. At later Games, the rope was shortened and climbers were judged solely on time. The first-ever Olympic rope-climbing champion was Greece's Nikolaos Andriakopoulos, one of only two athletes who actually made it to the top. Even more amazing was the event at the St. Louis Games in 1904 when U.S. gymnast George Eyser climbed to gold despite having a wooden leg.

 

4) Swimming Obstacle Race -- At the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, 12 swimmers from five nations lined up for one of the more unique aquatic adventures in the history of organized sport. Not only did they have to swim 200 metres, they were also required to climb over a pole, then splash their way to a row of boats, which they had to scamper over, then thrash to another row of boats, which they had to swim under before paddling their way to the finish line. In another swell twist, because there wasn't a swimming pool large enough, the event was held in the Seine River, which was reportedly the outlet to the Paris sewer system overflow at the time, and the athletes had to battle the river's current and (ahem) contents. The race managed to sneak under the wire because the Paris Games were held in conjunction with the World's Fair, a much bigger attraction at the time. It was (and here's a surprise for you) never held again. Australian Fred Lane took home the one and only gold. Lane also won the 200-metre freestyle event and, instead of a medal, received a 50-pound bronze horse.

 

3) Club Swinging -- Typically, when you put the words "club" and "swinging" into the same sentence, you are not talking about an Olympic sport. But, in the case of the 1904 and 1932 Summer Games, you definitely were. What it involved was athletes whirling bowling-pin-shaped clubs around their bodies in routines similar to what you would see in modern-day rhythmic gymnastics. According to online reports, competitors stood erect with a club in each hand and, unlike juggling, never let go. They were awarded points based on the beauty and complexity of their routines. We're not kidding here, so stop laughing. The U.S. dominated this sport at the two Olympics in which it was held. They swept the podium in St. Louis in 1904 (not hard, considering all three competitors were American) and did the same in 1932, when George Roth took the gold during the Great Depression, then moments after receiving the medal in front of 60,000 spectators, famously strolled out of the stadium in L.A. and hitchhiked home. Now THAT is the Olympic spirit!

 

2) Tug of War -- If it's good enough for phys-ed classes and company picnics, it's good enough for the Olympics. This famed kids' contest was an Olympic staple from 1900 to 1920. Initially, the competitors were clubs, and countries could enter more than one team, meaning they could win multiple medals, such as in 1904 when the U.S. swept the podium. The rules were, as expected, simple: An eight-man team had to pull its opponents six feet to win, and if the five-minute time limit had expired, the team that pulled its opponents the furthest was the winner. In the quarter-finals in 1908, a team of Liverpool police officers easily beat the Americans, who accused the Brits of wearing illegal footwear. The protest was dismissed and the cranky U.S. pulled out. A London police team beat Liverpool for the gold. Don't tell us you wouldn't pay big bucks to watch Olympic tug of war today.

 

1) Live Pigeon Shooting -- Unfortunately, you read that correctly. The 1900 Paris Games were the only Olympics in which animals were killed for sport. Instead of firing at disc-shaped clay pigeons, athletes took aim at the real thing. Live birds were held and released in front of participants, who were eliminated if they missed two birds. More than 300 pigeons were reportedly killed in the event's one and only grisly Olympic appearance. Belgian Leon de Lunden won the gold, with 21 downed birds. By all accounts, it was an extremely messy affair and organizers never again used live targets.

 

There are several more odd events we'd love to tell you about, including Olympic Hot-Air Ballooning, but we're out of time today, because the Bobsled Ski Jumping is about to start. We assume it's a demonstration sport.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 0

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