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July 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
When the International Olympic Committee decided to drop baseball and softball from the 2012 London Olympics, it marked the first time since polo in 1936 that any sports had been cut from the program. Although it’s frustrating to see an American-dominated event dismissed by a European-influenced committee, this isn’t the first time politics has forced an Olympic sport into early retirement. A complete chronicle of these would number in the hundreds. In some cases, such as baseball and softball, the exclusion seems absurd. For others, that they ever existed is even crazier. Here are a few of the most notable.
Baseball and Softball (1992-2008 and 1996-2008)
Perhaps most unnerving to Olympic baseball and softball athletes and fans was the narrow margin of the IOC decision to cut the sports for the London games. For each, the difference was only a couple of votes. Although no official explanation was given, dominance by a few countries and the lack of cooperation by professional baseball owners have been rumored as influences on the decision. The International Softball Federation announced it would pursue reinstatement almost as soon as it was outed, and the International Baseball Federation has said it should be given a second chance, as well. For the sports to regain positions on the Olympic itinerary, at least 39 of the 115 members of the IOC must first submit a motion to consider a new vote. Fifty percent of the committee would then need to vote in favor of the motion. Finally, a majority in favor of the sport’s reinstatement is required to complete the process.
Rugby: (1900-1924, returning in 2016)
Golf: (1900-1904, returning in 2016)
Swimming obstacle race: (1900)
Jeu de paume: (1908)
Standing triple jump: (1900-1904)
Dueling pistols: (1908)
Think of a time in junior high P.E. class when you dug your heels into a muddy practice field, gripped a fistful of polypropylene and demanded your bigger classmates position themselves at the back of the line. At the turn of the 20th century, the competitiveness of tug-of-war transitioned from the playground to the Olympic platform. Originally, the structure of the event permitted multiple club teams from the same nation to enter. This allowed a single country to potentially win more than one medal in the competition. In 1904, the U.S. won all three, but that didn’t stop the committee from including it in the following four Olympics.
Club Swinging (1904, 1932)
Pivoting medieval weaponry in a rhythmic motion wouldn’t be outlandish if it were viewed under a circus tent or perhaps at a local Renaissance fair. But in the 1904 and 1932 Olympics, this event took the world stage next to more traditional athletic competitions. Men’s club swinging required competitors, who armed themselves with a bowling-pin-shaped club in each hand, to remain in a stationary position while whirling the objects around their heads and bodies in an intricate routine. Points were awarded based on degree of difficulty. Spectators were rewarded when a competitor failed to meet the demands of his own routine and precision turned to pain.
Live Pigeon Shooting (1900)
The 1900 Paris Games were iconic for many reasons, such as the first time female athletes were allowed to compete, massive disorganization due to the city’s simultaneous hosting of the World Exhibition and a big boost in France’s track record of animal cruelty. Three-hundred feathered martyrs took one for the teams in the release-and-shoot competition. It remains the only Olympic event in history in which animals were deliberately harmed. Leon de Lunden of Belgium exited what must have resembled a crime scene with a gold medal and a knapsack of 21 pigeons.
Plunge for Distance (1904)
How a childhood pool game ended up in the Olympics is anyone’s guess, but in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, holding your breath underwater became a medal-worthy talent. From a standing position, contestants propelled themselves as far as possible from diving boards in a long dive. They remained underwater until one of two things occurred: either their heads broke the surface, or 60 seconds passed on the time clock. The distance from the diving board to the surface break was measured to determine the medalists. On an interesting and humbling note, all entrants to this event were American.
At first, powerboating served as a demonstration event in Paris in 1900. The spectator sport must have successfully set the bar for cultural engagement in water motor sports that year because it was added to the Olympic program’s London Games eight years later. Motorboating consisted of events for boats that fell in three categories: the 8-meter, the 60-foot and the open class, which permitted boats of all sizes. For 40 nautical miles, boats coasted a five-lap race; average speeds reached an astounding 19 mph. The race took place off the Southampton coast, where an underwhelmed viewership presumably strained to make out an outline of the boats. At the same time, adverse weather conditions prevented six of the total nine scheduled races from even happening. Due to stormy weather and sparse viewership, the IOC dropped the water sport from its program.
Solo Synchronized Swimming (1984-1992)
David Wallechinsky, author of The Complete Book of the Olympics, asks in his historiography, “How can you synchronize one person?” Apparently, the answer is for swimmers to synchronize with the music. But if that’s the case, then why isn’t it called synchronized gymnastics? Despite the oxymoronic labeling, solo “synchro” swimming was introduced in the 1984 L.A. Games and remained part of the program for nearly a decade.