Most of the world tunes into the summer games for events like gymnastics, swimming, and track & field, but turns out there are many ways to win a medal without necessarily being crazy fast or able to flip a million times. While we all know the Michael Phelps’, Usain Bolts and Simone Biles’ of the world, there are tons of athletes that train just as hard for a chance at gold in their respective (lesser known) sports. We’re not exactly sure why these events have stayed so under the radar – they happen to be some of the weirdest and most fun to watch. Here are ten almost too-strange-to-be-true sports that are guaranteed keep you entertained.
This is not your typical leisurely canoe ride on the lake at sunset. This high intensity sport involves athletes having to dodge obstacles and navigate as they run down rapids at extreme speeds. The event first made an appearance in Munich 1972 and has been an action packed addition to the games ever since.
No, we don’t mean like Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Rowing for a medal involves full body strength, extreme power, and perfect synchronization. Since Paris 1900, when the event was first introduced, these rowers have not been messing around as they fly through the water in perfect unison to cross the finish line. Our favorite races are the men’s 4 and the men’s 8.
Forget the handball you used to play in elementary school; this complex version takes your childhood hobby to a whole new level. Handball in the games is a team sport that requires skill and strategy and involves getting the ball into a soccer-like goal. Handball was introduced to the games in Berlin 1936. Initially it was a field sport, but is now held indoors.
First introduced to the games in Seoul 1988, table tennis is both an individual and team sport. Arguably the most popular racket sport, table tennis is more than just “ping-pong”. This extreme version of the beloved sport can be quite a nail biter to watch. Since its first appearance at the games it has been dominated by China, with 24 out of 28 gold medals.
The modern pentathlon is comprised of five events: fencing, 200 meter freestyle swimming, show jumping and combined pistol and cross-country running. This hodgepodge of events that really don’t have anything to do with one another has been around since the early 1900’s. The events all take place on the same day and are meant as a series of mental and physical tests, making the competition one of the most well-rounded out there.
Introduced to the games in 1900, the steeplechase is essentially a race with obstacles. Both men and women compete individually (women’s was introduced in 2008). The race is 3,000 meters and obstacles include barriers, hurdles, and even a water pit the competitors must run through. The name steeplechase is derived from the steeplechase in horse racing, however there are no horses in this race.
Undoubtedly one of the more mind boggling events, race walking (or speed walking) has been a part of the games since 1908. Not to be confused with full-fledged running, race walkers must keep one foot on the ground at all times. In order to abide by this rule, runners walk with a, shall we say interesting, hip wiggle in order to keep one for securely planted at all times. Though it’s hard not to picture packs of older ladies with hot pink weights in hand speed walking around the park, this event has definitely picked up momentum the past few games.
As a relatively new addition, trampoline was introduced in 2000 at the Sydney games. Sure, jumping up and down on that trampoline looks like great fun but this event is no joke. Not for the faint of heart, competitors get up to 26 feet in the air and perform a series of aerial acrobatics while gaining major air.
Commonly referred to as “horse dancing”, dressage is one of the most highly contested, and at times controversial, events in the games. The sport has been in the games steadily since 1912 and is one of the only events where men and women compete against each other (the only others are also equestrian events). Regardless if you fully understand the point of dressage, or even consider it a sport, watching the horses prance around is oddly mesmerizing and worth a watch.
Shooting at the games? Yep, that’s a thing. Not only is shooting considered a sport, the actual competitions within the sport are even more eccentric. Air pistol, which was introduced in 1988, is both a men’s and women’s event. It involves shooting a series of shots a the target with a 4.5 mm air gun at a distance of 10 meters. Each heat can last from 50-75 minutes, with each competitor taking 40-60 shots. Patience is required for both the shooters and the viewers.
While we aren’t quite sure why some of these are still part of the games, we’re not complaining. These obscure events are just the right amount of odd and we love every minute of it. When you’re not sitting on the edge of your seat watching Usain Bolt break his own records, tune in to one of these lesser known sports and prepare to be amazed.