Top 10 most surprising Olympic sports through history

There have been a multitude of exhilarating, elegant and even strange sports in the Olympics throughout the years, and we’re here to focus on the strange. While they may not have the intense media coverage of athletics, the nail-biting drama of martial arts and boxing, or the sheer physical prowess on display in the gymnasium, strange Olympic sports have a charm of their own and deserve more attention than they get.

The Olympic motto in Latin reads “Citius, Altius, Fortius – Communiter” which translates to “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” in English. However, we’re pretty sure this motto wasn’t meant for the likes of poodle clipping and ballooning - yet these are very real sports that have been in the Olympics. In this blog, we’re going to explore our top 10 favourite wild, wacky and head-scratching sports that have made an appearance in the Olympics throughout history.

What are the most unusual sports in the Olympics?

From pistol duelling to walking, there have been some astonishing competitions that have made an appearance in the Olympics throughout the years. Some have even bordered on the line of ridiculous, with many of the audience left wondering how exactly they fit into the “sports” part of the Olympic Sports. Let’s get into some of the most unusual sports in the Olympics that left us scratching our heads.

Pistol duelling

Pistol duelling isn’t as dangerous as it sounds, not on Olympic terms anyway. This sport made its debut in Athens in 1906 as an unofficial event. It was a male-only sport and the competitors had to shoot plastic dummies from 20m and 30m distances. 

It was discarded for a while but brought back for a brief period in 1908 when the game changed from plastic dummies to real people. Two competitors fired at each other with wax bullets while wearing appropriate protection over their faces and bodies. While we’re unsure this counts as a sport it does sound like it would be fun to watch.

Obstacle swim course

The 1900 Paris Games saw the introduction of the obstacle swim. This might not sound as weird on its own, however, when you take into account that the Olympians had to climb over poles, then clamber over a row of boats and swim under more boats as they cleared a 200-metre course, the idea becomes a little more strange for an official Olympic sport. It was almost reminiscent of a TV game show, and although it was discontinued, this event might be considered again in the future by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Walking races

Yes, walking races have and do still exist at the Summer Olympics and have been contested over a variety of distances. It’s a race in which you’re not allowed to run, which is why a lot of people find it a strange thing to include. It has even been considered somewhat comedic to witness as a spectator, something about watching people walk as fast as they can without actually being allowed to break into a run feeling slightly un-serious for a competitive sport. 

However, while it may look and sound strange, it is a legitimate sport and is much harder than it looks. In the upcoming 2024 Olympics, there's a new walking team relay race. The rules state that for walking races the competitors must maintain contact with the ground, straighten their front knee when the foot makes contact with the ground, keeping it straightened until the knee passes under the body which can make their movements look a little stiff and limited. This alone already makes walking races sound harder than they look.

Plunge for distance

Plunge for distance was an underwater diving event held in the 1904 Olympics programme. Competitors would dive into a pool from a standing position then they would remain motionless underwater for one minute, or until their head broke the surface of the water, whichever came first. Unsurprisingly, watching someone float motionless underwater wasn’t the most exhilarating experience for the audience, and the sport did not appear again after the 1904 Olympics.

Equestrian vaulting

This fascinatingly strange event was viewed as a cross between gymnastics and horseback riding. It was included in the Antwerp 1920 Olympics and included jumping onto the horse from a standing position, jumping over them and performing freestyle moves on a walking horse. This, to us, is both an impressive talent and a strange sport, however, the 1920 Olympics was the one and only time it appeared in the Olympics. 

Tug of war

Tug of war may seem like an unusual sport to find at the Olympics, and for the most part, it is. Held from the 1900s to the 1920s, the sport started as two teams of five going up against each other to see which group could topple the other by pulling on a shared rope. The sport also got bigger before it was pulled from the Olympic line-up, growing to two teams of eight.  While most of us view tug of war as a fun game we played in our primary school sports days, it was actually a part of the ancient Olympics back in 500AD, making it one of the oldest Olympic games.

Deer shooting

Don’t worry - this didn’t include live deer. The deer shooting games took place from 1908 to 1948 but were discontinued after that, and the idea was to shoot at deer-shaped cutouts which made 10, 75-foot runs. Depending on the code of the event, the shooters took either one or two shots at the target during each run. Each run lasted about 4 seconds and was about 110 yards distant from the shooter.


Ballooning (better known as hot air ballooning) was an unofficial Olympic sport in the 1900 olympic games in Paris. There were prizes for distance, duration, elevation and targets with and without stopping. There was also a kite-flying contest as part of the ballooning competition, which definitely makes it stand out in comparison to all of the other games at the Olympics both back then and in the modern day.

Live pigeon shooting

Live pigeon shooting was held once in the Paris Games in 1904, and sadly more than 300 pigeons were shot and killed during this event. It was the only Olympic sport in history where animals were killed on purpose. Six birds were released from spring boxes 27 metres in front of the participants, and the points were based on how many birds they killed. The participants were eliminated if they missed two birds in a row. This sport was stopped after that as it was deemed too messy. It’s safe to say that this Olympic sport is very unusual when you put it up there with javelin throwing and races - and it’s not one we’d want to see make a return. 

Poodle clipping

The last and also the most unusual sport out of all of them was poodle clipping. It was tried out for future games at the Paris 1900 Olympics but never had the full status of an Olympic sport. There were around 128 competitors and they performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 where they had to clip the fur of as many poodles as possible in 2 hours. The winner was Avril Lafoule after clipping a total of 17 poodles. We still have many questions about this one, and it’s by far the most unusual Olympic sport out there.

What sports are being introduced in the 2024 Olympics?

With the next Olympic games in 2024 comes the introduction of new sports. This year we are going to see the debut of breaking (breakdancing) in the Paris Olympics as well as the return of sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing.

What sports are being removed from the Olympics 2024?

With new sports being introduced in the 2024 Olympics we will have to say goodbye to some old ones in order to make room for the new additions. This year we will be saying goodbye to karate as the sport has failed to generate significant traction with audiences. We will also be bidding farewell to softball & heavy hitter baseball due to difficulty with scheduling conflicts with Major League Baseball.

Discover your new favourite sport with Avec Sport

There are many different kinds of sports out there, from the ones that pump you full of adrenalin like skateboarding to the wacky and weird ones like poodle clipping. There's a sport out there for everyone and if you want to learn more about finding your perfect match, read through our blog how to chose the right sport for you to learn how you can find a sport that suits your interests and lifestyle.

Whether you’re getting ready for an intense game of football or looking to practise your balance with ice skating, once you’ve found the perfect sport for you, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the right kit for it. From accessories to sportswear, we’ve got everything to get you ready to show off your skills here at Avec Sport.

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