Everybody gets the gist of the Winter Olympics. Skiing, hockey, figure skating, various sled races — we’re all familiar with the classics. But did you know that dogs once competed in the Winter Olympics? Have you heard of the sport that’s a cross between hockey and soccer? The Olympics used to be weird, man.
Over the decades, a handful of sports have come and gone from the Winter Olympics, usually after just one appearance in the games. In some cases, they were demonstration sports, meaning the results didn’t count towards countries’ final medal count. In other cases, they were legitimate attempts to expand the Games’ purview. Which one would you watch?
This is real. Skijoring is a real sport that many, many people still participate in. As shown above, it’s an activity that involves strapping your feet to skis and your torso to dogs and then going as fast as you can. In fancier locales, horses may be used instead of dogs. You can also (obviously) use a snowmobile, though that would sort of take the sport out of it, wouldn’t it?
Skijoring made only one appearance in the Olympics at the 1928 Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Being one of the aforementioned fancier locales, the athletes were towed behind horses without riders, and for some reason, the race was held on a frozen lake, where there were no jumps. Switzerland swept the race, though it didn’t really matter since it was just a demonstration event.
Bandy, the predecessor to hockey, is a lot like hockey. The main difference, though, are that bandy uses a ball instead of a puck and is played on an ice rink the size of a soccer field. That’s a lot bigger than a standard hockey rink so there’s an awful lot of skating involved.
The 1952 Games in Oslo were the first and only Olympics to include bandy. Like skijoging, it was a demonstration sport, but the competition wasn’t a very exciting. Only Sweden, Norway, and Finland sent teams; only three matches were played; and only 12 goals were scored. Having scored the most overall, Sweden won first place.
Sled Dog Racing
Hooray for dogs! Sled dog racing is exactly what it sounds like, and you’re probably used to seeing the sport in the context of the Iditarod in Alaska. Whereas those dogs run for days and cover over 1,000 miles, the Olympic sled dog racing demonstration was a much more humble affair.
Taking place at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid, the single appearance of sled dog racing at the Olympics was a fleeting one. The event saw two races on a 25.1-mile course. Six dogs pulled each sled and times ranged from two to three-and-a-half hours. Only two countries participated: Canada and the United States. Canada won by less than two minutes.
Ice Stock Sport
Although its name sort of looks like broken English, ice stock sport is a truly popular activity in the Alps, where it is known as Eisstockschießen. If you’ve ever played bocce ball or understand curling, ice stock sport will make immediate sense to you. (Or you should. Truth be told I’ve watched tons of curling and still have no idea what’s going on.) Players basically slide ice stocks, metal contraptions that resemble Roombas wearing funny hats, as close as they can to a target. You also get play for distance.
The International Olympic Committee gave ice stock sport a couple of tries — once at the 1936 Games in Garmish-Partenkirschen and once at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck. It makes sense that these two appearances happened when the Olympics took place smack dab in the middle of ice stock sport country. Somehow it didn’t manage to catch on either time.
Now this just sounds like an accident waiting to happen. As the name implies, speed skiing involves going really fast on skis — as fast as you can, in fact. It’s not a timed race. The point is literally to clock the fastest speed while going down a hill. Don’t try this at home.
The sole appearance of speed skiing in the Olympics came during the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. A 31-year-old Frenchman took first with a top speed of 229.299 kilometers per hour. That’s 142.48 miles per hour. On skis. Very unfortunately, one competitor from Switzerland died while free skiing the morning of the finals.
Pictures: Flickr / AP / Wikimedia