Insane Games and Absurd Sports Lost to Time
As time passes so do trends. While the major sports of today – soccer, football, basketball, hockey, etc – look to be staples that aren’t going anywhere any time soon, spectators and competitors from past eras quite likely thought the same of their now defunct sport.
Okay, although some of these historical sports were rabidly consumed by fans, others are so silly it’s really quite remarkable that they ever gained notoriety in the first place. Put on your history hat and get ready to wonder “Why would they do this?” and “What were they thinking?” in its many forms around the world.
Ski ballet is simultaneously one of the funniest and most mesmerizing spectacles winter sports has ever brought to the world.
The concept of “ski ballet” may be a foreign one, but SURELY everyone will easily recognize the sport by its newer name, “acroski.”
Nothing at all? Yeah, that actually sounds about right.
Ski ballet was a short-lived discipline of freestyle skiing that actually managed to make an even shorter run as an Olympic sport.
Introduced in 1988, ski ballet only served as a demonstration sport – demonstration events are not officially included in medal counts – at the Winter Olympics, going the distance to 1992 for two Games of pure, unadulterated ballet bliss.
As for the sport itself, its run wasn’t much longer, lasting from the late 1960s to 2000 when the International Ski Federation shut down all remaining official competitions. It really is true what they say about only the good dying young.
Looking back at the sport’s footage, it’s actually shocking this sport no longer exists. Like a fine wine ages with time, so too does the beautiful art of ski ballet. Society simply did not have the foresight to see what the sport could’ve turned into today.
Real talk, this is one of those things that goes so far off the deep end of goofy and unique in the most eccentric of ways, it actually wouldn’t be surprising to see it make a resurgence with the right people behind the movement.
Enough wishful thinking, let’s get into the logistics…
Replace jackets with an epic glammed out costumes (and ‘80s hair), ski ballet athletes pretty much look like alpine and aerial skiers equipped with “standard” skis and poles, though they did get to ditch the helmets.
Ski ballet was primarily a singles event – the freestyle category did briefly add a pairs event – that functions quite similarly to that of figure skating in terms of judging.
Just as figure skaters individually take the ice to perform their routines with judges critiquing various aspects of the routine, ski ballet competitors would individually go out onto a smooth (and gradual) slope to perform.
Routines included some pretty wild moves, often from the utilization of the performers’ ski poles. By planting the poles in the snow, the performers were able to launch themselves into the air to pull off stunning flips and spins.
Gentle twirls and hops were almost silly the event came off as parody until competitors would drive their poles into the snow, hurling themselves into the air for stunning aerials came off as if out of nowhere. Each skier’s routine would last 90 seconds and was performed in sync to music of their choice.
By far the most mystifying part of this short-lived sport is that it wasn’t until the mid ‘70s that the “groundbreaking” idea to add music to the competition was even introduced! If that’s how slow ideas were churning behind the scenes, it isn’t hard to imagine how this sport folded so quick.
Judges scored each performer on three categories: style, artistic display and technical execution.
With the flair every one of them brought to each performance, they’re all winners in our book. Now let’s get a petition going to bring back the ballet back to the slopes!
Ancient Greece is the hub for all things excess in the best and worst of ways, and that is perfectly illustrated in what people most loved to watch and compete in.
College kids around the globe (and us adults who like to pretend we’re still there) may very well have the Greeks from way way back to thank for the beautiful game of beer pong we know and love today.
This ancient game of skill is called kottabos. It was played thousands of years ago mostly or, at least, best documented in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
Kottabos often took place during the (in)famous Greek symposium.
That’s the thing that’s often depicted as Roman elites, gathering with fellow noblemen, lounging out on those iconic couches, partying it up with excess and extravagance.
The game fit its surroundings, as it was played using what pretty much the entire affair was centered around – wine.
There are believed to be a few ways to play kottabos, all of which closely resemble one another. For all the beer pong enthusiasts out there, think of it as going to a friend’s house who plays by slightly different rules.
Same game, small twist.
Essentially, the game is like something one would see at a carnival where the purpose is to hit and knock over or toss into a target.
Of course, since the setting is a wild party in ancient Greece, it’s in much more epic fashion than a carny game.
Replace darts or a ball with a kylix (wide-brimmed, shallow cup) filled with wine dregs (sediment).
The target competitors aim for is where the game’s variants come in. Rather than balloons or tin cups, one type of “target” used was a small saucer balanced on top of the rhabdus (metal pole).
The participants chill on their cushiony couches, lounging out the whole time while flicking dregs at the saucer, attempting to fill it enough to knock it off the pole.
This way of playing actually has its own two versions…
Getting enough of the dregs into the saucer to send it crashing to the ground is the first and easiest way to win this game. It’s kind of like getting the satisfaction of finally sinking that last shot in beer pong after hitting all the others… just messier.
The other way to play this version includes an added figurine below the saucer that needed to be knocked down as the saucer crashes to the floor. The final way simply replaces the figurine with the saucer.
Can’t you already hear friends arguing, “That’s not the way we play at MY house”?
The other way to play kottabos the game that uses multiple saucers that’re shallower and float in a bowl of water. The goal of this version is to try and sink the most saucers by the same method as the other way.
So, we pretty much have a bunch of partyers laying on couches literally drinking to the bottoms of their cups to fling across the room while remaining seated. It’s equal parts absurd and impressive at the unparalleled laziness and dexterity actually needed to successfully pull off the shots.
The competition is believed to be every bit as messy as it sounds, but with a game revolved around getting drunk and breaking things to win prizes like pastries or even more “adult” favors … yeah, wine stains on the new marble floor probably wasn’t the biggest worry.
If it truly originated in Sicily as writings suggest or when it truly died out is unclear, but after going over the rules, it definitely feels like a much safer guess to assume beer pong’s origins trace back to some awesome ragers playing kottabos in ancient Athens.
This “athletic event” legitimately sounds like a joke and not even a very good one at that, if we’re being honest.
The Olympics – remember, we’re talking about the world’s largest stage for athletes to compete – was once host to a series of art competitions.
Oh yeah, the greatest athletes around the world also included artists from an array of categories from the 1912 through 1948 Games.
The competitions featured five artist forms: architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture.
Thoughts like “how do participants create art with the intention of ‘beating’ other contestants?” come to mind. Somehow, this weird Olympic disaster had way more to worry about than that.
The art competitions evolved through the years, changing rules and further dividing the five categories into their various forms.
As for the rules, there were really only two: Works must be inspired by sport and must be original (not published prior to its Olympic entry).
In theory, “the father of the modern Olympics” Pierre de Coubertin’s idea to integrate art and fitness sounds great (exercise the mind and body, right?), but in practice, not so much.
While formalizing artistic expression to make it “competitive is already questionable, the fact that the Olympic events didn’t even follow stick to their own rules and STILL managed to be consumed with corruption didn’t help.
Let’s start with literature.
Initially, any literary work could be entered under the umbrella “literature” contest until eventually being split into three categories: drama, epic and lyric styles that were capped by a 20,000-word limit.
In literature’s inaugural event, the poem by Georges Hohrod and Martin Echsbach, “Ode to Sport,” beat out a whopping 34 other entries to take gold.
Looking back, the only glaring issue with the gold medalists was that they don’t exist… Coubertin wrote the piece himself and made up the names.
Coubertin was supposedly so worried about the lack of literary entries that he decided to pen the poem himself and make up some entrants to, um, make it seem more popular? Hmmm…
Having judges compare a play to prose and poetry is already the equivalent of comparing apples and oranges (and something else unrelated), but selecting the work of the person who came up with the idea of artistic competitions is absurdity at its finest art.
Another fantastic example of the logic behind the art competitions can be found in the architecture category. Since architecture is not exactly the fastest of artistic expressions, entries were allowed to have already been completed, or “published.”
That would be no big deal until looking back to the 1928 gold medalist, Jan Wils. On the one hand, his design was certainly a marvel, on the other hand, awarding gold to the designer of the Olympic Stadium that year’s Games were held in feels unfair for some strange reason.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Some medalists were truly worth admiring. Take American Olympian Walter Winans, who won the first ever golden in the sculpture category for his work, An American Trotter after medaling twice for shooting.
Athlete-artists like Winans weren’t commonplace, but offered inspirational insight of one’s potential.
Honestly, nothing about the judging process made sense. Yet another mind-numbing example of “this is dumb” comes compliments of the music category. In 1932 – the final year music was one category for all forms – Czech composer Josef Suk won a silver medal.
A silver is pretty neat until factoring in the zero contestants he was facing. There was also plenty of explaining to do after there were no music medalists at the 1928 Games. When music was split into three categories in 1936 – orchestral, instrumental, solo/choral – no one won the instrumental category.
Wait… someone really had the “brilliant” idea to split music into three categories after having one contestant who couldn’t even win the prior Olympics?! Then they didn’t even award medals to one of the brand new categories?! We’re done here.
Corrupt. Confusing. Crazy. Pick your adjective to describe these horribly executed artistic events; somehow, none of these reasons are why they were canceled.
The most obvious conclusion would be that they were canceled because, even at the height of the art events’ popularity, they were not popular in the least bit.
(Seriously, to be so unpopular that even getting participants is hard should’ve been a telling sign early on.)
Nope, the reason art competitions were abolished was because that an overwhelming majority of the competitors (that sounds weird) were professional, breaking the then-rule that Olympians must be amateurs.
Ancient Greece? Oh boy, here we go.
The comparatively barbaric violence in Roman times to today always conjures up one iconic image, the Colosseum.
Insane accounts of the countless gladiator battles and events that went down in the famed amphitheatre have been retold again and again throughout history.
Gory, gruesome and grandiose, even if the action that took place in the Colosseum and many other Roman amphitheatres ended up being a sliver of the craziness we believe, that would still make for a breathtaking spectacle unlike anything today.
Naumachia, which translates to “naval combat,” is the ultimate example of showing just how much Romans indulged their thirst for entertainment in its most violent entertainment.
The naumachia occurred in the Colosseum, other amphitheatres and outside on both massive and “smaller” scales.
It didn’t really matter where these water battles were held or how big they were, every scenario is mind-blowing.
Romans’ idea of a sporting spectacle means conducting blood sport that looks more like a full-on battle of armies. Even then, spectators were probably disappointed it wasn’t a full-on war.
The first documented naumachia was introduced in 46 BC by none other than the legendary Julius Caesar, and it was WILD. To celebrate a triumph over Egypt, a lake was built by the River Tiber measuring 1,800 feet long and 1,200 feet wide.
An estimated 6,000 men were involved in the battle –naumachia participants often consisted of prisoners of war, slaves and criminals sentenced to death – 2,000 as combatants and 4,000 as rowers.
Imagine witnessing a full-scale naval battle to the death with different vessels and all… made up entirely of men who were already prisoners of war.
When the Colosseum was finally finished in 80 AD, Emperor Titus held not one, but two water battles with thousands of men. The first battle was held outdoors and the second inside the massive new amphitheatre.
The Colosseum’s actual arena is not huge, so it’s widely believed that smaller scale boats were built and, unlike in the outdoor sites or larger venues, were not able to ram one another as they are in war.
The tight quarters did, however, open up plenty of opportunity for hand to hand combat to occur.
There are numerous other examples that, at times, sounded like there just needed to be a “good enough” excuse to have reason to throw a little naumachia shindig. Claudius really went all out in 52 AD with a naumachia to celebrate the completion of a drainage tunnel with, you guessed it, a battle on some nearby water!
Without a doubt, the naumachia was more ruthless and grandiose than any other form of combat involving gladiators. From its inception with Caesar to Emperor Claudius’ purported 19,000-man s pectacle of horror, there may never be a truer embodiment of blood sport in human history.