Tug Of War, Bike Polo Among Retired Olympic Events

Jul 20, 2012
Originally published on July 20, 2012 7:41 pm
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There's just one week to go until the 2012 London Olympic Games begin, and for two weeks, millions - possibly billions - of people around the world will be watching their favorite sports: swimming, track and field, gymnastics to name just a few. These are the sports that have stuck at the Olympics. According to sportswriter David Goldblatt, there are scores of others that have been discontinued, events like tug-of-war, croquet and bicycle polo. Well, David Goldblatt joins us now from Bristol, England. Welcome to the program.

DAVID GOLDBLATT: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And let's start. Tug-of-war was once an Olympic sport?

GOLDBLATT: Tug-of-war was an Olympic sport on a number of occasions from 1900 through to 1920 and much enjoyed by the audience. It was particularly good if you like seeing the police in action. Often, you had teams of police officers - three in the case of the 1908 Olympics.

SIEGEL: Bicycle polo? What is bicycle polo?

GOLDBLATT: Well, I mean, it kind of - it is what it is. It's seven people on old-fashioned bicycles per side with polo sticks, chasing round a soccer field, a grass soccer field, thwacking a small ball as hard as they can to either end. It was invented in Ireland at the turn of the century, and it got its singular outing at the 1908 games. Tragically, it is no longer with us.


SIEGEL: Now, that's bicycle polo. Actually, polo with ponies, that also has been in the Olympics but fell by the wayside.

GOLDBLATT: Well, that's right. It made it as far as 1936, but it's an awful lot of horses to transport around. And let's face it, they're really part - after you got through Argentina, Britain and the Indian subcontinent and the United States, that's pretty much it on polo. So, yes, and I'm afraid polo is out, though there is talk that a modern form of bike polo played on a sort of basketball-style court with just three bicycles might be making a comeback.


SIEGEL: Now, these are - you're speaking of games that might make it back into the games. Are there any events that are currently a part of the Olympics which look like they're potentially going to be tossed out, that they're on the road to possible extinction?

GOLDBLATT: People have their eye on the modern pentathlon, which really nobody takes the slightest bit of notice of outside of the Olympic Games. It's five events, and it was Baron de Coubertin's sort of own invention, an Edwardian James Bond fantasy in which stuck behind lines, a soldier would have to fight a duel, swim a river, ride a horse they've never encountered, run through the woods and shoot the enemy. And while this makes for a splendid tale, no one is quite convinced yet as a televised sport. So there is, you know, a threat to modern pentathlon for sure.

SIEGEL: But I've been reading about the threat to modern pentathlon for my entire life.


SIEGEL: So it seems to have some staying power.

GOLDBLATT: It does, and I think it's rather good to have a sport with such a strange narrative behind it, and they've made strenuous efforts in recent years to make it more television-friendly. So we now actually get a race at the end where, you know, the person who crosses the line first is the person who's actually won the gold medal, which, you know, for those of us who are not familiar, it's a nice simple way of resolving the problem.

SIEGEL: Well, David Goldblatt, thanks a lot for talking with us.

GOLDBLATT: Been my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: David Goldblatt is co-author of the book "How to Watch the Olympics." We've been talking about things that you can't watch this year at the Olympics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.