Last week on the Hearts through History RWA loop, a casual reference to the 1900 Olympics in Paris noted that tug-of-war was part of the competition.
1908 U.S. tug-of-war team
Talk about intriguing.
I had no idea that tug-of-war was once an Olympic sport. To be honest, I assumed it wasn't played anywhere but on playgrounds, college campuses and family picnic areas.
Curious about this bygone sport, I spent a few days researching tug-of-war, and its gold medal history, spending a lot of time on the official websites of the Olympic movement and the site of the Tug-of-War International Federation.
Yep, there's an international federation.
For those who might not know (I know you know, but my journalistic training demands I explain the sport) tug-of-war is played when opposing teams, somewhat equal in number and weight, grab hold of either end of a rope suspended over a hazard of some sort, i.e. water or mud (history suggests Vikings played tug-of-war over the campfire). At a signal, both teams tug on the rope, trying to pull the other team into the hazard.
A few facts about the 1900 Olympics:
- Events were held in Paris as part of the 1900 World’s Fair and were so under-promoted that not all 997 athletes realized they were taking part in Olympic competitions. Overall, only 375 tickets were sold.
- Organizers didn't hold an opening ceremony. Events began May 14 and ended Oct. 28.
- Women competed for the first time in these games. The first women's competition? Croquet.
- Mixed teams (not gender but nationality) completed in five sports, including tennis and tug-of-war.
- Tug-of-war made its debut as an Olympic competition. Other sports:
- Artistic gymnastics (which included pole vaulting)
- Athletics: combined, field, road (cross-country) and track
- Basque Pelota (think team racquet ball played across a net and you’ve got the general idea)
- Equestrian, jumping
- Football (soccer)
- Water Polo
Only two teams competed in the tug-of-war competition on May 14. Winner was the best of three, and a Danish/Swiss team competed against a French team and won 2-0. This was Sweden’s first gold medal.
During the 2004 Olympics in Saint Louis, six teams competed, four from the host nation. U.S. teams won all three medals. At the time, clubs fielded tug-of-war teams, so there wasn’t a national team from any country. In the 1908 London games, British teams won the gold, silver and bronze. According to the BBC, the final match was between two English teams comprised of policemen, with the London police team beating Liverpool's police team.
Tug-of-War was dropped from the Olympic games after 1920. But the Olympics were hardly the beginning or the end of the sport, which dates back thousands of years. Egyptians played tug-of-war, as did the ancient Greeks, the Vikings and other sea-faring nations. It's still a popular sport in India, Europe and South Africa where the 2010 Tug-of-War Championships were held in Pretoria.
Coming up: the International Tug-of-War conference is scheduled for January 2011 in Taipei. If that’s too far to travel, The European tug-of-war championship will be played in September 2011.