The once-respected sport of baby boxing. Image via YouTube screenshot.
People have come up with a lot of crazy ideas for sports throughout history, from the ancient and brutal to the modern and bizarre. Understandably, the large majority haven’t survived, sometimes through no fault of their own, and sometimes because they were so ridiculous, it’s hard to believe anyone played them in the first place. From baby boxing to tennis played on ice skates, these ten hilarious sports are either extinct or hanging on by a thread.
These days, the only place you’ll see children boxing is on YouTube videos posted by what most would call irresponsible parents. But travel back to 1939, and the sport is strikingly official, with a real (not to mention poolside) ring and a referee. This video from British Pathé features four matches, including one between girls (whom the announcer calls “young Amazons”), and another between two very young boys–one of whom just wanders out of the ring. They do all seem to be enjoying themselves, though it’s easy to see how one good punch could turn the fun-filled spectacle into a teary affair.
A real tennis court. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Before the domination of lawn tennis, this now curious game was simply called “tennis.” Played indoors and on an irregular court that includes three sloped walls, a small window at one end, and a large netted opening on he other, real tennis) also known as “court tennis”) was very popular during the Renaissance among European royalty.
In 1596, there were 250 courts in Paris alone, but today there are fewer than 50 in the world. The sport is kept alive largely on courts in places like Oxford and Cambridge.
56-Pound Weight Toss
While 56 pounds seems arbitrary weight, the weight is really four stone, a British unit of measurement. The weight toss was given Olympic status in 1904 and 1920, but has since declined in popularity. It has survived, however, in the Scottish Highland Games, in two separate events. One is based on distance the weight is thrown, the other on height, when competitors, much like high jumpers, set a bar height–but the weight, not the thrower, must go up and over.
In this video from 1949, four boxers hop in the ring simultaneously and go after one another with huge swings–even though half the time, no opponent is within range. When there’s a lull in the action, a woman standing outside the ropes gets things going with a boxing glove on a stick.
Blindfold muay thai boxing is still practiced in some places, but with the addition of kicking and without the presence of the woman.
Tennis on Ice
Even the video featuring this absurd sport treats it as a novelty, though it’s not that hard to imagine some athletes in colder climates trying it out today. The level of play is actually pretty competitive, and not as goofy as one would imagine, but to make it work, modern players would have to revert to old wooden rackets to reduce the speed of play. Otherwise no one would ever have a chance of getting to the ball and the game would be rather a bore.
The art of Indian clubs involves swinging two wooden clubs that can weigh as much as 50 pounds around one’s body, much like ribbon twirling (but with weight). The sport came from ancient Egypt and the Middle East, then moved west during the Victorian era. It was an Olympic event in 1904 and 1932. It is still practiced as a (terrific) way to improve upper body strength, but sadly, the days of training groups of children for synchronized club swinging are over.
Frederick Lane takes the gold at the 1900 Olympics. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The ancestor of the classic “retrieve the toy from the bottom of the pool” game was once an Olympic sport, all the way back in 1900. Australian Frederick Lane took the gold in the 200-meter event, climbing over a pole and a row of boats, then swimming under a row of boats in 3:04.
The sport has survived to today, though in a considerably watered down fashion: at the 2009 World Games, the only obstacle was a line of buoys under which swimmers had to duck on each lap.
Live Pigeon Shooting
Depending on your love for animals, it’s likely you’ll find this sport more horrifying than hilarious, and will be glad that it’s nearly extinct. Once again we head back to Paris for the 1900 Olympiad, the only time animals were killed as part of the Games. Each competitor had a flock of birds released in front of him; Belgian Leon de Lunden topped the podium with 21 kills. Today, the practice is banned in every state except Pennsylvania.
Blimp-Towed Water Skiing
Back on the lighter side of sports, it’s no surprise that at a time when blimps were all the rage, some adventurous types decided to use them to put some real air into their water skiing. It works surprisingly well, and the three riders in the video below even pull off some cool tricks despite the lack of waves that a power boat would produce. Seeing as blimps are relegated to providing aerial coverage of sporting events these days, don’t expect to see this sport coming back anytime soon.
Much like their modern counterparts, Parisian men in 1923 loved roller skating, although they did things a bit differently. Strapping one big wheel to each foot works surprisingly well; the men in the video even head off-road for a while. But given how rollerblading and skating have evolved, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would revert to this old-school style.
Would you try any of these sports today? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.