Every four years the world gathers to compete in the Olympics. Spectators are captivated by the world's top athletes. We watch as the participants run, jump, swim and do things we can only imagine doing half as amazing as they are able to do. Over time the Olympics has gained and lost events. The newest events added to the Olympics are the BMX (2008), Mountain Biking (1996), Trampoline (1996), Beach Volleyball (1992) and Badminton (1992). But with the adding of sports, there is also the loss of sports. Such sports that have been bumped from the Olympics are Baseball/Softball (2008), Lacrosse (1948), Polo (1936) and Rugby (1924) just to name a few of the ghosts of Olympic past. But there was one sport that was scratched in 1924 that was a true test of strength. A way that nations would face off in an exhibition of brute strength and really show who had the strongest athletes in the world. That event was, the Tug of War.
I know what your thinking, Tug of War? The first thing that usually comes to mind is grade school gym class which is followed closely by the annual family picnic, but once upon time, the Tug of War was a major Olympic sport. For twenty years, or five Olympic games, the Tug of War was an active and competitive sport. It was first used in the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris France. There were only three teams competing in the event, the United States, France and a mixed team made up of Danish and Swedish athletes. It did come down just between the French and the mixed team as the U.S. withdrew due to a schedule conflict. However, the game went on. The two teams took to the field on July 16 and faced off in the classic six on six, best of three format Tug of War. The team of Scandinavians wiped the floor with those Frenchies and beat them almost effortlessly 2-0.
At the 1904 St. Louis games the Tug of War was dominated by one country and one country only. The United States fielded four out of the six teams involved in the event, the two other teams were the Boers (South Africa) and a Greek team. The U.S. would not only win Gold, Silver and Bronze but would also take the runner up spot as well. The Gold went to the Milwaukee Athletic Club as they defeated the New York Athletic Club. The NYAC went home sore losers and did not partake in the in second or third place games. As a result of that the Southwest Tuernverein of St. Louis No. 1 took Silver and Southwest Tuernverein of St. Louis No. 2 took Bronze. The 1904 games would be the first and last time the U.S. would win medals in the event. During the III Olympiad the format of the game changed a bit, teams would face of in a five on five format but still was a best of three. The game would continue and a new powerhouse in the sport would emerge to dominate the game for the remainder of its existence.
The 1908 Olympic games were held in London and the English reigned supreme. Initially seven teams were scheduled to compete, the Germans, Greeks, Swedes, U.S. and three English teams. The Germans and Greeks withdrew due to scheduling, leaving the Swedes and Americans to take on the home team. Those tea drinkin' Brits dominated the game just like the Americans did in '04 games The three English teams took all three medals, the City of London Police took Gold, the Liverpool Police took Silver and the Metropolitan Police "K Division" took Bronze. Every match resulted the same 2-0 in favor of the English. In 1912 Stockholm games the Tug of War competition had only entries (as the Austrian, Bohemian and Luxembourg teams all failed to show up), the reigning Gold medal winners the City of London Police against the Stockholm Police. The Swedes destroyed the Brits in the first round. As the second round began it was a tensely contested match. However, as exhaustion set in the returning champs forfeited as the Swedes seemed to be to strong for them. The Tug of War and the Olympics would be postponed in 1916 due to WWI, but the game would reach its peak at the next summer games.
After the dust had settled from the Great War, the VII Olympiad was held in Antwerp, Belgium. The Tug of War had the largest contest with five nations competing. The nations of Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Great Britain all faced off that August. Again the Brits crushed everyone before them, sweeping the Americans and Belgians to reach the finals. The Dutch blew past Italy and then faced the Brits in the finals. The U.S. then lost to Belgium twice, in the Silver and Bronze medal rounds, forcing them to leave Antwerp without any hardware. The Italians followed suit as well. The Belgians would leave with the Bronze. As the English and Dutch faced each other, the English decimated their opponents and took home another Gold for the jolly ol' Queen. However, 1920 would be the finest and last year for the Tug of War contest. But why get rid of such a test of strength? And more importantly should it return to the Olympics?
So what happened? The Tug of War symbolizes everything the Olympics stand for. Team work, competition and a true test of mind and strength. The Tug of War goes back to being held at the first Ancient Olympics in 500BC. The sport was bumped from the Olympics after 1920 due to conflict and protest from losing teams. The disputes were over shoes, hand grips and other appeal worn by the opposing teams.Another reason was the International Olympic Committee stated Tug of War had no "international governing body" and therefore could no longer be an Olympic sport, however that is no longer the case So don't be sad, the game is not just played by small children or your drunk Uncles at the family reunion.. There is hope for the Tug of War to return to the Olympics, that hope comes from the TWIF or the Tug of War International Federation. The TWIF governs over all Tug of War events, the two biggest being the International World Games and then every other year a Tug of War World Championship. The TWIF is made up of 53 nations from the U.S. and England to Zambia and Nigeria down to the smallest nations like Malta and Brunei. The art of the Tug of War is still alive and kicking and just comping at the bit to jump back in the Olympics. I think the IOC needs to take another look at the Tug of War and make room for its return. I mean you can only watch people swim the same race or run the same track for only so long. Olympic Historian Bill Mallon says that the Tug of War "was a crowd favorite. It's actually a great sport to watch." Hello IOC your historian is even telling you to bring it back. I am willing to bet that if the IOC reinstates the Tug of War it would be the most watch Olympic sport as it is a sport everyone can relate to and would showcase what the Olympics is truly about.