Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the Summer Olympics have been going on in London for a little over a week now.
While it’s easy to get swept up in the magic created by athletes like Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, some casual Olympic viewers may miss out on some of the more exotic and exciting events of the Games.
So, for those of you who are looking to make the most of this Olympiad, here are the top 9 most interesting Olympic events of all time.
If you have cable and have been frequenting the afternoon Olympic coverage, you may have noticed a strange sport played on a small blue court where players frantically run around trying to throw a bouncy ball into a net. This is the glorious sport of handball, which made its Olympic debut in 1936.
While the United States doesn’t have a team in either the men or women’s competition — and has never medaled in the sport — it is well worth checking out. On TV, the stark blue court looks like something straight out of The Jetsons. And after all, for most Americans it will disappear between the end of these Games and Rio in four years.
It seems like every four years Americans are shocked to find out that racewalking is actually an Olympic sport. The event has been contested since 1908, and many still find it hard to believe that gold medals are actually awarded for walking.
If you have yet to see a race walk it is quite a spectacle. Competitors must keep one foot on the ground at all times — leading to the unique waddle-like motion that characterizes the sport.
The men’s 20k has already been decided, but the men’s 50k and women’s 20k will take place Saturday. They’re a must-see for anyone unfamiliar with the event.
10k open water swim
In this grueling open water event that debuted in 2008, athletes swim for close to two hours in a punishing, marathon-esque test of endurance.
Even though you may not be up for watching two full hours of swimming, make sure to catch the highlights of this race, held in historic Hyde Park. It is truly one of the most epic events currently in the Olympics.
The 3000m steeplechase is an athletic event that, much like its equine counterpart, consists of running, jumping and water pits.
Yes, you read that right: water pits.
Athletes run a little over seven laps and are faced each lap with four barriers that they must hurdle and a water jump that is a little more than 25 inches deep.
If you think hurdlers look silly as they bound over their obstacles, you will love this event as steeplechasers take it one step further with more formidable barriers and the infamous water jump.
Men’s 4×100 medley relay
Eight laps, four men, each swimming a different stroke. What makes this event so special?
Since its inception in 1960, the United States has never lost this event, winning gold in every Olympics save the 1980 boycotted Moscow Games.
Michael Phelps and crew continued this proud tradition last week, claiming our 13th gold and extending one of the most dominant streaks in sports history.
Tug of war
Contested between 1900 and 1920, the tug of war was once one of the fiercest Olympic events — as the strongest of each nation battled in a game now mostly relegated to the playground.
While, unfortunately, the event shows no signs of making a comeback, America has a proud legacy in the sport, sweeping gold, silver and bronze in the 1904 St. Louis Games.
Equestrian long and high jump
If dressage leaves you wanting more from the Olympic equestrian program, maybe the events of horse long and high jump are for you. The events were only present at the 1900 Paris Games, but they must have been amazing to watch, as the winning horses’ jumps were over 20 feet long and six feet high.
Art, at the Olympics?
Yes, between 1912 and 1948, Olympic gold medals were awarded in architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture.
While it is hard to imagine today, for much of the early Olympics these sport-inspired works of art were taken just as seriously as many of the athletic events, with some individuals competing — and medaling — in both the athletic and artistic competitions.
No, American football has never been a real Olympic sport. It served only as a demonstrational sport in the 1932 Los Angles Games, but as this is a list of the best events of all time, its potential as a future Olympic sport qualifies it for inclusion.
In a recent radio interview, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league was “already taking steps to gain that IOC recognition” and that American football should “absolutely” be an Olympic sport.
With the NFL’s recent series of Games in London and talk of opening a new franchise in the United Kingdom, the internationalization of American football may be right around the corner.
And, when the beloved gridiron finally becomes an Olympic sport, the first American football dream team will certainly be a sight to see.
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