5 Weird Sports That Almost Made It to the Winter Olympics

Up until the 1990s, Olympic host countries could add demonstration sports to the list of competitions, often using the opportunity to garner international exposure for a popular local sport. Medals from these competitions were smaller than true Olympic medals, and they weren’t included in a country’s official medal count.

Sometimes a demonstration sport would go on to become a full-fledged Olympic event. This happened with curling, for example, which was a demonstration sport in 1932, 1988, and 1992 and became a full Olympic event in 1998. But other times, the demonstration sports just didn’t make the Olympic cut.

Here are five of the stranger Winter Olympics demonstration sports that weren’t adopted by the International Olympic Committee.

1. Winter Pentathlon

A demonstration sport at the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the winter pentathlon sounds more like James Bond try-outs than an Olympic sport. As the name suggests, the competition consisted of five events: cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing, and horse riding.

It was modeled after the modern pentathlon of the Summer Games, which consists of swimming, pistol shooting (now laser pistols), running, fencing, and horse riding. In fact, a number of the athletes who competed in the winter pentathlon demonstration came back during the Summer Games to compete in the modern pentathlon.

Though the biathlon (cross-country skiing and shooting) remains an Olympic sport, the winter pentathlon never really caught on.

Sweden’s Bertil Haase competing at the 1948 Winter Olympics. (Public domain)


2. Skijoring

Halfway between dogsledding and cross-country skiing is the sport of skijoring. In this competition, competitors on skis hold the reins and are pulled across the snow and ice behind either one or two dogs or a horse. When it was a demonstration sport at the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, athletes raced across a frozen lake behind horses.

Skijoring is alive and well today around the world. SkijorUSA offers information and organizes races in the United States and is trying to get the sport reintroduced to the Winter Olympics.

3. Bandy

At first glance, bandy looks a lot like ice hockey, but it’s much closer to field hockey on ice. It’s played on a field of ice roughly equivalent to the size of a field hockey pitch (or a soccer field). Two teams of 11 athletes use curved sticks to propel a small ball (as opposed to a puck) up the ice and into a rectangular goal. Unlike both field and ice hockey, the goalkeeper does not use a stick for defense — only gloved hands.

After ice hockey, bandy is one of the most popular ice sports in the world. The Federation of International Bandy also has alternate rules for “rink bandy,” which uses smaller teams on a smaller ice hockey rink. It was a demonstration sport at the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, Norway, but was ultimately abandoned because it was too much like ice hockey. However, as its popularity grows, it could make a comeback: It’s being considered for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

4. Speed Skiing

Imagine the ski jump competition, with the steep, straight slope curving up into a ramp that sends the athlete into the air. Now take out the ramp, and that’s pretty much speed skiing. The goal of speed skiing, which was a demonstration sport at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, is to gain as much speed as you can. Competitors ski in a straight line down a half-kilometer slope to the finish line, exceeding speeds of 120 miles per hour.

Speed skiing is still a contemporary sport — there are around 30 specially built slopes for it around the globe — but it didn’t make the cut after the 1992 Games, in part because the high speed makes it so dangerous. The world record as of February 2018 is 158.424 miles per hour.

5. Ski Ballet

Ski ballet was a demonstration sport at both the 1988 Calgary Games and the 1992 Albertville Games, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Similar to figure skating on skis, ski ballet competitors would drift down a moderate slope while spinning, jumping, and — with the help of a pair of ski poles — flipping through the air while music plays.

Ski ballet, which is also called acroski, was a type of freestyle skiing that gained some worldwide popularity during the 1980s and ’90s. After failing to make the Olympic cut in 1992, however, the sport more or less died off. The International Ski Federation ended all formal ski ballet competition in 2000.