When Tug of War Used to Be an Olympic Sport
And it was scandalous

Tug of War was an event in every Olympics between 1900 and 1920.

1908 City of London Police (via Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, Olympic sports included Archery, Croquet, Hopscotch, Jackstraws, Mumblety-peg, Diablo and Ring Toss.

Many Tug of War teams were cobbled together on the day.

In 1900, the United States withdraw their team because three athletes were busy – in the hammer throwing event!

A Danish journalist, Edgar Aaybe, was recruited into the combined Sweden/Denmark tug of war team in 1900 to replace a sick team member.

He went on to win a gold medal.

Tug of War was a magnet for Olympic controversies.

A report in the Paris edition of the New York Herald described the Olympics tug of war contest as being “an object lesson in how not to do a thing”.

The 1904 gold medal-winning American squad supposedly represented the Milwaukee Athletic Club.

Later it was revealed that the team was actually composed of ringers recruited from Chicago.

At Stockholm 1912 the British team lost the first pull of the final to Sweden and was then disqualified for continually sitting down.

The biggest controversy was in 1908 when the Liverpool police team competed in “enormous shoes, so heavy, in fact, it was with great effort they could lift their feet from the ground.”

The team from Liverpool insisted this was their regulation police footwear.

They won the pull easily, despite the rules banning ”prepared boots or shoes with any protruding nails”.

The Americans protested but to no avail.

At the close of the competition, the Liverpool Police team offered to pull their American opponents in bare feet.

The captain and coach, Inspector Harry Duke, marched up to some of the American squad.

“If you’d like to gentlemen, we are happy to have a rematch. We’ll remove our boots, of course, and take you on in our stockinged feet.”

The Americans declined.

All told the British teams grabbed five medals to the Americans’ three before the sport fell off the program following the 1920 Games.

The City of London Police provided medal winning team members for the tug of war at three Olympic Games in 1908, 1912, and 1920.


Leave a Reply