Was tug of war ever an Olympic sport?

The short answer is yes, it was, for five consecutive Olympic Games in the early twentieth century. Indeed, the governing body of the sport, the Tug of War International Federation (TWIF), which was founded in 1960, states that its primary objective is ‘to expedite our acceptance by the International Olympic Committee as a sport within the programme of the Olympic Games.’

Tug of war originally made its Olympic debut at the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris on July 16, 1900. In the absence of the United States’ team, which withdrew because of scheduling issues, the competition consisted of a single, best-of-three match between Racing Club de Paris and a hastily assembled Scandinavian team, featuring three athletes apiece from Denmark and Sweden. The combined Scandinavian team won the gold medal 2-0.

Four years later, in St. Louis, Missouri, six teams entered the tug of war competition, albeit four of them, including the gold, silver and bronze medallists, representing the home nation. At the 1908 Summer Olympics, in London, tug of war teams were increased in size to eight pulling members, from five or six, and nations were limited to a maximum of three teams apiece. Once again, the home nation dominated, with City of London Police beating Liverpool Police 2-0 in the gold medal match and Metropolitan Police walking over against Sweden in the bronze medal match.

Four years later still, at their home Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden gained revenge on a Great Britain team once again featuring members of City of London and Metropolitan Police, but no-shows by Austria, Bohemia and Luxembourg reduced the competition to just two, best-of-three matches. The proposed 1916 Summer Olympics, in Berlin, was cancelled due to World War I, but tug of war made one final appearance at the 1920 Summer Olympics, in Antwerp, with Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium winning the medals.

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