The most curious demonstration sports at the Winter Games

You won't see them at Beijing 2022, but these winter demonstration sports certainly left their mark on Olympic history.

By Sheila Vieira, Virgilio Franchesci Neto
Bandy

Several of the most popular sports that will be on show at Beijing 2022 began their Olympic journies as demonstration sports. Sports such as curling and short track made the cut and established themselves on the Olympic programme, while others did not survive the test of time.

Here are five of the most curious demonstration sports that have been showcased at the Winter Olympics:

Ski ballet

Many figure skating fans would be surprised to know that the sport used to have a distant snow-based relative. Ski ballet was one of three pioneering forms of freestyle skiing, alongside the longstanding moguls and aerials.

The sport was demonstrated at both Calgary 1988 and Albertville 1992. Ski dancers presented a sequence of jumps and dance moves on an outdoor snow slope – with musical accompaniment – and judges would evaluate them according to their levels of technical and artistic excellence. The flashy outfits and popular soundtrack perfectly conveyed the rebel spirit of freestyle skiing.

However, ski ballet did not remain on the Olympic programme. At the beginning of the 21st century, the sport was resigned to becoming an (extremely fun) winter sport anecdote.

Sled dog racing

Dogs at the Olympics? You bet. At Lake Placid 1932 sled dog racing was an Olympic demonstration sport. Sled dogs were originally used as a transportation system in Alaska before people cottoned onto how fun it could be to race them and a new sport was born.

Leionhard Seppala and his Siberian racers, the Inuit sled dogs of the North West, in the first photograph of Amundsen's departure for the North Pole, in October 1920. 

In the Lake Placid competition, each sled was guided by a group of six dogs (with one athlete in the sled) over a course of 40km, with the sled reaching speeds of up to 30km/h. If a dog was injured, the athlete would carry it to the end of the race in the sled. Gold medallist, Emile St. Godard is the only sled dog racer to be entered into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

And if you think that 40km is a long way, the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska is 1,700km long!

Musher Thomas Bohlmann rides his sled dogs during the 2010 Pullman City Quest on January 10, 2010 in Hasselfelde, Germany. The competition counts as one qualification for the European championship.
Picture by 2010 Getty Images

Military patrol

If biathlon is an established Olympic sport, it owes a lot to its ‘father’ the military patrol, which was part of the official programme at the first Winter Games: Chamonix 1924. In three other editions (1928, 1936 and 1948), the discipline was showcased as a demonstration sport.

Switzerland land military patrol gold
Picture by IOC

Military patrol is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting (sound familiar?), but it is a team sport, with four players, including an official, in each patrol.

The athletes would walk a 25km distance as a group, all wearing military uniforms and 24kg backpacks. The shooting element would only take place at the end of the contest.

Biathlon replaced the military patrol at Squaw Valley 1960 and has remained on the programme to this day. Fortunately, today’s biathletes aren’t required to lug around a backpack the weight of a five-year-old child!

Military patrol in the 1948 Winter Olympic Games
Picture by © 1948 / Comité International Olympique (CIO)

Horse skijoring

One of the most weird and wonderful sports in Olympic history is horse skijoring, whereby a skier is pulled along a course by horses. The competition can either take place on an oval track or one with obstacles.

Athletes take part in Skijoring, the exhibition event featured at the St. Moritz 1928 Winter Olympics.

Demonstrated during the Winter Olympics of St Moritz 1928, the Swiss hosts swept the podium.

Today, the participation of horses at the Olympics is limited to equestrian and modern pentathlon in the Summer Games,

Bandy

A hybrid of hockey and football, bandy - also known as banty or Russian hockey - was a demonstration sport at Oslo 1952. Extremely popular in Russia and Scandinavian countries, it is considered by many to be the precursor of modern hockey.

The main similarities with ice hockey are the fact that players skate on ice and wear similar outfits, but in the case of bandy the stick is curved. Goalkeepers do not use a stick and can only defend the ball with their hands. And perhaps the biggest difference between the sports is the fact that a ball is used instead of a puck. Teams can contain as many as 11 players and games consist of two 45-minute halves - as if the influence of football wasn’t clear enough!

Football and bandy also share an offside rule and players are prohibited from playing behind the goals.

At the Oslo Games, Sweden, Norway and Finland formed the podium. And while bandy’s Olympic journey ended there, it is still one of the most well-loved winter sports in the world.