8 Sports That Went Extinct


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Pankration is ancient Greek meaning “all of power.” The sport was a hybrid of boxing and wrestling. The only rules were no biting or gouging the opponent’s eyes, nose or mouth. Everything else was allowed, so it was common for opponents to kick, grab and choke each other as well. In upright Pankration the loser was the opponent who fell to the ground three times. In ground Pankration the matches went until an opponent surrendered or died. The sport was introduced to the Olympic Games in 648 BC. At first, the combatants fought entirely nude and oiled. Over time they were allowed to wrap their fists and forearms. The Greeks believed that Pankration was invented by the mythological heroes Hercules and Theseus. They both used their Pankration skills to kill the mythological beasts the Minotaur and the Nemean Lion. The sport was extremely popular because the ancient Greeks enjoyed the demonstration of strength and technique. 


Mesoamerican Ballgame

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The Mesoamerican Ballgame was an ancient sport played by the peoples of pre-Columbia and spread to many of the tribes in Ancient Mesoamerica. Historians believe that the sport originated somewhere around 1400 BC. The sport was played in long stone ball courts, with tall sloped walls on each side and goals on each wall, sometimes as high as 26 feet in the air. We do not know all the rules to the game but the most common theory is the game was played with a heavy rubber ball the players would strike using just their hips. The rules would vary from each tribe. The game had a religious and ritual aspect to it as well. The large stone courts were in the center of the sacred part of the city or town and because of this it’s believed that sometimes the losers in the game were sacrificed to the gods. Today a modified modern version called Ulama is played by some indigenous peoples of the area. 




Knattleikr was ballgame played by the Vikings in Iceland starting around the 9th century. It’s similar to modern day lacrosse. The point of the game was to pass a wooden ball through the opposite team’s goal. The players would hit the ball with clubs and their hands. It was most definitely a contact sport and the matches would last from morning until night. It was most often played on ice fields. Each team had a captain and every player would be paired up with a player on the other team. The partners could only interact with each other the whole match. The game was extremely rough but there were penalties and a penalty box. Today the game is still played by Norse culture enthusiasts and even at some colleges. The first annual New England intercollegiate knattleikr competition took place in 2007. The colleges with teams include; Brandeis University, Clark University, Providence University and Yale University. 


Chariot Racing

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The most popular sport of ancient Greece and Rome was chariot racing. The races were always the main event in the ancient Olympic games and the the Circus Maximus in Rome was one of the biggest sporting arenas ever built, seating 150,000 people. The racers stood in rickety carriages and were pulled by up to four horses. The course was 5.2 miles long and the drivers were allowed to whip each other. Whenever there was a crash the carnage was great. That’s why the people loved it. Drivers would most often die in a crash or get severely injured. Slaves and poor citizens could better their lives if they won the chariot races by winning large sums of money. In ancient Rome there were teams of chariot racers all wearing the same colors. Each team could have up to three chariot racers and spectators would wear their favorite team colors much like sports fans today. After the fall of the Roman Empire chariot racing faded away. 



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Camping or Campyon, originated as a Medieval ball game similar to the modern day sports; football, soccer and rugby. The game was usually played by churches of different towns after Sunday service, but not all the time. The rules of the game were simple. Each team had a specific goal or destination to get the ball to. Most of the times the goals were churches. Sometimes the teams had to kick the ball onto the opponent’s church balcony. The players could run, kick, or pass the ball to each other while the other team tries to tackle the ball holder or block the ball to retrieve it. The original balls were inflated pig’s bladders. Sometimes the game was played with only a few players and sometimes whole towns took part. The matches were chaotic and had few rules. By the 1800’s the game went into decline because of the Highway Act 1835, which banned the game from being played on public highways. However, still to this day some towns in the UK play a version of the game, usually on a specific holiday like Christmas, New Years or Easter, as a tradition. In the town of Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, they play what’s called the Ba game, which is a version of camping. 




Most of you probably know about Jousting from Hollywood movies about Knights in Medieval times. Two opponents start on horses on opposite sides of a field, both decked out in armored suits, they would ride straight at each other and try to knock the other person off their horse using a huge lance. Points were also given for braking a shield. Origins of the sport were just exercises Calvary men would do to prepare for battle. By the 15th century, jousting became very popular and huge tournaments were held. But in the 17th century it was replaced with other equestrian games that didn’t involve violence. 


Fox Tossing


Fox Tossing was a very bizarre sport and the world is a better place it went extinct. It was played by European nobles in the 17th and 18th century. The game was played in an enclosed courtyard. Each team had two partners each holding the end of a large sling. Then foxes were released into the courtyard and the object of the game was to catapult the foxes into the air as high as possible using the sling. The team that can do so was the winner. The sport was played by both men and women. Obviously, this game was very cruel to the foxes, who would most definitely get injured and usually die. Sometimes the participants would get injured too by a fox landing on their head or by a scared fox attacking them. Other animals were used as well, such as hares, badgers and even wild cats. There were even reports of wild boars and wolves in the game. 


Board Track Racing

photo credit: Classic Driver

photo credit: Classic Driver

Board Track Racing was a very popular American motor-racing sport in the early 20th century that didn’t last long. The first board track arenas were built in LA in 1909. They were sloped, circular tracks made of wooden planks that motorcycles raced on. These arenas were called motor-domes, then nicknamed “murder-domes” because the sport was so dangerous. These motorcycles were modified for high speeds with no brakes. Crashes were very frequent, making the sport more intense to watch. Later cars were raced on these tracks as well. A big problem with the sport was the tracks were inexpensive to build but really expensive to maintain. The average life of each motor-dome was roughly three years before it was abandoned. The sport rapidly died out when the Great Depression hit the country. Even though the sport had a short life, Board Track Racing is credited to pioneering many aspects of the motor-sport racing we see today.