It was an OLYMPIC EVENT. From 1900 to 1920. OMG. Discovered via Bill Simmons' mailbag, in a letter he responded to by saying "I don't know if that was the greatest Mailbag question of all time, but it's certainly on the short list." Naturally, Bill Simmons (sorry, he is a first-name-last-name guy) had some ideas:
Here's how I think it could work: On the night of the Closing Ceremony, the two countries ranked no. 1 and no. 2 for total medals have a tug-of-war showdown. Ten people on each team — five male, five female — that have to come from 10 different sports/events. In other words, you couldn't stack your team with three weight lifters or whatever. Oh, and everyone participating in the tug-of-war HAD to have won gold medals. And there's a weight limit per team — you can't exceed, say, 2,000 pounds for your 10 athletes. So let's say our team ended up being Kevin Love, Jordan Burroughs, Ryan Lochte, Ashton Eaton, David Boudia, Missy Franklin, Allyson Felix, Misty May-Treanor, Candace Parker and team captain Abby "I'm a total badass and there's no way we're losing this" Wambach. And we were battling 10 Chinese gold medalists for the tug-of-war gold. Um … you'd turn the channel during this?
A pic from ToW at the 1904 Summer Olympics. I don't know the teams, but it was in (what?) St. Louis Missouri: