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Competitive Absence in the Olympics

The sport of Competitive Absence was featured in the 1908 London Olympics, but not without controversy.

The rules were simple: enter the event, then don't show up to the starting line for as long as possible. The last competitor to arrive would be declared the winner.

"Russia? Russia? Has anyone seen the Russian Team?" Sid Mattherson searching for his rivals in the 1908 Olympic Competitive Absence event.

Sid Mattherson of the host nation was the firm favourite for Gold in the 1908 event. Matterson was famous for completing the hundred-yard dash in a little over five days. This was a British Record in slowness at that time. Matterson was thought to have only one serious rival for gold; Monsieur Pirelli, the untalented French backstroker who'd failed to swim the English channel throughout all of 1907.


However, at the Opening Ceremony of the 1908 Olympics, both the British and French teams were stunned to notice not one Russian competitor in attendance. Most alarmingly, Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin, the reigning Russian Competitive Absence Champion, was nowhere to be seen.


Mattherson and Pirelli immediately protested, but the Russians did not respond. A day passed, then another. A full week went by. Then ten days. At this point, the protest duration elapsed without the Russians so much as acknowledging the protest. With this brilliant tactical move, Panin-Kolomenkin was now a long way behind, and Mattherson and Pirelli appeared to be out of options.


Mattherson was rattled. He'd gone from the favourite for gold, to a rank outsider. "This sort of underhanded Russian absence goes completely against the spirit of Competitive Absence," he complained. "It's just not cricket!"

Finally, twelve days after the opening ceremony, the Russian Team turned up. Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin acted surprised to discover the Olympics Games were already well underway. He said he thought he was early to the event. Matterson suspected this was no more than a ploy to steal the Competitive Absence gold out from under his feet.


Panin-Kolomenkin blamed England for his late arrival. England switched to the Gregorian Calendar in 1751, but Panin-Kolomenkin insisted nobody had told him. Russia was still using the Julian Calander 1908. The Julian and Gregorian calendars were out of wack by almost a fortnight...thus the confusion over the Olympic start date.


Sid Matterson trying to drag a Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin substitute to the start line

Matterson spent three days trying to drag Panin-Kolomenkin to the Competitive Absence starting line, but the Russian substituted himself with a string of wrestlers whilst remaining stoically absent in his hotel room.


In a desperate effort to keep Panin-Kolomenkin from taking out the victory in Competitive Absence, the London Olympic Committee controversially extend the Games by six months. In those days, Olympic competitors were self-funded amateurs. The British event organizers believed no foreign competitor could last longer than six months before needing to return home to work. Meanwhile, Matterson, the local hope, was confident he could hold-out for eight months at least.


But now Kolomenkin protested. He claimed Mattherson had a patron, a wealthy English Earl. Panin-Kolomenkin insisted Matterson was being sponsored as he waited out the duration of the event. This made the Englishman a professional, and in violation of Olympic rules.

During the investigation of this matter, officials discovered only twenty-two countries had sent athletes to the 1908 Olympics. It was then suspected the ultimate winner of the Competitive Absence event was likely to come from one of the absent nations, and so all the competitors in attendance scrambled to withdraw their entries.


To this day, a winner is yet to be officially declared.


Sid Matterson went to his grave believing he'd won. He said his lack of a medal proved it—furthermore, he insisted his failure to turn up to the victory ceremony was a new world record.

Monsieur Pirelli went back to failing to swim across the English Channel. He still holds the record for the most unsuccessful attempts. He drowned in 1936.

After rushing to withdraw from the Competitive Absence event, Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin entered himself in the Geometric Ice Drawing Competition. In one last-ditch effort to take out the Competitive Absence Gold, Panin-Kolomenkin then claimed he'd only entered the Competitive Absence event by mistake. He was promptly disqualified for giving false statements.

But all was not lost for Panin-Kolomenkin...


Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin, the Russian Competitive Absence Champion of 1904 to 1908

Geometric Ice Drawing required skaters to draw precise figures on ice. Unfortunately, it's no longer in the Olympics, having being dropped on account of its difficulty. Panin-Kolomenkin surprised everyone by taking out the 1908 Gold in Geometric Ice Drawing, with his masterful rendition of a Lipzgraz Square. He returned to Russia a hero. To this very day, Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin remains the first Russian to win an Olympic event.


The sport of Competitive Absence fell out of favour for decades. However, at the 1960 Rome Olympics, one lone competitor, Hamish ‘Hamish’ Smyth, remained completely absent from the Competitive Absence competition, despite the event not being part of the Olympics in that year. Then to the delight of many, the sport returned to the Olympic program at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Iceland was the early favourite to take out the men's event, and Estonia for the women. However, the host, Japan, pulled off something of a coup by cancelling the 2020 Games altogether! This bold move now makes Japan the clear favourite to win both the men and women's 2020 Competitive Absence Olympic gold.

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