120 years, 120 stories (Part 11) : When ‘Killing’ was a sport in the Olympics


Yes, you have read it right! Once upon a time, there used to be an event in the Olympics which encouraged people to kill as many as possible and the participant with the most number of kills was awarded the gold medal. Oh well, it’s not about killing human beings. But, it’s nothing better either. The event, a rare one where animals were deliberately killed in the name of a sport, took place only once in the biggest sporting stage and it was live pigeon shooting.

The first Olympics of the twentieth century saw many new things. Firstly, this was the first time women athletes took part in the event. Secondly, it saw an athlete getting top honors at the cost of being punched in the face. And last but not the least, it saw the only instance when animals were killed in an Olympics event. Ten types of shooting events took place in the second edition of the modern Olympic, in 1900 and live pigeon shooting was one of them.

The rules of this diabolical sport was simple. Kill as many birds as you can and win the medal. The pigeons were released one at a time from ‘traps’ in front of the shooters. They had to take aims at the flying pigeons and shot them down. A participant was eliminated from the game once he or she missed two birds. And in the end, the number of birds shot out of the sky was taken as the benchmark to decide the medal winners.

Pigeon shooting took place at Cercle du Bois de Boulogne. There were two categories in which it took place in the Paris Olympics. These were Grand Prix du Centenaire (Centenary Grand Prize) and Grand Prix de l’Exposition universelle de 1900 (1900 World Expo Grand Prize). And the entree fees were different for them.

In total, more than 200 shooters participated in the pigeon shooting event. Reports suggest that approximately 300 birds were killed in total. And the total prize money of up to 20,000 Francs was awarded to the winners, although the top four finishers decided to split the winnings. Here are the winners of the live pigeon shooting in the two categories.

Live pigeon shooting winners – 20 Francs entree fee:

Place Athlete Pigeons
1  Donald Mackintosh (AUS) 22
2  Pedro José Pidal y Bernaldo de Quirós (ESP) 21
3  Murphy (USA) 19


Live pigeon shooting winners – 200 Francs entree fee:

Place Athlete Pigeons
1  Léon de Lunden (BEL) 21
2  Maurice Faure (FRA) 20
3  Donald MacKintosh (AUS) 18
 Crittenden Robinson (USA) 18


The official report of the Olympics described this sport as “très aristocratique”, which meant very aristocratic. In reality, it was far from that.

“The idea to use live birds for the pigeon shooting turned out to be a rather unpleasant choice,” American sports historian Andrew Strunk explained in his article on the 1900 Paris Olympics. He depicted the scenario of the live pigeon shooting in the following way, “Maimed birds were writhing on the ground, blood and feathers were swirling in the air and women with parasols were weeping in the chairs set up nearby.”

You can surely imagine the effect it had on the environmentalists and the animal lovers. It was certainly an event against the humanity and was not to condone further. Animal rights campaigns were mounted to stop live shooting. Two years later, in 1902, bans came into force in the United States on this type of event. And the Olympics never saw a live pigeon shooting ever since.


Do you think you’d enjoy a live pigeon shooting event? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo by Patrick Hoesly