Every time the Summer Olympics roll around, you’ll hear plenty of motorsport fans wondering why auto racing isn’t included in the Games. After all, plenty of us have spent time arguing that drivers are athletes, too, so it only seems fair to include it as part of the Games’ larger competition, right? Well, back in 1900, that actually happened.
Yes — believe it or not, racing actually took place at the 1900 Summer Olympics... but there’s a catch. Fourteen races were held in conjunction with the 1900 World’s Fair, which has resulted in these races taking on a more unofficial status. The International Olympic Committee never decided which events were considered to be of Olympic status, but because motor racing never returned to the Olympic Games, historians have assumed the races were of a more exhibitionary capacity than they were legitimate events.
That said, medals were still awarded, and there were 14 different classes in which to compete. Entries were listed by manufacturer and not competitor, which means that, rather than awarding a medal to the winner of a race, the medal would be awarded to the car maker. Unfortunately, record keeping in 1900 wasn’t what it is today, so most of the competitors’ names have been lost to time. We just know that most of the car manufacturers were French, with the exception of the winner of the fire truck category, which an American won.
The only winners we do know for sure are Louis Renault, who won the Paris-Toulouse-Paris race in a small car, and Alfred Velghe, who won that same race in a large car.
Other categories included two-seater cars that were separated into two different weight categories, with the lighter cars being further separated into two different races. There were also classes for four-seater cars, six-seater cars, seven-seater cars, gas-powered taxis, electric taxis, gas-powered delivery vans, electric delivery vans, small trucks, trucks, and fire trucks. The Paris-Toulouse-Paris race was also considered to be part of the racing exhibition.
In the modern era, motorsport isn’t considered an Olympic sport because, while the drivers are undoubtedly athletes, the heavy reliance on equipment — i.e., cars — tends to put auto racing out of mind.
That does get a little confusing, though, since there are plenty of sports that rely on equipment that range everything from track bikes to tennis rackets to horses.