Although the origins of the shot are lost in the mists of time, it is thought that in its earliest form, the shot was used by Neanderthals who hurled hand sized boulders at Neolithic man, a sight re-enacted on the streets of London by their close descendants only last summer.
Its heyday was around the turn of the 5th Century BC, when, now refined into a heavy ball of metal, the shot was deployed in the reduction of Athens’ burgeoning tortoise population. A sport soon evolved from residents’ attempts to kill the reptiles as they scampered away from the potential danger. In a journal entry of 501 BC, the playwright Aeschylus, ironically fated to be killed by an avenging tortoise, recorded ‘Bagged three of the shelly bastards today. Now through to the area semi-finals.’
The evolution of the shot led directly to the catapult, cannon and musket, but the shot’s true impact on the world of sport was not to provide us with the dullest of all Olympic field events, but to give birth to the game of football.
During the middle ages, mediaeval knights became accustomed to spending their siege down time idly kicking shots around. Of course, they needed to wear their armour on their feet to protect themselves from the heavy shot or ball as it became known. And those brave enough to head the ball, tended to keep their helmets on.
Despite the armour, there were many injuries, mainly groin strains from kicking such a hard ball and eventually the fledgling sport was banned in 1415 by Henry V for fear that the troops would be unfit for the Euro campaign to be held at Agincourt. Although the game was largely forgotten for the next 250 years, terms such as ‘having a shot’ and ‘Rooney has shot his bolt’ endure to this very day.
Apart from the occasional revival as a futile duelling weapon, the shot faded into sporting obscurity until the revival of the Olympiad in 1896 when it was adopted to provide obese athletes with their own event. It went on to become the favourite sport of European Bloc countries and a proud symbol of the masculinity of their female athletes.
So what is the point of the shot put? Many people think the idea pumping de-sexed athletes with drugs in the cause of lumping a redundant weapon no further than a couple of yards is laughable. But this is the very point of the shot put. It is entirely useless, but its very uselessness satirises the futility of sporting endeavour. For this reason, the shot is an essential part of the Olympic Games.
Next Week: Why is the hammer called the hammer for Christ’s sake?