The 1900 Olympics in Paris were part of, and largely overshadowed by the Paris World Fair. Olympic events began in the middle of May and didn’t end until late October.
Events in the Paris Olympics grew significantly over the number in Athens. Events were staged in nineteen disciplines, including Athletics, Archery, Basque Pelota (the first and only Olympics for this sport), Cricket, Croquet (which drew only one paying customer), Cycling, Equestrian, Fencing, Soccer, Golf, Gymnastics, Polo (on horses), Rowing, Rugby, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Tug of War and Water Polo. Thus, in 1900, water polo, rugby and soccer became the first team sports to participate in the Olympics.
Twenty-four countries participated in the Paris Olympics, an increase of ten countries over the number in Athens. Nine hundred and ninety-seven athletes participated in 95 events. The Seine River was the venue for swimming and water polo. The swimmers swam downstream, which enabled very fast times for the era. Swimming also included some unique events like the 200-meter obstacle swim and underwater swimming.
The United States did not field a water polo team, in large part due to the expense of traveling to Paris, and the fact that the British Rules would be used. There was a strong sentiment in the U.S. that the brutal “soft ball” rules were the only way to play the game. Rex Beach, the captain of the Chicago Athletic Association, commented, in typical chauvinistic character of the time, “We want a sport for men, not for young ladies. English polo is too tame for American ideas.”
The Osborne Swimming Club of Manchester, England dominated the 1900 competition, scoring 29 goals and giving up only three. In the final match against the Brussels Swim and Water Polo Club, the Englanders won 7-2, but it could have been more lopsided had they not limited the number of shots they took so as not to embarrass the team from Belgium.