I established the íþróttir competition at the Egils Tournament Skallagrimssonar (Barony of Adiantum, Society for Creative Anachronism) in 1989, in order encourage the development of a broader range of Norse skills and better development of Norse personas (the role-playing identities adopted in the SCA). As far as I know there was no collective competition of this name in period, but there were individual competitions of skills. These skills were referred to as íþróttir collectively.
The íþróttir (skills pl.) are mentioned as bragging points ("what a superior fellow I am") in a number of sagas, particularly Haralds Saga Harðraða & Orkneyinga Saga.
The word íþrótt (sg.) derives from a word for power/strength/might/valor, þrótt.
The word for contest is kapp. Kappi means champion; certain champions are the equivalent of "knight", for example, King's champions (kappar (pl.) konungs) are the equivalent of in-period knights. Selection for a kappi konungs was strictly martial, they were the elite fighters of the King's household. Kappar (pl.) were commonly fighting contests (duels). Kappleikr is a fighting match. Strictly speaking the íþróttir should be refered to as kapp íþrótta.
The person who wins a kapp is a kappi.
From the Cleasby & Vigfusson (CV) definition of íþróttir:
King Harald (Hardrada) counts eight: poetry, riding, swimming, "sliding in snowshoes", shooting, rowing, playing the harp and "versification"; Earl Rognvald, Orkneyingasaga, counts nine: chess playing (tafl), runes, book, smíð (craft), sliding on skis, shooting, rowing, playing the harp, versification; the contest between Thor and Utgard-Loki could be related (run a race, eat fast, drink, "lift the cat" (weight-lifting), wrestling).
"In modern usage" (this would be 19th C Victorian period of the dictionary), Icelandic & Scandinavian, means more "fine arts".
Note, at some point many years ago, I printed out a list of the contest names and all the diacritics got garbled, big-time. Of course, this garbled-spelling copy is the one that was found and used later, and those once-garbled spellings have been further mushed up over time. Part of the motivation for writing this up is to get the proper spellings in circulation again.
Gerek's original list:
Kappleikr - martial skill was probably the main íþrótt originally, and in the original design of the competition, a point was supposed to be given for standing in the main fighting match of the event. At this remove (it's now 2006), I can't remember if I actually applied this or not;
Örskot or just Skot - arrow-shooting or plain archery, both for accuracy and for distance;
Spjóts-skot - throwing spears. A favorite starting activity at the beginning of battles was the tossing of a spear back and forth between the two armies - the side that failed to return the spear was fated to lose the battle; also tossing a spear over the enemy ranks to dedicate the victims to Óðinn;
Glíma - wrestling (not modern rules, but we don't really know what, if any, rules or customs there were about period wrestling; we do not have documentation for the tieing wrists together thing);
Skáldskapr - poetry;
Smíð - craft, "smithcraft" does not mean only metal working, but also things like woodworking, shipbuilding, architecture, painting, etc.; principally wood & metal. This covers basically all the technological skills, and "decorated useful object", more specifically, is often used in the competition context;
Töfl - games (pl.); specifically called an íþrótt in Morkinskinna; a generic singular "game" is called a tafl; there is also a specific game called Tafl -- confusing, huh?; includes chess (perhaps as early as the tenth century), dice throwing, 9-mens-morris, etc. (see my article on Norse games, but not kubb/kubbspel (for which there is no credible evidence that it existed in the Viking Age (or probably before the Victorian Age)) nor "kingey bats" for which no evidence exists whatsoever (except perhaps as a modern non-violent very abstracted version of norse stick ball (knattleikr)).
Föt - clothing or dress. I tried to throw in a few skills the Norse would have taken for granted, but which, for moderns, require skill-development. And there was a long-standing "Norse-and-neighbors" costume contest established at Egils Tourney already.
Brugg (brewing) - not a period Icelandic skill (no yeast*), so doesn't show up in Sagas much; but the kind of thing they brag about otherwise;
Some other possibilities for íþróttir activities, including terms for all the other things in the lists above. A lot of these did NOT get chosen for the original íþróttir for obvious logistical reasons. Will include here other things not in the Harald and Rognvald lists; also there were other occasions for competitions and will include their categories.
Bókmál or Bók -"book", lit. - knowledge of Latin, possibly Greek? (Harald spent time in Constantinople) This could mean ability to use Latin letters as well as Runic letters; reading Latin; or writing Latin or all three. Any or all of these possible definitions would qualify as "brag-able", therefore suitable for a contest.
Bragar - toasts (pl., bragr sing.) - toasts to the dead, wedding toasts, general drinking foolishness, like that
Hörpuleikr - playing on a harp, harp-playing (germanic harp, like the Sutton Hoo lyre; not the Irish "harp")
Ljóð - lays, songs, ditties. This is one of the "smith" things that isn't metal or woodworking, and is referred to as an íþrótt (skill). This would be more like song lyrics than other poetry; I think this may indeed be the "versification" referred to in the Harald list above, that lists poetry and versification separately.
Reið - (horseback) riding
Róðr or Kappróðr - rowing, yes a boat, size unknown
Kappsigling - sailing match
Fimleikr - nimbleness, agility, dexterity
Rúnar - runes, being literate in them, skill in cutting them, etc. NOTE!!! Old Norse period runes! This would be the Younger Futhark, NOT the Elder or Germanic -- which was NEVER used in the Viking Age, ca. 800-1066.
Skeið or Rás - "a race" - I put this in the teen's íþróttir, it's from the Thor/Utgard-Loki list; and a Kappa event - Renna skeið "run a race", "run a course", renna í rás "run a race", renna í köpp "run in a contest"
Skríðaáskíðum - sliding on skis - "snowshoes" above is just proof that C&V can't translate all the time, the word there IS skis. I'm not sure skiing was known in Victorian England, that's why it came out "snowshoes". This is probably closer to cross-country skiing than downhill. Also Renna á skíðum "slide or run on skis"
Sund, Svimma, Sundleikar - swimming; distance swimming; also "dunking" "try to duck (dunk?) one another" -- could this be some kind of wrestling in the water???!!!
Söngr - other music, in general; other instruments (panpipes, as the one found at York; flutes, trumpets (lúðr), fiddle (gígja), etc.)
Skauti - ice-skating (this is modern Icelandic: there doesn't seem to be a term known from period, even though we know they had them, though they do mention sliding, skríða, on ice), I expect this, like skiing, would be considered an íþrótt
Other items from the Thor and Utgard-Loki list. Remember, these contests were all tricks, the Drinking one turned out to be drinking the sea, the "cat" turned out to be the World Serpent, etc.:
Kappeta - "eating" contest; this is an approximation of the spelling, and doesn't have a "speed" component
Kappdrykkja - drinking contest
Kapplypta or maybe vaglypta - "lifting contest"(weight-lifting); from "lift the cat" (this is supposed to be a really flexible "cat", like a ferret); OK, this is an approximation, the story didn't use a phrase but a more generally phrased challenge so they obviously did contests like this.
About ax-throwing. This has been more recently added to the Egil's íþróttir. I have never been able to find a word for it. CV says something about "climbing walls", apparently in Eyrbyggja saga and Færœinga saga, but I have never (yet) been able to find it in those sources to confirm or otherwise. The principle source for this appears to be the Kirk Douglas movie, The Vikings. While this movie was heavily vetted by academics at the time, it WAS made in the 1950's; and is based on a Victorian version (not even a Victorian translation) of Ragnars Saga Lóðbrokka. In my opinion, if this ever existed at all, it feels to me like one of the anachronisms that often creep into the Sagas (remember, the Sagas were written up to 400 years after period, and were copied and re-copied after that). The same goes for oar dancing. (Of course there were plenty of real "stupid norse tricks".)
Two of the skills that were greatly valued by the Norse I have not included: horse fighting (hestavig, hesta-at) and norse stick ball (knattleikr).
NOTE - the above are all men's skills (except possibly the brewing and clothing). There are women's skills. But you don't see much (any?) women's-bragging in the sagas, so who knows. There was more than one known woman poet, known as skald-mær, poet-maids; we know one name, so there may have been bragging about women's skills. People did brag about how good a table they set, so cooking (matargörð, matráð, matreiða, matbuð,matgerð, etc.) could be an appropriate division; weaving (vefnaðr) was valued so that might be another. There are lots of skills referred to as íþrótt, and there are other words for "skills" (list, hagleikr, dugnaðr, görvileikr, slyngr, etc.), so there may have been some division in how different skills were regarded. The impression is that íþróttir were "elite" skills.
*Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, recent Icelandic cookbook & SCA-cooks list. This is consistent with both the rarity of the term jastr in Icelandic sources and the odd meanings attached to its use.