The International Olympic Committee (IOC) which oversees the Olympic Games, the pinnacle of athletic competitions, considers multiple factors when deciding what sports are allowed. In almost every edition, some new sports are added to the competition while others are removed. For this edition of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, there are a record 339 medal events taking place with five new sports added to the roster.
Surfing is perhaps the most surprising addition to the Olympics given that it obviously requires very specific conditions. This is one of the few Olympic Sports where weather conditions can heavily influence who occupies the podium. Athletes must compete against each other while facing changing conditions in the state of waves, the direction and strength of the wind, and the flow of the tide.
The International Surfing Association has been lobbying the IOC since 1995, however it was only when Thomas Bach was elected IOC president in 2013 and decided the Games needed more youth sports that surfing’s Olympic ambitions started to make headway.
There will be a men’s contest and a women’s contest, both featuring preliminary-round heats where the best of each four-person heat structure advanced to the next round, followed by a head-to-head knockout competition. For this edition, only shortboards will be used, which are about six feet (1.8 m) in length rather than nine feet (2.7 m) for longboards.
The surfing competitions are held at Tsurigasaki Beach in Ichinomiya, which is about 45 miles (72 km) southeast of the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
The competition kicked off on Sunday, 25 July, and so far Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and the US’s Carissa Moore have emerged victorious. All eyes are on Ferreira, who is the 2019 world champion and has an inspiring backstory, having learned to surf while standing on the foam box his father sold fish from.
Most reckon the women’s event is between the USA’s Carissa Moore and the two Australians, Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons.
After its debut in Tokyo, surfing is set to appear at least one more time at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, though the surfing competition will be held 9,800 miles (15,700 km) from France in Tahiti.
The world’s best climbers will put their grip strength and skill to the test on an artificial vertical wall in Tokyo. Three disciplines will be judged: speed, boulder (or block climbing) and lead (or difficulty).
Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other, both climbing a route on a 50-foot (15m) wall. In bouldering, athletes scale a number of fixed routes on a 15-foot (4.5m) wall in a specified time. In lead, athletes climb as high as possible on a wall measuring over 50-foot (15m) in height within a specified time.
The gold medal will be awarded to the athlete with the highest cumulative score, which is radically different from the usual sport climbing competitions, which typically keep each of the three disciplines as separate events. Twenty climbers from across the world each for men’s and women’s events will compete for a spot on the podium.
The first rounds of qualifiers for men will take place on August 3 while the qualifiers for women are set to start on August 4. The finals will be on August 5 and 6.
According to the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), over 25 million people across the world do climbing regularly, a number that has constantly been on the rise as the sport grows more popular. In the United States, up to 1,500 people try climbing for the first time every single day.
It was high time that karate made its debut at the Olympic Games, and the Tokyo Games mark the perfect occasion seeing how the sport originated in Okinawa, Japan.
Since the 1970s, professional karate organizations across the world had been struggling to have the sport listed. Now, their dream has finally come true.
Karate practitioners, known as karateka, will compete in two styles: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). There will be a kata men’s and women’s events, and three weight classes each for men’s and women’s kumite events. In total, 80 karateka will compete for a medal.
Kata is a demonstration discipline in which competitors have to exhibit a series of offensive and defensive movements practiced alone but meant to target a virtual opponent. Kumite is the fighting discipline where athletes compete head-to-head. In kumite, competitors are allowed to use three techniques: striking, kicking and punching.
The events will be held at the Nippon Budokan, where the first-ever World Karate Championships were held in 1970. However, the fate of karate at the Olympics is unknown as it has not been included in the 2024 program for Paris.
The Olympic karate competition will begin on Wednesday, August 4 and conclude on Saturday, August 7 with all rounds of women’s 61+kg and men’s 75+kg kumite.
The Olympic Games just became cooler with the addition of skateboarding as an official discipline.
There are two types of events for skateboarding: park and street. During the park event, the world’s best skaters will show off their skills on a hollowed-out course dotted with a series of curved surfaces that rise steeply. The skater must climb the curves with high momentum and perform mid-air tricks, which are judged on difficulty, originality, and execution.
The street event is perhaps the most familiar, whereby individual competitors have to show off their ‘tricks’ on stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls, and slopes. Skaters will be scored on the level of difficulty, height, speed, originality, execution and move composition for ‘tricks’ such as slide (sliding sideways on the deck or the wheels), grind (sliding on the trucks of the skateboard), ollie (rider and board leap into the air without the use of hands), regular stance (side-on position where the rider’s left leg faces the direction their are moving), and ‘goofy stance’ (when the competitor switches feet and skates with their right foot at the front of the board and push with their left foot).
The first-ever skateboarding medal at the Tokyo Olympics was won by Japan’s very own 22-year-old Yuto Horigome after he impressed the judges with a “nollie 270 noseslide.” After taking off, he flipped his board, then slid it down the rail on its nose. Horigome brought home the gold for the street skate competition.
Brazilian Kelvin Hoefler won the silver medal and Jagger Eaton from Arizona, USA, won the bronze. Gold medal favorite, Nyjah Huston of the U.S., only placed seventh.
Momiji Nishiya, another Japanese who is only 13 years old, has clinched the Olympic title in the women’s street skateboarding competition. The silver went to Rayssa Leal – Brazil’s second silver in skateboarding after Kelvin Hoefler finished second in the men’s event – with Funa Nakayama of Japan taking bronze.
In August, skateboarders will compete in the park competition.
Of all the fresh new sports at Tokyo 2020, baseball and softball are the only ones that made a debut previously. The two sports have been reinstated in the Olympic Programme after being absent since the 2008 Beijing Games.
One of the reasons why the two sports could make a comeback is because they’re very popular in Japan, the host country. Host cities are now allowed to propose new events to add to their program, giving them the ability to introduce (or reintroduce) sports that are popular in their country, with a particular focus on youth-oriented sports. Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league is widely considered to be second only to Major League Baseball in talent.
Six countries (Israel, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United States, and the Dominican Republic) will participate in the Olympic male only baseball tournament. The women only softball competition will see athletes from the U.S., Japan, Australia, Italy, Mexico, and Canada facing off for the medals.
Baseball and softball look very similar but there are some key differences. One of the most notable differences is that while softball players pitch underhanded and from a level surface with the batter, baseball players pitch overhand from a mound. Softball is a much faster game than baseball, and the field is smaller.
Baseball and softball will most likely take a new leave of absence for Paris 2024. However, the good news is that the Paris Games will feature a new, much-anticipated debut after the IOC confirmed that breakdancing will make its Olympic debut in the French capital.
New events for basketball, cycling, and mixed team sports.
Besides the new sports that are debuting or getting reintroduced at Tokyo 2020, several existing sports have expanded their programs to include new events.
These include a 3×3 outdoor version of Olympic basketball, for which two new medal events will be held for both men and women. Freestyle BMX is also making its Olympic debut under the cycling program. However, unlike other biking events, there is no racing involved. During BMX freestyle competitors have to perform the best tricks in order to secure the podium. These events will remain part of the Olympic program beyond Tokyo 2020.
Also, several sports are debuting mixed team events. These include:
Swimming: A mixed 4x100m medley relay will feature teams of two men and two women from each country competing in a relay
Track & Field: A mixed 4x400m relay will feature teams of two men and two women from each country competing in a relay
Archery: A mixed team event will feature teams of one man and one woman competing head-to-head in match-play format
Judo: A mixed team event will feature athletes from six different weight classes (three men, three women) competing on each team
Shooting: Three mixed team events (air pistol, air rifle, trap) will debut, with one man and one woman comprising each team
Table Tennis: A mixed doubles event will feature teams of one man and one woman competing in a single-elimination tournament
Triathlon: A mixed team relay will feature teams of four (female-male-female-male in that order) with each athlete completing a shorter version of a triathlon known as a super sprint before tagging their next teammate
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.