The Tokyo Olympics will feature plenty of our favourite sports, like gymnastics, track and field, and swimming — but there will also be six new (or almost-new) sports in the mix. Here’s what you need to know to watch the newcomers at the “2020 Olympics,” as they’re being called. (Yes, we know it’s 2021.)
Baseball and softball
Baseball and softball are among the six, but they’re not entirely new to the Games. Baseball (a men’s-only event) was first in the Olympics in 1992, and softball (for women) was added in 1996. Both were dropped in 2008 and are making their return this year, although only six teams are competing in each. For baseball, they are the United States, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Israel, and the Dominican Republic. For softball, they are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and Italy.
Skateboarding will be a full Olympic sport for the first time, although it did make an appearance at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. There will be two events: Park and Street.
The course for Street is meant to mimic an urban street. Stairs, ramps, rails, curbs, and benches are available, and it’s up to the competitor to put together a string of moves that use the available features.
Park skateboarding is done in a bowl, with steep sides allowing for spins and other mid-air tricks. Both events have men’s and women’s competitions.
How is it scored? Judges will rate the competitors’ moves on speed, height, originality, and execution.
Who to watch: Favourites for Street include USA’s Nyjah Huston, Japan’s Yuto Horigome, and Brazil’s Leticia Bufoni. In Park, the UK’s Sky Brown, USA’s Heimana Reynolds, and American-Finnish skateboarder Lizzie Armanto (skating for Finland) are competitors to watch.
Shortboard surfing (using boards less than seven feet long) will be at this year’s Olympics for the first time. Men and women will compete separately. Heats of four people will compete together, but only one surfer can ride a wave at a time.
How is it scored? Judges will rate the surfers’ moves on factors including the difficulty of the wave and the move they chose, variety of moves, originality, ability to combine moves together, and the “speed, power, and flow” of the moves.
Who to watch: The U.S., Australia, and Brazil are the strongest countries here. John John Florence and Carissa Moore are favourites from the USA; also watch out for Stephanie Gilmore from Australia, and Gabriel Medina from Brazil.
Three disciplines of climbing will be contested in the Tokyo Olympics: speed, bouldering, and lead. Men and women will compete in all three, with their rankings in each considered together to determine who gets a medal.
How is it scored? Speed climbing takes place in head-to-head heats, with the winner of each advancing. Times are expected to be around six seconds per heat for men, and eight for women.
In bouldering, which is done without ropes since it doesn’t stray too far from the ground, competitors can make multiple attempts at climbing to the top of a given problem. Climbers have four minutes to climb as many problems as possible; for each, the goal is to get both hands on the final hold in the fewest attempts. Getting to a designated zone near the top is not as good as topping the boulder, but it will still beat somebody who didn’t even make it that far.
Lead climbing only allows one attempt per competitor, and the climbers go one at a time up a 15-metre wall. The farther up the wall you can get in the six-minute limit, the better your score. In case of a tie, the fastest climb wins.
Who to watch: The top climbers include Adam Ondra from the Czech Republic, Janja Garnbret from Slovenia, and Miho Nonaka from Japan. The Americans to watch are Nathaniel Coleman, Colin Duffy, Kyra Condie, and Brooke Raboutou.
Judo has been an Olympic sport for decades, but karate is new to the Games. There are two events: kata and kumite. The events are for both men and women, with three weight classes for each.
Kata is a demonstration of karate moves against an imaginary opponent, and competitors can choose one of 102 agreed-upon sequences to perform. Kumite is a sparring event in which competitors face off against one another in pairs.
How is it scored? Judges rate kata on factors including the strength, speed, and technique of the movements. Kumite is scored by the individual punches and kicks the competitor makes to their opponent’s body, with each blow earning one to three points. The first person to accomplish an eight-point lead over their opponent is the winner of the match.
Who to watch: In kata, Sandra Sánchez and Damián Quintero of Spain, and Kiyou Shimizu and Ryo Kiyuna of Japan are among the top competitors. In kumite, some of the favourites include Ugur Aktas of Turkey, Anzhelika Terliuga of Ukraine, and Irina Zaretska of Azerbaijan.