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Your Guide to New and Returning Sports at the Tokyo Olympics

7 minute read

Almost exactly one year after the Tokyo Olympics were due to start had they taken place in 2020, the delayed Summer Games are finally getting underway. In addition to perennial favorites like gymnastics and soccer, Olympics fans also have four new sports—and two returning—to look forward to watching.

Surfing, skateboarding, karate and sport climbing will all make their debut at the 2020 Olympics, while baseball and softball return to the Olympic stage for the first time in 13 years.

Here’s what to know about the new and returning Summer Olympic sports on the Tokyo Games lineup.


With the inaugural class of Olympic surfers set to catch swells at Tsurigasaki Beach on Japan’s Pacific coast, competitors will be at the mercy of the elements. In an effort to maximize wave quality, four days of competition will be held over a 16-day window. A total of 20 male and 20 female shortboarders will attempt daring aerials and spins over multiple rounds of heats; they’ll be individually judged on their top two waves.

When to watch

The four days of competition are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET on July 24, with the women’s gold medal heat set for 8:30 p.m. and the men’s for 9:15 p.m. on July 27. However, competition days could ultimately take place on any four dates between July 24 and August 8.

Medal contenders

A limited field of competitors and likelihood of small waves has blown surfing’s medal race wide open. On the women’s side, both Team USA qualifiers, four-time world champion Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks, the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour, and seven-time Australian world champion Stephanie Gilmore are strong contenders. For men, Brazilian world champions Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira are currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world.


Like snowboarding before it, some worry that skateboarding’s Olympic arrival marks a break from its counterculture roots. But that won’t stop 80 of the world’s best skaters from vying for gold in two disciplines: street and park. Gravity-defying tricks will rule the hollowed-out bowl design of the park, while street riders will navigate a circuit resembling a city roadway, complete with rails, steps and benches to grind and slide on.

When to watch

The men’s and women’s street competitions begin at 8 p.m. ET on July 24 and July 25, respectively. Park competition will follow at 8 p.m. on August 3 for the women and August 4 for the men.

Medal contenders

In men’s street, top-ranked American Nyjah Huston, a four-time world champion, is the skater to beat, but could be challenged by Japan’s Yuto Horigome, the current world champion. Team USA’s Heimana Reynolds and Cory Juneau are No. 1 and 2 in the world in men’s park, followed by No. 3-ranked Luiz Francisco of Brazil.

For women’s street, Brazilians Pamela Rosa and Rayssa Leal hold the top two spots, while park is dominated by Japan’s Misugu Okamoto (No. 1) and Sakura Yosozumi (No. 2). At just 13 years old, No.3-ranked Sky Brown of the U.K. is another to watch in park.


The Japanese martial art was approved for Tokyo, thanks to a rule change that allows host nations to propose additional sports for inclusion in their Games.

For the kata, or form, portion of the competition, 20 competitors will demonstrate movements against a virtual enemy. Another 60 karatekas will go head to head in kumite, three-minute sparring bouts where athletes attempt to land a series of precise blows on their opponent’s body.

When to watch

Women’s kumite and kata run from Aug. 4-5 and Aug. 5-7, respectively, while the men’s rounds will play out on Aug. 5-6 and Aug. 4-7. The first event, the women’s kata elimination round, starts at 9 p.m. ET on Aug. 4.

Storyline to follow

In order to ensure karate will have a shot at inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics after being snubbed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the 2024 Paris Games, many of the sport’s enthusiasts are rooting for an overall entertaining competition rather than specific medal contenders.

Sport Climbing

The first climbing gold will go to the male and female climber with the lowest combined score in three different disciplines. The decision to combine speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing—which require distinct skills and are often competed separately—has been a source of controversy in the sport. Five-time Czech world champion Adam Ondra said “anything would be better” than this format.

When to watch

Men and women’s combined qualifications start at 4 a.m. ET on August 3 and August 4, respectively, with the finals set to begin at 4:30 a.m. on August 5 and August 6.

Storyline to follow

The inclusion of speed climbing in the combined competition continues to be the major storyline of sport climbing’s olympic debut—especially considering that speed climbers will compete for their own set of medals in 2024.

“It’s a bit like asking Usain Bolt to run a marathon and then do the hurdles,” two-time bouldering World Cup champion Shauna Coxsey said in 2017. “No one has really transitioned before. No boulderer has transitioned to speed and lead, and no speed climber has done it to bouldering and lead.”


Ballgames are back for the first time since 2008. After being dropped by the IOC, baseball will make its return at the host country’s insistence. Baseball-mad Japan will be joined by the U.S., Mexico, Israel, South Korea and the Dominican Republic in the six-team field. But with active MLB players sidelined because of scheduling conflicts, the world’s best won’t be in attendance.

When to watch

Baseball’s opening round begins at 11 a.m. ET on July 27 and continues through July 31. Following the knockout stage and semifinals, the gold medal game will take place on August 7 at 11 p.m.

Storyline to follow

With no active MLB players to pull from, Team USA’s roster is made up of a slate of former major leaguers and top minor league prospects. While other countries, like host nation Japan, also miss out on MLB stars, their own professional leagues take time off to give their national teams the best chance at gold by allowing top players to participate in the Olympics.


The revived Olympic softball tournament will see six qualifying teams—rather than the eight of previous Games—face off against each other in a preliminary round-robin series. This format guarantees a rematch of the 2008 gold-medal game between Japan and the U.S., which Japan won. Italy, Mexico, Canada and Australia round out the field—but don’t be surprised if the deep U.S. and Japan teams meet again for gold.

When to watch

Round-robin play began on July 20 and continues through July 25. The medal matches will be played on July 27, with the gold medal game set for 7 a.m. ET.

Medal contenders

Team USA and Team Japan—who went head to head for gold the last time softball was included in the Olympic program at the 2008 Games in Beijing—are once again the top two contenders to stand atop the podium. Their opening round meeting is scheduled for July 25 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com