Tokyo 2020: What you need to know about the new Olympic sports

There will be five new sports added to the women's programme at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) considered multiple factors when deciding which sports would make the cut: the impact on gender equality, the youth appeal of the sports, and the legacy of adding them to the Tokyo Games.

Here’s our guide to the new sports and how they will look at the Olympics this summer.

Sport Climbing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, rather than climbing up it, you’ll know that climbing is the new brunch - everyone is doing it. The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) website says the sport is enjoying an increase in popularity, with an estimated 25 million people across the world climbing regularly. They also estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 people are trying climbing for the first time, every single day, in the United States.

With the worldwide climbing community growing there’s never been a better time to introduce the sport to the Olympics.

In Tokyo it will be a combined format featuring three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing - all of which take place on artificial climbing walls. The gold medal will be awarded to the climber with the highest cumulative score. There will be both men’s and women’s events at the Olympics, with 20 climbers competing in each from the 3rd to 6th August 2021. Nations taking part are South Korea, South Africa, Poland, Australia, and Kazkhstsan.

A variety of different skills and strengths will be needed to compete across all three disciplines - it’s like asking a sprinter to run 100m, 1500m and then do the hurdles, kind of.

  • Speed climbing Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other in head-to-head competition. Both climbers are secured to safety ropes and attempt to scale a 15-meter wall, set at an angle of 95 degrees, faster than their opponent on identical routes. Winning times for the men’s and women’s events tend to be around six to eight seconds. A false start results in instant disqualification.

  • Bouldering In this event climbers scale a number of fixed routes on a 4m wall within a given time, without ropes, over a safety mat. The routes vary in difficulty and climbers are not permitted to practice climbing them in advance. When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, they are deemed to have completed it. Climbers tackle the wall without safety ropes and if they fall during their attempt, they can try a route again during their allotted four minutes. The walls used for bouldering present a range of challenges, with overhangs and some holds so small that they can only be held by the fingertips. Climbers must plan each move carefully, thinking about which hand and foot to place in the next holds, while constantly being aware of the time limit.

  • Lead climbing This sees the competitors attempt to climb as high as possible on an overhanging 15m wall within a six minute time limit. They are secured by a rope. The athlete who climbs to the highest point wins. Competitors can preview the route during a collective observation time of six minutes, but cannot attempt the route prior to the competition. When a climber grabs the final hold at the top of a route with both hands, they have completed it. If a climber falls, the height (hold number) attained is recorded. There are no re-climbs. If two or more athletes complete the climb or reach exactly the same height, the fastest to do so is declared the winner.

Click here to read up on all the athletes competing in Sports Climbing.

📸: Bouldering


Surfing also makes its Olympic debut this summer on the real waves at Shidshita beach, 40 miles outside of Tokyo on Japan’s pacific coast. Twenty men and twenty women will compete in separate competitions.

Surfing competitions are usually divided by the size of the board, shortboards will be used at the Tokyo 2020 Games. They are approximately six feet (1.8m) in length, compared to longboards which are around nine feet (2.7m). The competition will use a four-man heat structure - four athletes will compete at a time. The best two of each heat continue to the next round.

Shortboards have a pointed tip which makes them quicker to manoeuvre and receptive to dynamic techniques. Common surfing etiquette will be used:

  • only one rider may ride a wave

  • the surfer closest to the peak has ‘right of way’

  • any interference with another surfer can incur a penalty or point deductions

There will be a panel of judges to determine performance. Scores are based on difficulty of manoeuvres and how they are executed, taking into account speed, power and flow. Riding as many waves as possible and performing loads of manoeuvres is not going to pick up the highest scores, doing a variety of dynamic moves on large waves is the way to win gold.

Like with planning routes in climbing, surfing involves plenty of mind games as athletes can throw each other off by pretending not to be interested in a wave or by paddling but not catching it.

The roster below–broken down by the avenue each athlete qualified through–features a wide range of surfers, representing 17 different countries.

2019 WSL Championship Tour

Carissa Moore (USA) Caroline Marks (USA) Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) Silvana Lima (BRA) Brisa Hennessy (CRC) Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) Johanne Defay (FRA)

2021 World Surfing Games

Yolanda Sequeria (POR) Teresa Bonvalot (POR) Daniella Rosas (PER) Leilani McGonagle (CRC) Mahina Maeda (JPN) Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN) Pauline Ado (FRA)

2019 World Surfing Games

Anat Lelior (ISR) Bianca Buitendag (RSA) Ella Williams (NZL) Sofia Mulanovich (PER)

2019 Pan Am Games

Dominic Barona (ECU)

📸: Surfing added to Tokyo Olympics


The Olympics are getting really down with the kids with this one. Skateboarding is rolling into Tokyo 2020 with two events, Park and Street.

The Street Skateboarding event is held on a, wait for it, ‘street-like’ course. In the Street event, the competitors perform individually and show off their skills or ‘tricks’ on stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls and slopes. They are scored based on the level of difficulty, height, speed, originality, execution and move composition and include the following:

  • Slide: A slide is a trick where the skateboarder slides sideways either on the deck (wooden board) or on the wheels.

  • Grind: This involves the skateboarder sliding on the trucks of their skateboard (the part which connect the wheels and bearings to the deck of the skateboard).

  • Ollie: An ollie is a trick where the rider and board leap into the air without the use of the rider's hands.

  • Regular stance: This is the side-on position taken by skateboarders with their left leg facing the direction they are moving.

  • Goofy stance: When a skateboarder rides with their right leg facing the direction they are moving. When they swap the position of the front leg in a competition they go from main stance to switch stance. A trick performed in switch stance would usually increase the degree of difficulty.

Athletes representing their nation in street skateboarding:

1. Pamela Rosa (BRA)

2. Rayssa Leal (BRA)

3. Aori Nishimura (JPN)

4. Leticia Bufoni (BRA)

5. Momiji Nishiya (JPN)

6. Mariah Duran (USA)

7. Roos Zwetsloot (NED)

8. Candy Jacobs (NED)

9. Hayley Wilson (AUS)

10. Funa Nakayama (JPN)

11. Alexis Sablone (USA)

12. Keet Oldenbeuving (NED)

13. Margielyn Arda Didal (PHI)

14. Alana Smith (USA)

15. Wenhui Zeng (CHN)

16. Lore Bruggeman (BEL)

17. Julia Brueckler (AUT)

18. Charlotte Hym (FRA)

19. Asia Lanzi (ITA)

20. Boipelo Awuah (RSA)

The Park Skateboarding event will take place on a hollowed-out course featuring a series of curved surfaces that rise steeply. Competitors climb the curves at speed and perform mid-air tricks. They are scored on the difficulty, originality and execution of their tricks.

Athletes representing their nation in park skateboarding:

1. Misugu Okamoto (JPN)

2. Sakura Yosozumi (JPN)

3. Sky Brown (GBR)

4. Poppy Starr Olsen (AUS)

5. Lizzie Armanto (FIN)

6. Kokona Hiraki (JPN)

7. Bryce Wettstein (USA)

8. Dora Varella (BRA)

9. Isadora Rodrigues Pacheco (BRA)

10. Brighton Zeuner (USA)

11 Jordyn Barratt (USA)

12 Yndiara Asp (BRA)

13. Julia Benedetti (SPA)

14. Lilly Stoephasius (GER)

15. Xin Zhang (CHN)

16. Madeleine Larcheron (FRA)

17. Amelia Brodka (POL)

18. Josefina Tapia Varas (CHI)

19. Bombette Martin (GBR)

20. Melissa Williams (RSA)

📸: Sky Brown - Representing Great Britain in street skateboarding


Karate in the Olympics will consist of kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). A Karate practitioner is called a karateka. The Tokyo 2020 Games will see 80 athletes competing in the two styles.

There will be a kata men’s and women’s event, and three weight classes each for men’s and women’s kumite events. There are 102 kata that are recognized by the World Karate Federation.


This is a demonstration of a series of offensive and defensive movements made to be practiced alone targeting a virtual opponent. Competitors at the 2020 Games choose which kata they want to demonstrate. They are scored on strength, speed, rhythm, balance, power of strikes and kicks, solidity, clarity, force of movements… and that’s not even everything.


Also known as sparring, is when two karateka face each other. They compete on a matted area measuring 8m x 8m. Karateka wear a traditional suit known as a karate gi. It is tied with a belt or sash called an obi. In kumite, competitors are allowed to use three techniques: striking, kicking and punching. They have to try and land strikes on the target area of their opponent’s body to gain points. They get more points for attacks with good form, power and control.

📸: Olympic Karate


Thought to have been introduced as an indoor version of baseball for the off-season, softball was introduced to the Olympics as a women’s sport in Atlanta 1996, and then removed with baseball in 2008.

It is very similar to baseball but with a shorter distance between pitcher and batter, the ball in larger and less dense, and the bat is shorter. The ball must be thrown underhand when pitching, this means the ball is released while the wrist is passing the side of the body.

In softball, Japan qualified automatically as the host nation, and the United States qualified by virtue of winning the 2018 world championship. The last four teams (Canada, Mexico, Australia, Italy) in the six-team field qualified through a series of regional tournaments.

Each team will play each other once in the opening round. The top two teams will progress to the gold medal game, while the third and fourth-ranked teams will play for bronze. Games will consist of seven innings with extra innings played until one team has outscored the other at the completion of the inning. Tiebreakers for the win-loss record will be the head-to-head game, followed by runs allowed in the opening round. In the event two or more teams are tied, the federation with the lowest runs against record will be granted the higher rank.

Japan won the softball gold medal that last go-around in 2008, so it's no surprise the sport's back for these games in Tokyo. However, Softball's Olympic future remains tenuous. It's not on the program at the 2024 games in Paris, but McCleney and others are hopeful it's back in 2028, when Los Angeles hosts the Olympics.

📸: USA Softball

Whilst the addition of new sports are exciting, existing sports have also added new events.

What else is new?

There will be nine new mixed gender events across seven sports:

  • Archery - mixed team

  • Athletics - mixed 4x400m

  • Judo - mixed team

  • Shooting - mixed 10m air rifle, mixed 10m air pistol, mixed trap

  • Swimming - 4x100m mixed medley relay

  • Table tennis - mixed doubles

  • Triathlon - mixed relay

There are also further new events debuting at the 2020 Olympics. They are:

  • Boxing - women's featherweight, women's welterweight

  • Canoe slalom - women's C1

  • Canoe sprint -women's C1 200m, women's C2 500m

  • Cycling - women's madison, BMX freestyle park

  • Rowing - women's coxless four

  • Swimming - women's 1500m freestyle

Make sure to tune in and show support for the incredible female athletes representing their nation this summer.

- Jessica Blissett

Thanks for reading 💚

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