Jul 21, 2021 - Sports

Six new sports makes Tokyo 2020 the biggest Olympics ever

Illustration of the Olympic rings with a plus button.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Tokyo Olympics will feature six new or returning sports, giving this year's Games a record 41 disciplines and 339 gold medals.

  • Returning: Baseball, softball
  • New: Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, karate

The backdrop: In 2014, the IOC gave organizing committees the ability to propose new sports for inclusion. Tokyo's committee was the first to have this opportunity, and in 2016 the IOC green-lit every proposal.

The big picture: It's no accident that many of these new Olympic sports have audiences that skew younger than average.

  • "We want to take sport to the youth," IOC president Thomas Bach said in 2016. "Taken together, the [new sports] are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games."
  • By the numbers: Olympic viewers' median age has been rising, with the 2016 Rio Games drawing 30% fewer TV viewers aged 18-34 than the 2012 London Games.

Let's meet the sports ...

U.S. softball team
Photo: Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images

Baseball and softball: They both debuted in the 1990s, but have been gone since 2008. Softball is already underway, with Japan beating Australia, 8-0, and the U.S. beating Italy, 2-0, in opening day action.

  • Schedule: July 20-27 (softball); July 27-Aug. 7 (baseball)

Surfing: Debuting in 2016 on the surf-crazed beaches of Rio would have made for a better spectacle — and featured bigger waves. But there's still tons of excitement for what World Surf League CEO Erik Logan says is "validation for people who've devoted their life to this sport."

  • Schedule: July 24-27
Olympic skate park
Street (front) and park (back) sections for Olympic skateboarding. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Skateboarding: No longer resigned "just" to the X Games, skaters will compete in two events in Tokyo: street (think: rails and staircases) and park (think: big tricks in an empty swimming pool).

  • Schedule: July 24-25; Aug. 3-4

Sport climbing: Men and women will each compete in just one event, combining three formats: speed (fastest up a 15-meter wall), bouldering (think: climbing gym) and lead climbing (six minutes to get as high as possible on a very difficult wall).

  • Schedule: Aug. 3-6

Karate: 82 karatekas will compete in kumite (sparring) at three different weight classes, as well as kata — a demonstration of skills akin to gymnastics' floor exercise.

  • Schedule: Aug. 4-7

Go deeper: Sport-by-sport schedule (NBC)

Go deeper