July 24 marks two years until the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. While we don’t yet know the names of the more than 11,000 athletes that will be competing, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the new sports and events in which many of them will be competing.
While some sports will be totally new, others are returning to the Olympic program after an absence, and some existing sports are adding new events.
Here are all the changes to watch out for when the Games get underway on July 24, 2020:
Archery has been on the Olympic program since 1972, but it adds a mixed team event to the existing men’s and women’s individual and team recurve events for 2020. Mixed team is a match play format as teams of one man and one woman face off head-to-head. The event was tested at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 and 2014 and has been contested at the World Archery Championships since 2011. U.S. teams of Olympians Brady Ellison and Mackenzie Brown, and Ellison and Khatuna Lorig have been very successful on the world cup stage the past few years.
Baseball (men’s) and softball (women’s) make their return to the Olympic program after a two-Games absence, and it could not be more appropriate. In a country crazy for both sports, fans will no doubt pack the stadiums whenever Samurai Japan is playing. But Team USA may be the team to beat, having won the most recent World Baseball Classic. Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s softball team will look to defend its world championship in Chiba, Japan, next month. Baseball was contested at the Games from 1992-2008, with Team USA medaling at three of those five appearances. The U.S. women’s softball team won three golds and a silver in four Games from 1996-2008.
Four Olympic medals are now up for grabs in basketball with the addition of the 3-on-3 variant, which includes teams of four athletes. 3x3 is a half-court game with a single basket. Shots inside the arc are worth one point and shots from outside are worth two. The first team to 21 points wins, or the team leading at the end of the 10-minute regulation time. 3x3 made its debut at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, and now has its own FIBA World Cup. The U.S. women’s team won gold at the 2014 Youth Games, and two of the players from that squad are now on the women’s national team.
Boxing sees greater gender equality in 2020 as the number of men’s weight divisions goes from 10 to eight and women’s increases from three to five. Women’s boxing made its Olympic debut in 2012, and Team USA has since won three medals. Claressa Shields won the middleweight gold medal in both 2012 and 2016.
Gender equality was also considered in canoe/kayak, as three women’s events have been added and three dropped for men. In sprint, women’s C1 200-meter and C2 500-meter are new (one- and two-person canoe, respectively), while men’s K2 200 (doubles kayak) and C1 200 will be dropped. The only new event for men will be the K4 500 (four-person kayak). In slalom, women’s C1 makes its Olympic debut, and men’s C2 will be removed.
BMX racing was introduced at the Beijing Games in 2008, but BMX park, which is contested at X Games and on the UCI world cup circuit, makes its debut in 2020. A park course is used for both skateboarding (see below) and BMX, and resembles an empty, irregularly-shaped swimming pool. Riders have three timed runs to put together their best routine for the judges.
On the track, Madison cycling makes its return to the program after having been dropped following the 2008 Games. In Madison, pairs of riders race each other over a set distance, switching back and forth between who is racing and who is resting.
For the first time, all six team events will be contested at the Games. In the past, the events would alternate with a different two sitting out each Games. Men’s team saber and women’s team foil were not contested in Rio, and they will be on the program in Tokyo, as well as men’s and women’s team epee, men’s team foil and women’s team saber.
Judo appropriately made its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 1964, having been founded in Japan in 1882. New for 2020 is a mixed team event in which each nation will form a team of three men and three women, each from one of three weight classes.
Another martial art native to Japan, karate will be making its Olympic debut in 2020. Karate broadly has two disciplines: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). The sparring competition is broken down by weight class — three each for men and women. There is just one forms competition, in which athletes display their ability to perform the movements of karate, with events for men and women.
For greater gender equality, the men’s lightweight four was dropped for 2020 and the women’s four added in its place. This is the first change to the Olympic rowing program since 1996. Rowing events will take place in Tokyo Bay.
Shooting is another sport mixing it up by adding a mixed team event. Duos of one man and one woman will compete in air pistol, air rifle and trap. At the most recent ISSF World Cup stop in Tucson, Arizona, Team USA placed two trap teams on the podium.
Skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in 2020 with park and street competitions for men and women. While the park course is the same as the aforementioned BMX competition, the street course consists of ramps and rails for riders to put together a varied routine of tricks. Competitors get three timed runs to post their best score. Look for Team USA to be contenders in all skateboarding events, as Americans won gold in all four at the most recent X Games in Minneapolis.
Another new sport for 2020, sport climbing debuts with an overall competition encompassing three events typically competed separately on the world cup circuit: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. Speed climbing is much like it sounds, with two climbers racing each other to the top of a 15-meter high wall. Bouldering tests an athlete’s technical ability, presenting climbers with a short course that they have to negotiate in a fixed amount of time. In lead climbing, athletes attempt to climb as high as they can on a 15-meter wall within six minutes. This competition requiring varied skills should put climbers to the test.
The fifth and final new sport for Tokyo, surfing will be contested on Shidashita Beach in Chiba, roughly 40 miles outside the capital. Surfing will be of the shortboard variety with a competition for both men and women. Twenty surfers will be entered in each with up to two per gender per nation. Four athletes compete at a time in heats, with each heat lasting 20-25 minutes.
During that time, surfers are judged on their skill in riding the waves and awarded a score. Surfing conditions are highly variable, and as such, competition will have a 16-day window to allow for optimal waves.
One new distance will be added in both the men’s and women’s competitions, as well as one mixed gender event. The 800-meter freestyle joins the men’s program, and the 1,500 free gets added for women. Both distances have been featured in the opposite gender’s program for some time. Five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky holds the 1,500 free world record, which she broke for the sixth time in May. The 4x100-meter mixed medley has also been added, which is similar to the men’s and women’s mixed relay but features two athletes of each gender. Team USA won gold in this event at the 2017 world championships.
Mixed doubles gets added to the Olympic program for 2020, joining men’s and women’s singles and team events. It has long been a fixture at the World Table Tennis Championships dating back to 1926. Team USA will be looking for its first Olympic table tennis medal in any event.
Triathlon will add a mixed event of its own in 2020 with a mixed team relay. Each nation will field a team of two men and two women, and each athlete will complete a scaled down version of the Olympic triathlon. This will consist of a 300-meter swim, an 8-kilometer bike ride and a 2-kilometer run. Team USA has medaled twice so far this season at the ITU World Triathlon Series, including gold in June.
Track and Field
Strategy is the name of the game as the 4x400 mixed joins the track and field program. Each team consists of two men and two women, and the order in which they run will be a key decision facing each nation. Team USA won the silver medal at the event’s debut at the 2017 IAAF World Relays.
Two more women’s teams will compete in Tokyo than in Rio, bringing the total to 12 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams. Women’s water polo debuted at the Games in 2000 with six countries competing. The U.S. women’s team is a two-time defending Olympic champion and the only one to medal at every Games.