Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: Ranking the sports you will see this summer
An Olympics in Tokyo that promises more variety than ever before with five new sports (sport climbing, karate, surfing, skateboarding and softball/baseball) and a total of 34 new events, including nine new mixed gender events, across 33 sports in total.
With that in mind, Telegraph Sport gives its verdict on the sports that will be contested in Tokyo for this summer’s Olympic Games, including breaking some of the larger sports down into individual events.
Highly niche sitting-down sport with unintelligible jargon for posh people, made worse on TV by the fact that it’s filmed from about a hundred miles away. Has a key sporting moment happened? Has Sir Ben Ainslie been boarded? Or is that a seal on a rock? Hard to tell.
Rating: needs more pirates.
46: Rhythmic gymnastics
Balancing a ball on yourself is a really cool and impressive trick, if you are an aquatic mammal employed by Sea World. Mucking about with a streamer. Sequins. Tears. Overbearing parents. Feels like Netflix’s wildest real life documentary series of 2022 waiting to happen.
Rating: only a legitimate sporting option if you failed at clown college.
Gee, who do you think will win?
Rating: USA! USA! USA!
44: Basketball 3×3
There’s more? If you’ve ever watched a basketball match, in which five tall people face off against five other tall people, and thought, “you know what, I could really get into this if there just two fewer tall people each side” then, well, have we got the sport for you! The organisers are promising “an urban atmosphere”.
Rating: urban, sure. What about rural basketballers, though?
Come off it, football. You’ve got your own world competitions and professional leagues, and everyone pays attention to you all the time. This is very needy.
Rating: let someone else have a look-in, eh?
The disappointing ‘pew’ of an air-pistol and, some metres away, a slightly punctured piece of paper.
Rating: off target
41: Marathon swimming
Gruelling for the competitors, worse for the spectators. Sadly reminiscent of a million boring newspaper features about how the writer discovered wild swimming in lockdown and felt an enormous sense of perspective and peace. Give it a rest, Tabitha. Nobody’s interested in your underwater midlife crisis.
Rating: as much fun as a bit of cold, clammy seaweed wrapped around your leg.
40: Modern pentathlon
Featuring the five universal athletic pursuits of fencing, polo, owning a castle, emotional repression and braying.
Rating: the Corinthian Ideal, now dominated by former Soviets, like owning property in London.
39: BMX racing
Like normal bicycle racing, only with your knees up around your ears and a bumpier track.
Rating: Crash, bang, wallop
38: BMX freestyle
Hello fellow kids. The Olympics is really wicked, as you young people say.
Rating: aren’t you a bit old for this?
The noble and ancient Japanese art of trying to untuck each other’s pyjamas.
Rating: it’s Coming Home.
The second best volleyball sport in the entire Olympics.
Rating: congratulations, vanilla volleyball, you got silver.
Much like tennis and football, this should simply be banned on the basis that it is not the pinnacle of the sport. At least it’s quite socially distanced.
Well done, America. What corporate day-out bonding exercise shall we have in the next Olympics? Raft-building? Escape room? Bitter, heavy drinking on expenses in a Travelodge off the A1?
Rating: it’s rounders, guys. Come on.
33: Equestrian: Eventing and Showjumping
Love the smart red, white and black outfits, all very Jilly Cooper. Sort of sport Britain normally does well at, its mixture of very high barriers to entry, fancy dress and twee garden design playing right into our hands.
Rating: disaster! Freddie Ringbinder-Pillock and Big Punisher have come a cropper at the sugar cubes.
Over-engineered gear takes the magic out of what should be a tremendously back to basics sport: a properly ancient pastime. Make it better by having every archer dress up as Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen, Hawkeye from Avengers etc.
Rating: not a bullseye
A mid-life crisis turned into a televised sport.
Rating: just looks so, so tiring.
30: Canoe sprint
Quite clearly not the fastest way to propel a boat, but has a pleasingly eccentric look to it and you sense there could be some epic arguments when boat buddies don’t paddle in unison.
Fun, accessible, relatively easy to have a go at yourself. Clear attempt to hook in a younger audience. Surely only a matter of time before videogaming gets a go, possibly TikTok content creation.
Rating: is Tony Hawk still involved?
Has its moments but never quite matches up to the video game – Street Fighter – on which it was originally based on. Wearing giant pillows around tummy seems a bit wet.
Rating: karate would kick its pillow off.
27: Mountain Biking
One for the nutters, can be quite exciting, loses points because it is essentially going for a hired bike ride, only you cannot stop at a country pub on way.
Rating: going to be sore in the morning.
Sure, it looks like the sort of game that would be nice on the lawn with everyone wearing a long dress or sensible tailored slacks and passing round barley water. Until someone from Malaysia hits a bit of cork into your eye from eight feet.
Rating: the tangy sadness of sports halls.
25: Artistic swimming
Occasionally produces delightful Busby Berkeley overhead shots, sometimes makes you just worry for the anxiety levels of the practitioners.
Rating: what a shame, Janine was a centimetre out on the golden lotus panorama, and now the whole team is disqualified.
Tennis’s fifth most prestigious prize, sixth if you count getting a plum BBC job alongside Tiger Tim and Sue Barker.
Rating: needs more Naomi Osaka.
Arcane, elitist, almost too quick to watch on TV, rules impenetrable to the outsider, tactics ditto, vaguely fruity. And yet those outfits! Those facemasks! Swordplay! Being wired to the mains while you win prizes! Fencing, you weird posh rascal.
Rating: easily the kinkiest Olympic sport
22: Water polo
Ferocious people from the Balkans sorting out their differences with ear defenders on, the tantalising prospect of blood in the water, the terrified helplessness of the keeper, the prospect of ducking, pushing, bombing, and petting in the shallow end.
Rating: a visceral, splashy thrill.
Stick the plumper in goal. Chuck ball at head. Repeat.
A new entry this time: these people are really good at getting up things quickly. Sport is surely crying out for a backstory/scandal about a medal winner being a reformed cat burglar. One of several Olympic sports (boxing, shooting, synchronised finger-smithing) where a criminal past would be a great preparation.
Rating: not one for the acrophobic.
19: Trampoline gymnastics
Bringing the leisure centre to the international sporting stage. Trampoline is a fun and wholesome activity for all age groups and, a bit like its Winter Olympics spirit animal luge, looks like it could just happen to you rather than you having to actively do it.
Rating: meaty, beaty, big and bouncy.
18: Beach volleyball
Other volleyball’s cooler cousin. A sport anyone can have a go at if they’ve got a ball, a bathing costume, and a beach.
Rating: most dramatic sand-based spectacle since Lawrence of Arabia.
17: Road cycling
Not as good as the Tour de France, but Britain is always in with a shout.
Surfing finally gets a chance at the Olympics. Reliant on getting decent waves. Hoping for some excellent “woah dude” post-event interviews with the competitors.
Grapplin’! And not the kind where drugged up 300 pound actors hit each other with folding chairs. Hard, oiled men from Kazakhstan holding each other down until one of them begs for mercy. One of those sports where you’re just really glad to be watching from thousands of miles away.
Rating: specialist interest.
14: Table tennis
Quite rare Olympic sport in that most people have had a go at some time, possibly on a camp site, possibly in a youth club. Makes you appreciate how amazing Olympians are at things, a sense of connection that you don’t get with, say, pole vault.
Rating: the most 1970s sport on offer. Strong orange squash and Wagon Wheel vibes.
Gloriously vivid royal blue pitch can give you the impression that you are watching Premier League Years during an acid flashback, Great Britain seem good at it, it’s enough like football that you can pick up the ebb and flow. Epic face masks.
Rating: where were the Germans, but frankly who cares?
Almost every article or TV feature at rowing seems defensively quick to claim that “it’s not just posh people at Oxbridge, you know, ahahaha”. Whatever you say, your grace. Actually televises quite well because it scrolls horizontally like an old fashioned Daley Thompson Decathlon game.
Rating: which one’s Cambridge?
Most of us have done it, and these people do it without being shouted at by a sadistic games teacher, being made to pick up a brick, or getting a verruca. You could argue there are too many events: if you fell out of a boat, you wouldn’t really care if you got to the life raft via doggy paddle or like a frog, would you?
Rating: Enjoy an incredibly hot drink in a tiny beige cup from the vending machine afterwards.
New for this Games; mildly surprising that it hasn’t been in before when judo and taekwondo have. The film’s not called The Judo Kid, is it? There isn’t a 1970s men’s fragrance called Hai Taekwondo, was there? Maybe they should settle it with a big multidisciplinary fight.
Rating: the best of the fighty sports? Certainly the one most imitated in the playground, which has to count for something.
9: Rugby Sevens
Yes austerity rugby. But there’s loads of scoring because the pitch is so massive and the little mini Mars bar sized scrum is cute.
Rating: God, it looks tiring though, on that pitch.
Abs you could open a can of soup with, the weird co-dependency of the synchro pair, dear old Tom Daley still plugging away. Isn’t it? Marvellous.
Rating: mind your head.
7: Canoe slalom
Wave machine high jinks, looks like a right laugh, only takes about a minute and a half, Britain won gold last time. Eskimo Rolls look fun.
Rating: continuing to rehabilitate canoeing’s reputation after Deliverance.
The sweet science, as performed by rock hard little brawlers from Cuba. Fun to watch the amateur stars of the future before they go pro, a bit like Masterchef.
Rating: serious contender.
Would you like to watch a very tiny Turk lift a Renault Espace above their head? Of course you would.
4: Track cycling
Compelling to watch, the lovely bank of the track, the overhead shots, the sleek futuristic helmets. GB rule. To the outsider, feels like they might be making up events while drunk. “Let’s have one where everyone chases a motorcycle”… “What about one where they do a million laps of the track?”… “Make three of them go on a bike at once”…
Rating: I can’t tell what happened, but apparently it’s another medal for Team GB.
3: Artistic gymnastics
So elegant, so difficult, so cruel, so capricious. Land of the four foot nine superhero.
Rating: flippin’ good
With no disrespect to the other 46 sports on this list, you could bin off each and every one of them and you’d still have an Olympics as long as you had track and field. You don’t need stuff, you don’t have to be rich, you just have to have talent and will. The greatest.
Rating: suspend disbelief, marvel, celebrate the human spirit.
1: Equestrian Dressage
They made a horse dance to Santana. What sort of twisted genius comes up with that?
Rating: the greatest sport horsekind has yet devised, the Champion the wonder horse of the whole Olympics. The gold medal.