A Brief Guide to Every Sport at the Olympics


Thirty-three sports. Three hundred and thirty-nine events. And approximately 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals in waiting.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics (yes, the Games are still being referred to as 2020) are scheduled to proceed on July 23, with a few preliminary events on July 21 and 22.

Here’s the lowdown on every sport, including the Olympic debuts of surfing, skateboarding, karate and sport climbing.

5 GOLD MEDALS AWARDED

It’s a little different than at summer camp: The archers try to hit a bull’s-eye that is about the size of a grapefruit from 70 meters away. South Korea is the dominant team and has won all eight women’s team gold medals since the event was added in 1988. Brady Ellison of the United States, who has two silver medals and a bronze in his career, will be aiming for his fourth Olympics.

The sport was formerly known as synchronized swimming. Russia has been the top team for many years. Although coed duet competition has been added at the world championships, the Olympics is still for women only.

5 GOLDS

4 GOLDS

The American men have won six of the seven gold medals since professionals started playing on the Olympic team in 1992. The U.S. women have won eight of the last nine golds.

Three-on-three basketball for men and women has been added this year. The United States men and the Chinese women are the reigning World Cup champions in that sport. The American men’s team for qualifying events has consisted of players from the G League and European leagues. The American women have been WNBA players.

13 GOLDS

The women’s competition has expanded to five weight classes, from three. Russia and former Soviet countries like Uzbekistan have been at the top of the sport in recent years.

16 GOLDS

Canoers use a one-bladed paddle and kneel in the boat. Kayakers use a two-bladed paddle and sit. The canoe sprint takes place over a flat, straight, calm course. In canoe slalom, paddlers snake through gates in river rapids. In 2019, Nevin Harrison became the first American to win gold in the world championship canoe sprint. Conveniently, her event is being added for women to the Tokyo Olympics.

22 GOLDS

The sport has four separate disciplines at the Olympics. In road cycling, the same riders who contest the Tour de France compete. In track cycling, riders race around a banked oval at high speeds; new this year is the Madison, a sort of tag-team race for two riders. In BMX, riders race over a quick, bumpy course or perform tricks in the new freestyle competition. In mountain biking, riders traverse a long, hilly cross-country course.

8 GOLDS

China won seven of eight gold medals at the last Games. David Boudia of the United States, with four medals over three Olympics, is still going strong.

There are three types of equestrian competitions at the Games. Dressage is almost like dancing on horseback, as riders are judged on precise movements by their mounts. In jumping, horses clear high hurdles. Eventing includes both dressage and jumping, and also adds a grueling cross-country race over hurdles.

12 GOLDS

There are three different types of swords. The foil is a light thrusting weapon, and hits can be made only on the opponent’s torso. The épée is heavier, and hits can be made anywhere. The saber is the most distinct: It is a cutting weapon, and hits can be made with any part of the sword, not just the tip. While Mariel Zagunis, 36, who is still active, won women’s gold medals in 2004 and 2008, no American man has won since 1904.

2 GOLDS

Judo, a martial art focused on grappling, provides a great medal-winning opportunity for the host country. Japan historically has more than double the golds of the next closest country, and also had the most golds at the 2016 Games. The heavyweight Teddy Riner of France will be going for a third straight gold medal and fourth straight medal over all. A coed team event has been added this year.

8 Golds

Karate debuts at this Olympics. There will be six gold medals awarded in kumite, in which athletes spar against an opponent, and two in kata, a solo event in which judges evaluate competitors’ stances and movements. Japan won the most medals at the latest world championships.

2 GOLDS

It is a quirky sport that was invented for the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Athletes compete in swimming, fencing, equestrian jumping and a combined pistol shooting and running event, all in one day. Though the sport is hardly “modern,” its name comes because it is newer than the pentathlon of the ancient Greeks. The United States has won six silver medals in this sport, but never a gold.

2 GOLDS

In this women-only event, both individual athletes and teams of five perform with balls, hoops, clubs and ribbons. One piece of equipment is omitted each Games: This time the rope will be left out.

14 GOLDS

There are two types of boats. In sculling, rowers have two oars each. In sweep rowing, each rower has just one oar. The American women’s eight has won three straight Olympic gold medals, but finished third at the last world championships behind New Zealand and Australia.

2 GOLDS

At the Olympics, rugby is played with seven players on each side in a fast, free-flowing version of the game. Fiji won the inaugural men’s event in 2016, its first medal of any kind at any Games. Australia won the women’s event.

15 GOLDS

There are events for rifle, pistol and shotgun. Three coed team events have been added this year. A live pigeon shooting event held in 1900 did not return, and that competition is now considered unofficial.

4 Golds

In this judged event making its Olympic debut, gold medals will be available in street and park disciplines. The street arena is designed to simulate a city street, with stairs, railings and benches for performing tricks. The other event resembles a local skate park, with deep bowls and curves to negotiate, setting up midair tricks.

2 GOLDS

This punching and kicking combat sport has been dominated by South Korea and China. But many countries have top contenders: In 2016, athletes from Ivory Coast, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Niger and the Dominican Republic all won medals.

2 GOLDS

It’s not the American version of handball, involving bouncing a ball off a wall. Instead it’s a fast-paced team sport, something like indoor soccer, but with players throwing the ball at the goal. The American men and women did not qualify. European teams, and perhaps the South Korean women, will vie for gold.

5 GOLDS

The big stars will be on hand, but the tournaments can yield surprises. Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all have Olympic gold medals. But so does Jack Sock.

48 GOLDS

In indoor volleyball, a six-a-side game, the United States will be hoping for a medal in both the men’s and women’s events. The other contenders come from nearly every continent: On the men’s side, they include Poland and Brazil; on the women’s side, China and Serbia. In beach volleyball, for teams of two, April Ross of the United States has a silver and a bronze in the last two Games and will be looking to complete the set after turning 39 in June, this time with Alix Klineman as her partner.

2 GOLDS

The U.S. women’s team has been absurdly dominant, winning the last two Olympic golds and the last three world championships with ease. Teams from Europe should dominate on the men’s side.

14 GOLDS

Sarah Robles won a bronze medal in the top weight class in Rio, the first weight lifting medal for the United States since 2000. Since then she has won a world championship and could contend again.

18 GOLDS

In freestyle wrestling, the kind most familiar to Americans, the United States has several gold medal candidates among men and women. In Greco-Roman wrestling, a men-only event in which all holds must be above the waist, the United States is not expected to contend.

10 GOLDS

There will be competition in several kinds of boats. The RS:X is a sailboard, the Laser and Finn are one-person dinghies, the 470 is a two-person dinghy, the 49er is a skiff, and the Nacra 17 is a multihull catamaran. Wealthier countries located on the water like Australia, New Zealand and those in Western Europe tend to perform best. But Croatia did win a 2016 gold.



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