Tokyo Olympics: All 6 new sports explained

Skateboarding, climbing, surfing and more all feature at the Tokyo Olympics.

Danielle Kosecki
Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for 15 years. She's written for Glamour, More, Prevention and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in Oakland where she doesn't miss winter at all.
Mark Serrels Editorial Director
Mark Serrels is an award-winning Senior Editorial Director focused on all things culture. He covers TV, movies, anime, video games and whatever weird things are happening on the internet. He especially likes to write about the hardships of being a parent in the age of memes, Minecraft and Fortnite. Definitely don't follow him on Twitter.
Danielle Kosecki
Mark Serrels
4 min read

Adam Ondra is among the favorites for the first men's gold medal in sport climbing.

Andy Bao/Getty Images

The Tokyo Olympics is here! And this year brings the debut of around six new sports. Climbing is making a long overdue appearance, alongside skateboarding. Surfing and karate are also along for the ride with baseball and softball. 

Here's everything you need to know.

New sports at the Tokyo Olympics


Fittingly, karate -- a martial art that originated in Okinawa during the Ryukyu Dynasty -- makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, joining judo, taekwondo and wrestling. It consists of two disciplines for both men and women: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). 

In kata, the athletes demonstrate a series of offensive and defensive movements against a virtual opponent and are evaluated on strength, speed, rhythm, balance and power, among other things, using a points system. 

In kumite, two weight-matched competitors face off in an 8 by 8 meter area for 3 minutes. They're awarded points when they land strikes, kicks or punches with good form, power and control on the target area of their opponent's body. The person with the most points at the end of the match or the first person to amass an eight-point lead is declared the winner. Want to dive deeper into karate? Head to the World Karate Federation's site for more.

man skateboarding in an outdoor skate park

Skateboarding will bring a dash of street culture to the Summer Olympics. 

Josh Hild/Unsplash


Once a sport relegated to the streets of southern California and mostly niche competitions, skateboarding is making its Olympic debut. Men's and women's Olympic skateboarding will consist of two events: park and street. The street course is designed to replicate street skating, with stairs, ramps and rails that riders can use to put together a series of tricks. Athletes skate individually on three timed runs and are scored on things like the difficulty of their tricks, speed, height and originality. Only their highest-scoring run is taken into consideration for overall rankings. 

The park event takes place on more of a bowl-shaped course, in the sense that it looks hollowed out. Riders use the inclines within the course to build momentum and perform tricks. They're judged on difficulty and originality, among other things. Learn more about competitive skateboarding.

Sport climbing

woman bouldering

Bouldering walls are shorter but include a variety of challenges, like tiny holds and overhangs.

Bhargava Marripati/Unsplash

In the Olympics, men's and women's sport climbing will consist of three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. In speed climbing, two athletes secure themselves to ropes and race each other on a fixed route to the top of a 15-meter high wall. 

Bouldering involves climbers -- without safety ropes -- individually trying to ascend as many fixed routes on a 4-meter high wall as they can within 4 minutes. And in lead climbing, athletes will try to climb as high as they can on a 15-meter high wall within 6 minutes, again using safety ropes. If two people reach the same height, the person who did it fastest wins. 

Although climbers compete in these three events separately in world cup competition, each Olympic athlete will have to participate in each one as a mixed event, which has caused controversy in the climbing community. Final rankings will be determined by combined scores. Learn more about sport climbing.


Surfing makes its Olympic debut when women and men shortboard competitors hit Japan's coast. Multiple athletes compete at a time, with each heat lasting 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the quality of the waves. During that time each wave can only have one rider. Instead of being judged on how many waves they catch, the athletes are judged on the difficulty of the maneuvers they perform, with masterful execution on large waves bringing the highest scores. Learn more about competitive surfing.

Sports returning to the Tokyo Olympics

Baseball and softball

After being absent from the last two Summer Olympics, men's baseball and women's softball are returning. Because baseball isn't wildly popular around the world, only six countries will compete.

In both sports, two teams alternate between batting and fielding when the fielding team secures three "outs." Each round of hitting and fielding makes up what's called an "inning" and each game consists of nine innings. The team with the most runs after nine innings wins. Tied scores are resolved through extra innings. 

softball on a field

After a two-Games hiatus, both softball and baseball will be back in the Summer Olympics lineup.


Baseball and softball are both played in roughly the same manner with a few differences: Softball is played with a larger ball on a small field and the pitcher throws underhand from flat ground (not a mound). Softball bats also tend to be shorter, lighter and smaller in diameter. Learn more about baseball and softball.

In addition to the new and returning sports above, the International Olympic Committee has also given the green light to a variety of new events within basketball, swimming, track and field and more.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.