sport climbing

Guide to New Sports at the Tokyo Olympics

3x3 basketball, skateboarding and more join the Olympic program for the first time.

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Tokyo Olympics look like no other Summer Games before and that's partially because this year's competition will feature several brand-new sports: 3x3 basketball, skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing and karate. 

Baseball and softball will also make a one-time return, as baseball is wildly popular in Japan and the International Olympic Committee now allows host countries to propose additions to the program. 

Here’s everything you need to know about all the new sports in Tokyo:

Sport climbing

Sport climbing is essentially indoor rock climbing on an inverted wall with holds placed that athletes use to make their way to the top. There are three different disciplines that will all be combined into one event at the Tokyo Olympics, taking place Aug. 3-6. Since the three disciplines are usually contested separately, the Olympics will pose a unique challenge to the 20 men and 20 women who have qualified.

In lead climbing, the wall is also 15 meters high, but the holds are placed in different locations so it's more challenging to reach the top. At the Olympics, climbers will have one chance to get as far up the wall as they can within the six-minute time limit.

Bouldering takes place on a wall only four meters (13 feet) tall, so athletes don't use a safety rope. They score points for the difficulty of the routes that they follow to the top.

In speed climbing, two climbers go head-to-head to scramble up a 15-meter (49-foot) wall. Blink and you'll miss it -- men usually complete the challenge in five seconds, and women in seven seconds. All speed walls have holds in the same place so that records are comparable across different competitions.

Sport climbing will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year. Rutledge Wood previews the new Olympic sport alongside Olympian Brooke Raboutou.


Skateboarding will showcase two different disciplines in the Olympics, street and park, with 80 athletes representing 26 different countries in all. Three athletes from the United States will compete in each of the four events (men’s street on July 24, women’s street on July 25, men’s park on Aug. 4, women’s park on Aug. 3). All events will be whittled down to eight-person finals after the preliminary heats.

Street skateboarding takes place on a course that mimics obstacles in the real world, like stairs and rails. Nyjah Huston of the United States, who had won three straight world championships before finishing second in this year’s competition, is one of the favorites for men’s street. Each skater will take two 45-second runs and perform five tricks, each of which will receive a score out of 10.00 from the judges. Out of those seven performances, the skater’s top four scores will count.

In park skateboarding, skaters complete their tricks within a dome-shaped bowl. In the Olympics, each skater takes three runs, but only the best score counts. Five judges will grade the skaters on a 100-point scale, with the highest and lowest scores getting thrown out.

Street Skateboarder Nyjah Huston shows off his tattoos and explains his skate style.


Surfing at the Tokyo Olympics will take place on Tsurigasaki Beach, 45 miles southeast of Tokyo on the Pacific Coast. The event is scheduled for July 24-28 but will depend on the weather conditions.

The 40 surfers will compete in different heats and catch as many waves as they can during the allotted time. Judges will give them scores out of 10.00 on each wave, with each surfer’s top two scores counting.

Surfer Kalohe Andino catches a big lego wave as he explains his sport using the iconic plastic bricks.


Like baseball and softball, karate was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games because of its popularity in Japan. It will not be on the slate of events in 2024.

Karate normally has five weight classes for kumite (sparring head-to-head), but the IOC condensed it to three weight classes for the Olympics. As a result, there will be eight medal events: three men’s kumite, three women’s kumite and kuma (solo demonstration of moves, or forms) for both men and women. Forty athletes will compete from Aug. 4-7, with no more than one representative from each country in each event.

3x3 basketball

The smaller, faster cousin of traditional five-on-five basketball, 3x3 basketball will also make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Played on a half-court, games end after one team scores 21 points or go to overtime if neither team has 21 points after 10 minutes. Each team has only four players in total, and baskets are worth one point, two points if they come from beyond the arc.

How many teams will compete at 3x3 basketball at the Tokyo Olympics?

Eight men’s and eight women’s teams will compete in the tournaments, taking place July 23-28. The U.S. women secured their spot at the Olympic qualifying tournament and will look to challenge the favored French team. Serbia and Latvia are favored in the men’s tournament, which doesn’t include the United States after it failed to qualify.

How does the 2021 Olympic baseball tournament work?

At the Tokyo Olympics, there will be six teams competing for a gold medal. Each team will play two opening round games followed by a knockout stage. Then there will be semifinals to determine who plays in the medal games on Aug. 6-7. The six teams competing are Japan, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, the United States and the Dominican Republic.

How many softball teams are going to the Tokyo Olympics?

The Olympic softball tournament in Tokyo will also feature only six teams each. The United States, Japan, Australia, Italy, Mexico and Canada will play a round-robin tournament culminating in the bronze medal game and gold medal game Tuesday, July 27.

Was breakdancing added to the Olympics?

Breakdancing, or breaking, will not take place in Tokyo, but the IOC approved it for inclusion at the 2024 Paris Games.

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