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Brandon Veale column: What's new in Tokyo

A field guide to the sports making their debut, or their return, on the Olympic program in these Games.

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Brandon Veale
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The COVID-19 pandemic has sucked up a lot of the "news oxygen" around the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but now that competition is underway, you may find some new sports and events jumped on to the Olympic program when you weren't watching.

Technically, one of the new sports is wrestling, which is replacing wrestling, which was dropped after 2016. Yeah, you're reading that sentence right. Setting aside International Olympic Committee shenanigans, here's a look at the new events you can look forward to.

One of those sports, softball, has already started. The United States blanked Italy 2-0 on Tuesday night (Wednesday afternoon in Japan) in its first game of the six-team round-robin tournament and played Canada, whose pitcher Sara Groenewegen is a University of Minnesota alum, on Wednesday (Thursday morning in Japan). The sport is tag-teaming with baseball, which will run a six-team tournament starting in about a week.

The two sports are using the same fields, which isn't a great look, but it's not just sexism. Being able to stage both tournaments at one set of facilities was expected to make their bid more viable. The whole field is turfed, so besides aesthetic considerations, all the organizers need to do is detach the mound (softball pitchers throw from flat ground) and move the bases forward. It's not ideal, but hey, Minnesota Duluth plays most of its home softball games on a football field.

You may remember that both of these were in the Olympics, and you're right. Baseball was a medal sport from 1992 and softball from 1996 until both were dropped after Beijing in 2008. However, the International Olympic Committee has given local organizers a freer hand to stage some events that are likely to appeal to the locals. Baseball and softball are well-known in Japan, but less so in France, so the sport is already out for 2024 but likely to be back in 2028 when the Games return to Los Angeles.


That "local appeal" angle is probably why karate will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo. There'll be three weight classes of kumite (sparring) in each gender, and a kata competition, in which participants will be judged on their form while executing moves. For fans of "The Karate Kid," there is one participant named Daniel (a Canadian) and none named Miyagi.

Ever since the IOC added snowboarding to the Olympic Winter Games program in 1998, it has been accused of parroting ESPN's X Games to pander to young viewers. That criticism may grow louder as in 2020, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing are events making their Olympic debuts that have all appeared in previous X editions. Street luge and skysurfing, sadly, did not make the cut.

The sport climbing event will be an all-around with three parts: speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering.

Skateboarding will include separate park and street events for both genders.

The surfing event will be unique in that it is being deliberately loosely scheduled to take place at a time during the Olympic period with the best waves. If you think that's odd, know that the surfing competition for Paris 2024 is scheduled to take place in Tahiti, which is only 9,764 miles away from the Eiffel Tower. There must be a dearth of good waves on the Seine.

There are also a few new events to look forward to within established sports. For the first time, men and women will compete in the same program of swimming races in an Olympics, and will even join forces in one, a medley relay. Who swims what is up to the teams, so it's possible there could be a battle of the sexes down the stretch in an Olympic final.

There will also be 3-on-3 half-court basketball. Teams will play to 21 (by ones and twos), win by two, or for 10 minutes. There's a 12-second shot clock. I have not heard if the winning team gets T-shirts to go with their gold medals.

Despite inventing basketball, the U.S. failed to qualify a men's team for this inaugural tournament. The women's team had to make a last-minute change when one of its players failed a COVID test before getting on the plane to Japan, but the sub, like the other three members on the team, is a WNBA player.


Both 3-on-3 tournaments begin on Saturday.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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