This is part of Slate’s ranking of every Olympic event—all 339 of them. Don’t be fooled by these relatively low rankings. This is still the Olympics, so you’re still watching the best athletes in the world on the biggest stage in the world. You’ll find lots of punching, jumping, shooting, and table tennis–ing on this page. These are great sports—well, most of them.
250. Men’s golf
Golf is the worst sport ever created—at least in terms of impact on humankind. It takes a ton of land and resources that could be used for all sorts of beneficial purposes and instead allows rich people to walk around swinging metal sticks for four hours. It has also historically been racist and sexist to a degree that few other sports can claim.
Then there’s the boredom aspect; I know some people love how “meditative” and “relaxing” it is to spend a day on the links with friends and drinks, and how much some fans like to zone out to a pretty green landscape and soft, white-noise announcers (emphasis on white) murmuring through their TVs. But the pros play the same course four days in a row with minimal changes. The rules are intentionally obtuse and arcane. You don’t even carry your own equipment! Imagine if a baseball player walked up to the plate, then was handed his bat, then used a T-ball tee instead of swinging at a thrown pitch. That’s what baseball would be like if it were infinitely worse, but also what golf would be like if it were infinitely better.
Anyway, golf has a lot of great American players, so that’s cool. But most of the biggest names—Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Phil, Tiger—will not be at the Olympics. Indeed, only 12 of the current top 30 men’s golfers will participate, and I’ll be damned if I could’ve named more than four of them before I looked at the list.
249. Men’s hammer throw
No American man has won gold since 1956, or any medal since 1996, but the only two men to have thrown at least 81.5 meters this year are Poland’s four-time world champion Pawel Fajdek (82.98) and Team USA’s Rudy Winkler (82.71). While Fajdek clearly has the upper hand, I commend Winkler for proudly representing glasses wearers like me.
248. Men’s 60 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
247. Men’s 67 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
246. Men’s 77 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
245. Men’s 87 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
244. Men’s 97 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
243. Men’s 130 kg Greco-Roman wrestling
Wrestling was one of the sports in the ancient Olympics and a staple of the modern Games since their introduction in 1896. Yet in 2013, the IOC chose to cut it from the Olympics, starting with Tokyo; following a reorganization of the sport’s governing body and major rules changes, wrestling was not only brought back to the Olympics but legitimately improved as a spectator sport.
Alas, Greco-Roman wrestling still pales in comparison to its freestyle cousin. It emphasizes throws by banning holds below the waist, meaning wrestlers cannot be as wily or crafty, and evenly matched wrestlers will often fall into tugging on each other’s shoulders for a few minutes at a time.
The classes are ranked in weight order because the biggest Greco-Roman draw in Tokyo is Turkish heavyweight Riza Kayaalp, a two-time Olympic medalist and defending world champion, and American G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg) is perhaps best-positioned to earn the U.S.’s first Greco-Roman medal since 2008.
242. Men’s road race (cycling)
241. Women’s road race (cycling)
If you didn’t get your fill of road cycling from the just-completed Tour de France, these events are for you. If you don’t want to watch cycling for an entire day, still tune in for the last few minutes. Though these races could best be described as “draining,” both for competitors and viewers, the final kilometers are often an all-out sprint. Imagine riding for nearly six hours, then having the difference between a bronze medal and 20th place be around two seconds. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because here it is.
240. Women’s 25-meter pistol shooting
239. Men’s 10-meter air pistol shooting
238. Women’s 10-meter air pistol shooting
237. Mixed team 10-meter air pistol shooting
India has only won nine gold medals, eight in field hockey and one in shooting. It has athletes ranked first in all of these events and could have a gold rush.
236. Women’s 1,500-meter (track)
You’re not going to beat Faith Kipyegon, I’m not going to beat Faith Kipyegon, and with the possible exception of the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan, nobody racing her is going to beat Faith Kipyegon. The Kenyan is the defending Olympic champion and 2.5 seconds faster than anyone else this year, with her 3:51.07 a couple of weeks ago putting her fourth all-time. Hassan is second-fastest in 2021 and beat Kipyegon for the 2019 world title, but she’s currently scheduled for a grueling triple at the Olympics (and might still scratch the 1,500).
235. Mixed doubles tennis
Mixed doubles is an afterthought at any tournament—just look at Wimbledon, where each player earns almost as much money for simply making the field of 128 in singles as for winning the championship in mixed doubles. At the Olympics, it’s even worse, as the teams don’t qualify ahead of the Games but instead are formed the day before the event begins. They’re mostly made up of whichever Olympic players were eliminated early from singles or doubles and have nothing better to do. This is built right into the schedule, which has the other four tennis events starting Saturday and mixed doubles starting next Wednesday. The best reason to watch would be if a top player gets upset in singles and wants redemption.
234. 4x400-meter mixed relay (track)
You might be shocked to see a relay so low on the list, but it’s simple: As you’ll see higher up the ranking, I think some of the new mixed-gender events are cool, but this one is ultimately a gimmick. That it was never contested until mid-2018 should show you that it’s more of a curiosity than a competition worthy of the Olympic stage.
Plus, I wanted to see if you were still paying attention.
233. Men’s 60 kg judo
232. Women’s 57 kg judo
231. Women’s 48 kg judo
230. Women’s 70 kg judo
229. Women’s 63 kg judo
228. Men’s 90 kg judo
227. Women’s 78 kg judo
When I first had to cover judo, I had no idea how it worked, so I spent weeks reading about it. After that, I still wasn’t sure how it worked, but I had a lot more fun watching it. The scoring system is convoluted, so just sit back, relax, and enjoy watching nimble athletes throw and contort each other.
There are only four Americans in the 15 events, and it’s unlikely they’ll replicate the success of two-time gold medalist and current MMA star Kayla Harrison.
226. Men’s 200-meter breaststroke swimming
225. Women’s 200-meter breaststroke swimming
Breaststroke is the only common English word that contains the letter pattern stst. And it’s smack in the middle!
I’d rank the American medal hopes proportionately to how enjoyable their names are: Annie Lazor has a great shot, then Nic Fink, then Lilly King, then Andrew Wilson. As the best times of 2021 belong to people with amazing names—Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook and South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker—I consider this logic to be sound.
224. Mixed relay triathlon
Of all the mixed-gender events added for Tokyo, this one creates the best improvement on its sport. Two men and two women from each nation do a minitriathlon, with the total distances for each component being shorter than a normal triathlon. You get to see which nation is the best overall—and in considerably less time!
223. Women’s triple jump
Part long jump, part sprint, part that thing you do when you don’t want to wake someone up so you take long strides on your tiptoes.
Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas was the 2019 world champion and has jumped almost half a meter farther than anyone else in 2021. America’s Keturah Orji is a medal hopeful who finished fourth in Rio.
222. Men’s kata (karate)
221. Women’s kata (karate)
With karate making its Olympics debut, two forms will be on display in Tokyo. Kumite is the sparring one; kata is the one practiced by 8-year-olds at the dojo on the corner whose awning just says “Karate.” It’s the noncombat “form” discipline in which athletes must perform specific punches, kicks, and other movements.
Interestingly, the top-ranked karatekas (great word, right?), 37-year-old Damián Quintero and 39-year-old Sandra Sánchez, are both Spanish. Ariel Torres represents the United States in the men’s event, while Sakura Kokumai has a shot at a medal on the women’s side.
220. Women’s 200-meter butterfly swimming
I’d argue that butterfly is the most awkward-looking stroke, which also makes it my favorite one to watch.
Most swimming world records have been broken in the past five years; this one has stayed at 2:01.81 since 2009, and that status quo will continue through Tokyo. Earlier this year, China’s Zhang Yufei posted a 2:05.44, the fastest time since 2016, but Americans Hali Flickinger and Regan Smith are close behind.
219. Women’s team artistic swimming
Like its duet counterpart (see No. 334), this event is dominated by Russians, and the U.S. didn’t even qualify. Still, watching eight women dance in water in unison for four minutes is very impressive.
218. Men’s triple jump
Two-time defending gold medalist Christian Taylor is injured, so the American who finished second to him both times, Will Claye, would love to take the crown. The favorites are Pedro Pichardo of Portugal and Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso, a nation that has never earned an Olympic medal.
217. Men’s 100-meter backstroke swimming
The two fastest times of 2021 belong to the ROC’s Kliment Kolesnikov and Evgeny Rylov. Ryan Murphy won gold in Rio and is the world record holder, and a fellow American, 6-foot-6 college junior Hunter Armstrong, is trying to strong-arm his way into the medal hunt … er.
216. Men’s lightweight double sculls rowing
215. Women’s lightweight double sculls rowing
These are unique events in that “lightweight” means a weight restriction on the competitors, not the boats. There’s nothing else like it in any noncombat sport, nor in any sport that otherwise has no weight classes. It’s a delightful wrinkle, though not as delightful as if rowing were turned into a combat sport.
214. Women’s individual foil fencing
213. Women’s team foil fencing
These are the epitome of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In individual fencing—in which the winner is the first to score 15 points or whoever is leading after nine minutes—only one of the three American fencers in Tokyo has won a World Championships medal: Lee Kiefer’s 2011 bronze. And yet, in team fencing—each member of a team of three faces each of the other team’s fencers in minimatches—Kiefer and Nicole Ross won team silver in 2017, gold in 2018, and bronze in 2019, when they were joined by Jacqueline Dubrovich. That team of three will be back, and it will be exciting to see if they can match—or best—that bronze.
212. Men’s 1,500-meter (track)
In Rio, Matthew Centrowitz became the first American to win this event in more than a century, but he only has the 50th-fastest time in the world this year. The fastest runner in the world this year, the 2019 world champion Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya, narrowly squeaked onto his country’s team as a last-minute replacement after a bad race at the Kenyan Olympics Trials. He’ll still be the favorite, but Norwegian brothers Jakob and Filip Ingebrigtsen could chase him down. And as Centrowitz learned at the U.S. trials, if 20-year-old Cole Hocker is anywhere close with 100 meters to go, you’re in trouble.
211. Men’s discus throw
210. Women’s discus throw
Ah, the discus throw, or as I like to call it, the twirly-whirly heavy Frisbee launch. It has, for all the human advances in biology, physics, and the wearing of clothes during athletic competitions, barely changed since the ancient Greek Olympics. And why should it? If it ain’t broke, throw a discus at it.
Daniel Stahl’s best throw this year is over a meter longer than anyone else’s, and he also has the fourth-longest throw in history. It’s the Swede’s event to lose. Meanwhile, American Valarie Allman will challenge the Netherlands’ Jorinde van Klinken and two-time defending gold medalist (and Croatian flag bearer) Sandra Perkovic for gold.
209. Women’s +78 kg judo
208. Men’s 73 kg judo
207. Men’s 66 kg judo
206. Women’s 52 kg judo
205. Men’s 100 kg judo
Japan is counting on three gold medalists from the 2019 World Championships, which were also held in Tokyo, to keep some medals in house: Shohei Ono (men’s 73 kg, also the defending Olympic champion), and 21-year-olds Uta Abe (women’s 52 kg) and Akira Sone (women’s +78 kg). Abe’s older brother Hifumi (men’s 66 kg) is a two-time world champion, and Aaron Wolf (men’s 100 kg), whose father is American, has also won gold at worlds.
One of Uta Abe’s competitors will be Majlinda Kelmendi, who took gold in 2016 to give Kosovo its first medal as an independent nation.
204. Women’s team épée fencing
203. Women’s individual épée fencing
Sisters Courtney and Kelley Hurley were part of the American teams that won bronze at the 2012 Olympics and gold at the 2018 World Championships. Other top competitors include Sun Yiwen (China), Ana Maria Popescu (Romania), and Nathalie Moellhausen (Brazil), so medals could fly all over the world.
202. Men’s 200-meter butterfly swimming
If you want to see a competitor absolutely destroy his opponents, look no further than Hungary’s Kristof Milak. He has the three fastest times ever, including the 1:50.73 world record, and nobody else has posted a time in 2021 within three seconds of his season-best of 1:51.10.
201. Men’s 52 kg boxing
200. Men’s 75 kg boxing
199. Women’s 69 kg boxing
198. Men’s +91 kg boxing
Having covered boxing at each of the past two Olympics, I know that it can be terribly corrupt and terribly judged. The International Boxing Association was so untrustworthy that the International Olympic Committee stripped it of authority over the events in Tokyo.
I also know that Olympic boxing is full of inspiring stories and future superstars: Ali, Foreman, Leonard, De La Hoya, Klitschko, and Shields are all former gold medalists.
These four events are, simply put, the boxing competitions that didn’t have anyone whom I felt the need to spotlight. I hope some of them become household names and prove me wrong.
197. Women’s 57 kg boxing
Though this tournament isn’t necessarily more exciting than the others, I do want to point readers to Ramla Ali, who is also an activist and model. She will become the first Olympian to represent Somalia in a sport other than track and field, though her family fled Somalia when she was a toddler.
196. Women’s 50-meter freestyle swimming
195. Women’s 100-meter freestyle swimming
Trailblazing American Simone Manuel, who won silver in the 50 at Rio, could contend for another medal, as could world record holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, but a pair of Australians are favored; Emma McKeon has the fastest time this year at 23.93 seconds, and Cate Campbell is 0.01 behind her.
Those Aussies also lead the pack in the 100, but they won’t have to contend with Rio co-champion Manuel, who surprisingly failed to qualify. The biggest challenger in Tokyo might be Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, who tied with Manuel for gold in 2016.
194. Men’s javelin throw
193. Women’s javelin throw
The javelin is the most dangerous sports implement that isn’t a gun. Honestly, I’ve seen less scary guns.
Maggie Malone set the American record with a 66.82-meter throw in May, which was good for third-best throw of the year … but still more than 4.5 meters behind Poland’s Maria Andrejczyk, who had the third-best throw in history. If you think that’s a big gap, Johannes Vetter’s 96.29 is more than 6.5 meters ahead of any other man in 2021, and good for No. 2 all time.
192. Women’s 200-meter individual medley swimming
191. Men’s 200-meter individual medley swimming
The individual medley is theoretically a superb test of overall swimming skill, but something feels cheap about it when they’re underwater for a good chunk of each lap. It should be called the 160-meter individual medley.
Americans Madisyn Cox and Alex Walsh will try to chase down Aussie Kaylee McKeown, and Michael Andrew is the odds-on favorite for men’s gold.
190. Women’s marathon
While you’re not going to convince me that any marathon is worth watching start to finish, there are some superb runners here, starting with the Kenyan trio of world record holder Brigid Kosgei (her record stands at 2:14:04), Ruth Chepngetich (fourth-fastest ever: 2:17:08), and Peres Jepchirchir (fifth-fastest at 2:17:16). Elsewhere, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, who was born in Kenya, could earn just the second Olympic gold medal in Israel’s history, and Japan’s Mao Ichiyama could be a surprise contender. Maybe the most impressive competitor here though is (also Kenyan-born) American Aliphine Tuliamuk, who is competing just over six months after giving birth. Her baby did not qualify.
189. Women’s singles table tennis
188. Men’s singles table tennis
187. Mixed doubles table tennis
186. Women’s team table tennis
185. Men’s team table tennis
Table tennis is fun to watch because everyone has played it and understands the basics, so everyone instantly recognizes how incredible the pros are. Alas, there’s no drama, because Chinese table tennis players are dominant in a way no other nation can claim about any other Olympic sport.
Of the 32 all-time gold medals, China has won 28 of them, including all 12 in the past three Olympics; before the 2012 Games, the IOC decided only two athletes per nation could enter each singles event, because it was tired of seeing China sweep the podium. Chances are that the only way a Chinese player loses in singles is if they’re unlucky enough to face another Chinese player.
184. Men’s 65 kg freestyle wrestling
183. Women’s 50 kg freestyle wrestling
182. Men’s 57 kg freestyle wrestling
181. Women’s 62 kg freestyle wrestling
My love of freestyle wrestling doesn’t translate well to this spot on the list. I’m not going to try to convince you that all 12 freestyle events should be in the top 100, but I can state with confidence that, no matter what weight class you’re watching, a brilliant combination of speed, agility, and power will be showcased. The smallest competitors leap around the mat and attack like house cats pouncing on mice, and the largest competitors are like ferocious jungle predators chasing down gazelles and tearing them to shreds.
180. Women’s 57 kg taekwondo
179. Women’s 67 kg taekwondo
Welshwoman Jade Jones is only 28 years old, but she has already earned two Olympic gold medals, a world championship, three European championships (including this year), and the nickname “the Headhunter.” She might be unstoppable at 57 kg, but American Anastasija Zolotic, who is ranked No. 7 in the world at the age of 18, will certainly try.
In the 67 kg event, Paige “McFierce” McPherson, another American, is back for her third Olympics. She won bronze in 2012 but lost her first match in 2016. McPherson wasn’t finished, though; she bounced back to earn World Championships silver the following year. Fellow former medalists Nur Tatar of Turkey and Ruth Gbagbi of the Ivory Coast will also be seeking their first Olympic golds and their first great nicknames.
178. Men’s 81 kg boxing
177. Men’s 91 kg boxing
Neither field has an American, but both have big potential matchups featuring Olympic gold medalists from Cuba.
At 81 kg, 2016 Olympic middleweight champion Arlen López could take on 2019 light heavyweight world champion Bekzad Nurdauletov of Kazakhstan. At 91 kg, the defending Olympic champion and four-time world champion at light heavyweight, Julio César La Cruz, might have to go through another Kazakh, Olympic heavyweight silver medalist Vassiliy Levit.
176. Mixed team trap shotgun shooting
175. Women’s trap shotgun shooting
174. Women’s skeet shotgun shooting
Kim Rhode won shotgun medals—three gold, one silver, two bronze—at each of the past six Olympics, the only woman with that distinction in any sport. For the first time since 1992, she’ll be absent, but the U.S. has a strong team in her place. Kayle Browning was part of the team that took gold at the 2019 World Championships in women’s team trap, while Madelynn Bernau earned silver in individual trap at the World Cup event in May. Austen Smith won women’s skeet at the same competition, and Amber English grabbed two medals at the 2018 worlds, gold in team skeet and bronze in individual.
Watch for Alessandra Perilli, currently No. 2 in the world, in the trap event. San Marino has never won an Olympic medal, but she came agonizingly close in 2012, losing a three-way shoot-off for silver and bronze.
173. Men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase (track)
172. Women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase (track)
What a random event. It makes so much more sense for testing horses—which was where the track steeplechase took its inspiration and even its name—than for testing humans. The race’s 28 barriers are sturdier than the hurdles used in sprints, and its seven water jumps are usually too long to avoid splashing into. It’s weird, and I love weird. The U.S.’s Emma Coburn, the bronze medalist in Rio, is a contender in the women’s race.
171. Mixed team 10-meter air rifle shooting
170. Men’s 10-meter air rifle shooting
169. Women’s 10-meter air rifle shooting
In the finals of these events—and the women’s final will award the first gold medal of these Olympics—the competitors stand next to one another and fire off shots one at a time, so you always know exactly where each shooter ranks. It’s a cool way to make the sport more friendly to spectators.
Lucas Kozeniesky is ranked third in the world and has one of the U.S.’s best chances to bring home a men’s shooting medal. Mary Tucker and Alison Weisz are No. 2 and 6, respectively, among women, and they finished first and second at the ISSF World Cup event in March.
168. Women’s 55 kg weightlifting
167. Women’s 59 kg weightlifting
166. Women’s 64 kg weightlifting
165. Men’s 67 kg weightlifting
164. Men’s 96 kg weightlifting
163. Men’s 109 kg weightlifting
If you don’t think you’re a fan of Olympic weightlifting, I’m here to proselytize. Read this explanation, then watch it for 10 minutes, and if you still don’t like it, tweet me to have 100 MikeBux sent straight to your inbox. (Note: MikeBux hold no cash value and do not exist in this earthly realm.)
There are two lifts that are combined for a total score: the snatch (the barbell goes straight from the ground to over the lifter’s head) and the clean and jerk (floor to shoulders to overhead). For each, the athletes do not compete in a predetermined order; they go by weight, with whoever’s choosing to lift the least going first.
You get three attempts per lift, and you can go up in weight—even if you failed at a lighter amount—but you can’t go down, so if you start out too heavy, you can basically disqualify yourself. Only your best snatch and your best clean and jerk count for your total.
There’s so much gamesmanship, and it’s spectacular. Athletes will constantly test their own limits while all but verbally calling their opponents “chicken” for not going higher. They’ll wobble around on the stage with hundreds of pounds over their heads, desperately trying to secure the lift, which is often more than they’ve ever lifted before.
It’s a good sport, but it’s great dramatic television.
Anyway, there are 14 weightlifting events, seven for each gender. These are the six with the least-compelling storylines.
162. Women’s 100-meter hurdles (track)
Americans swept the podium in Rio, but this is a totally different team. Kendra Harrison, Gabbi Cunningham, and Christina Clemons have three of the top seven times of 2021 among athletes in this race, with the season’s best time being run by Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico.
161. Men’s 125 kg freestyle wrestling
Taha Akgul of Turkey is the defending Olympic champion, and Georgia’s Geno Petriashvili has won three straight world titles … but with a name like Gable Dan Steveson, we can’t not talk about the American in the field.
Dan Gable is the most beloved wrestler in U.S. history and a 1972 gold medalist; his namesake, Gable Dan Steveson, is a 21-year-old coming off an NCAA championship at Minnesota who has big goals and bigger backflips. He has dreams of becoming a WWE champion, but he has some other titles he’d like to win first.
160. Men’s 81 kg weightlifting
I’m jealous of Auburn, Washington’s Harrison Maurus for many reasons, not the least of which are that he earned a World Championships bronze medal as a teenager and has hair that I could only dream of. Now 21, he’ll take on China’s Lu Xiaojun, who at 36 is still the best in the world. Lu has won Olympic gold and silver, plus five worlds titles, including the past two. He can’t touch Maurus’ luscious locks, though.
159. Women’s 53 kg freestyle wrestling
158. Men’s 74 kg freestyle wrestling
Current world champions from the United States feature in these events. Jacarra Winchester—who reached the semifinals of her first appearance at the World Championships before winning it all in 2019—tries to hold off 2018 champion Mayu Mukaida of Japan. Kyle Dake took down the legendary Jordan Burroughs in the final of the U.S. Olympic trials to secure his spot, and if he could beat Burroughs, he can beat anyone.
157. Men’s 57 kg boxing
156. Men’s 69 kg boxing
The 57 kg event features 2017 World Championships silver medalist Duke Ragan, an American, along with former European champion Peter McGrail of Great Britain. In 69 kg, Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a gold medalist at the Youth World Championships five years ago, will make this the fourth straight Olympics at which a boxer has come from Cleveland. At all four, Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias has been a presence, and he is trying to add to his gold from 2012 and bronze from 2008.
155. Women’s 800-meter (track)
Teenager Athing Mu sure looked like a star winning the U.S. Olympic trials last month, but wouldn’t this race be a whole lot better if they let her compete against the fastest runner in the world? This ranking is my way of protesting the abhorrent treatment of South Africa’s Caster Semenya, who won this event in Rio with a time of 1:55.28 but has been barred from events between 400 meters and 1,600 meters due to high levels of natural testosterone. It’s disgraceful.
154. Men’s cross-country mountain biking
153. Women’s cross-country mountain biking
Unfolding over an hour and a half, these events are fun to watch if you only pay attention every now and then, but beware: Staring at the screen for the entire race could be mind-numbing. (Clearly, endurance racing of any kind is not my cup of tea.)
Kate Courtney, the 2018 women’s world champion, represents a significant shot at an American medal.
152. Individual jumping (equestrian)
151. Team jumping (equestrian)
Are these ranked this high because I’m from New Jersey, and BRUUUUUUUUCE’s daughter, Jessica Springsteen, is competing? Absolutely. It helps that the USA won silver in the team event in 2016, and two of the four members of that team are back, but that’s only to cover my butt.
Baby, we were boooooooorn to juuuuuuuump!
I’ll see myself out.