This is part of Slate’s ranking of every Olympic event—all 339 of them. If you’re looking for awesome events that are flying under the radar, this section is for you. Broaden your horizons, and check out some sports making their Olympic debuts.
150. Men’s vault (gymnastics)
South Korea’s Yang Hak-seon won gold in 2012 but was hurt in 2016; he’s favored again this year. Due to his prowess and his injuries, he has two fitting nicknames: “The God of Vault” and “Beef Jerky.”
149. Men’s marathon
Can world-record-holder Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya win a fourth Olympic medal and perhaps back-to-back gold? Can his countryman Lawrence Cherono, who had the second-fastest time in the world in 2020, win in his first Olympics? How will 2019 world champion Lelisa Desisa and 2020 London Marathon winner Shura Kitata of Ethiopia fare? Can American Galen Rupp follow his 2016 bronze with another brilliant performance? Can I sustain this annoying form any longer?
148. Men’s 86 kg freestyle wrestling
Based on his success and wrestling’s popularity in Iran, Hassan Yazdani is known as “the Greatest.” That’s a lofty nickname, but by earning gold at 74 kg in Rio and then two world titles at 86 kg, Yazdani is continuing to prove that he’s worthy of the moniker. His most substantial loss in the past five years was in his first match of the 2018 World Championships, when David Taylor took Yazdani down on the way to gold. The American is in his first Olympics, and a rematch could be epic.
147. Women’s team saber fencing
146. Women’s individual saber fencing
Fencing has been in every edition of the modern Olympics, but only one American has ever won a gold medal.* That was Mariel Zagunis, who earned individual gold in 2004 and 2008. She’s back for her fifth Olympics, but her first as a mom. She’ll be joined by Eliza Stone, currently ranked sixth in the world, and Dagmara Wozniak, returning for her third Games; Zagunis and Wozniak were members of the bronze-winning team in Rio.
*There’s some debate about this, but don’t you think this article is long enough without a deep dive into the saga of Albertson Van Zo Post at the 1904 Olympics?
145. Women’s 100-meter butterfly swimming
The American record was just set by 18-year-old Torri Huske, whose 55.66 is the fastest time this year, with 17-year-old Claire Curzan not far behind.
144. Men’s skeet shotgun shooting
If America wins a shotgun shooting medal, shouldn’t it rightfully belong to a Texan? Vincent Hancock brought gold home to Fort Worth in 2008 and 2012, and after disappointing in Rio, he won the World Championships in 2018 and 2019. He’ll be taking on a field that includes 2016 gold medalist Gabriele Rossetti of Italy and current world No. 1 Jesper Hansen of Denmark—plus the UAE’s 47-year-old Saif bin Futais, still ranked in the top 10.
143. Men’s team saber fencing
142. Men’s individual saber fencing
Bronx-raised Daryl Homer earned silver in Rio and is an inspiration to Black fencers everywhere, while Eli Dershwitz, a Harvard graduate whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, is ranked second in the world and earned a World Championships silver in 2018.
141. Women’s singles badminton
140. Men’s singles badminton
139. Mixed doubles badminton
138. Women’s doubles badminton
137. Men’s doubles badminton
I have nothing bad to say about badminton. It’s quicker than you might expect, there are massive spikes, and it’s got the right combination of power and finesse. You’ve probably played badminton in your neighbor’s backyard, but never like this.
Watch it for five minutes and see if you enjoy it; if you do, you can thank me for the hours of impressive athleticism, and if you don’t, you can always go back to tennis.
136. Men’s 110-meter hurdles (track)
Defending champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica is back for Tokyo and has the second-fastest time of the year, but that’s still 0.2 seconds behind American Grant Holloway, whose 12.81 at the U.S. Olympic trials was just 0.01 shy of the world record.
135. Men’s individual foil fencing
134. Men’s team foil fencing
Americans hadn’t earned a men’s foil medal in the 56 years before Rio, where Alexander Massialas took individual silver and the team won bronze; in Tokyo, they could stab the medal chances of other teams right through the heart.
In the past three World Championships, the team—coached by Alexander’s dad, Greg—has earned silver, silver, and gold, and the Americans enter the Olympics as the world’s top-ranked team. Seven of the top nine individuals are American or Italian, so you can guess what the final of the team event might look like in Tokyo. Alexander Massialis (ranked No. 5) is back, as is Gerek Meinhardt (No. 2), and they’re joined by Nick Itkin (No. 9).
133. Men’s 3-meter springboard diving
132. Men’s 10-meter platform diving
Diving is electric—there are few events more likely to make you say, “How the crap did they just do that?!”—but don’t expect anything besides Chinese dominance here.
One intriguing story likely will be Cao Yuan. Having won 2012 gold in synchronized 10-meter platform, 2016 gold in 3-meter springboard, and 2016 bronze in synchronized 3-meter springboard, he will be competing in the 10-meter event in Tokyo with a chance to earn Olympic medals in all four diving disciplines; the only diver (male or female) to have accomplished that feat is Russia’s Dmitri Sautin.
131. Women’s team archery
130. Women’s individual archery
129. Mixed team archery
American women have not won an archery medal since the 1988 team event—not even Geena Davis—and that will likely continue in Tokyo, though 17-year-old Casey Kaufhold hopes to make a splash.
In the nine individual events since 1984, South Korea has won eight gold, five silver, and five bronze medals; the country has taken gold in every team event since it was introduced in 1988.
128. Women’s 1,500-meter freestyle swimming
This will be the first appearance of the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle in the Olympics, but Neptunian American Katie Ledecky has all 10 of the 10 fastest times in history, so it’s about as close as the IOC can get to simply giving an athlete a bonus gold medal.
Be prepared for more uses of “Katie Ledecky” in this article.
127. Women’s 4x200 freestyle relay swimming
126. Men’s 4x200 freestyle relay swimming
These are the least interesting and least essential swimming relays—longer than the others, and without the style of the medleys—but they’re still swimming relays, so they’re still enormous draws.
Expect the U.S., Australia, and perhaps Great Britain or the ROC to factor into both races.
125. Women’s 60 kg boxing
2019 World Championships bronze medalist Rashida Ellis is a former Golden Gloves champion who would love to bring a medal home to Massachusetts. She’s coached by her brother and gives great interviews. Among the boxers between her and Olympic glory is the woman who beat her in the semifinals in 2019, gold medalist Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil.
124. Men’s 4x400-meter relay (track)
123. Men’s 400-meter (track)
The five fastest 400-meter times this year have been set by Randolph Ross, Michael Norman, Noah Williams, Michael Cherry, and Bryce Deadmon. They’re all American. Thus, the relay seems like a forgone conclusion, but it joins the individual race here as a second chance to watch Cherry, Norman, and Ross after they likely sweep the podium.
The next-best 400-meter time of 2021 is held by Isaac Makwala of Botswana, a nation that has just one Olympic medal.
122. Women’s 55 kg kumite (karate)
121. Women’s 61 kg kumite (karate)
120. Women’s +61 kg kumite (karate)
119. Men’s 67 kg kumite (karate)
118. Men’s +75 kg kumite (karate)
117. Men’s 75 kg kumite (karate)
It’s a shame that karate won’t be in the 2024 Olympics—like baseball and softball, it was a special addition to these Games at Japan’s request—because kumite (pronounced KOO-mih-tay) could turn some heads internationally this year … and not just the heads of competitors who get thrown to the mat.
Kumite is like MMA, but less gory and thereby more tolerable to the masses. It’s got huge spinning kicks, punches to the chest that leave you breathless just watching them, and throws with magnificently audible “thuds,” without the sight-reducing cage, gross blood, or grosser assholes in charge of the sport. The only knock against kumite is that it can be a bit hard to follow.
There are no American women in kumite; Brian Irr is a long shot in the +75 kg event, and Tom Scott could contend for a medal at 75 kg.
116. Men’s 61 kg weightlifting
115. Women’s 49 kg weightlifting
These are the lightest classes in weightlifting, which often means they’re the most fun; the only men to have ever clean-and-jerked triple their body weight have been 60 kg or less, and more generally, it’s cool to see a 100-pound woman lift 250 pounds. If you’re not dazzled by that, you must have turned on the Olympics by mistake.
114. Men’s 73 kg weightlifting
For a good chance at an American winning a weightlifting medal, look to 21-year-old Clarence “CJ” Cummings, who has grabbed four Junior World Championships golds but is new to the senior circuit. He’s so accomplished that his website says it’s going to list “a few highlights” and then proceeds to rattle off enough awards to make Beyoncé jealous.
Cummings will have to beat another Chinese world-record-holder, defending 73 kg world champion and Rio 69 kg Olympic champion Shi Zhiyong.
113. Team rhythmic gymnastics
No matter what apparatuses are being used—the hoop, ball, pair of clubs, or ribbon—you can count on a pretty showcase of lifts, twirls, and throws that are much harder to pull off than the gymnasts make them look.
Did you know that rhythmic gymnastics shoes don’t have a heel? It’s true! Bare heels! When the sport was first invented in the 1700s, that probably would have been considered scandalous.
112. Men’s doubles tennis
The only people who care more about doubles tennis than singles tennis are tennis players who specialize in doubles, but there are more interesting players here than expected. The top doubles team in the world, Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic, will play for Croatia, as will the pairing of 2021 Australian Open doubles champion Ivan Dodig and former U.S. Open singles champion Marin Cilic. Andy and Jamie Murray will both be playing for Great Britain, though the brothers will not team up. The No. 2 singles player in the world, the ROC’s Daniil Medvedev, will play with Aslan Karatsev, and three more of the current top 10 in singles are also playing doubles.
The host nation’s pairing of Kei Nishikori and Ben McLachlan could surprise, but don’t expect the same out of either American team.
111. Men’s pommel horse (gymnastics)
Max Whitlock of Great Britain is still on top. After bursting onto the scene with a bronze medal in 2012, he won the pommel horse in Rio and is the defending world champion. The other medalists at the 2019 worlds were Chinese Taipei’s Lee Chih-kai and Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan; neither of those nations has ever won an Olympic gymnastics medal.
110. Women’s 68 kg freestyle wrestling
Tamyra Mensah-Stock just missed out on booking a trip to Rio, but there was no stopping her this time, as the 2019 world champion lived up to a guarantee she made a decade ago to make the U.S. Olympic team. Waiting for her will be reigning gold medalist Sara Dosho of Japan. Blessing Oborududu, making her third Olympic appearance, will try to win Nigeria’s first-ever medal in wrestling.
109. Men’s +100 kg judo
This event is stacked, and not just because everyone weighs more than 220 pounds. Teddy Riner is a bona fide French celebrity, as he has won this event at the past two Olympics and has a record 10 World Championships gold medals.
He’s going to have his work cut out for him; this might be the most competitive field for any combat sport at these Olympics. The rest of the podium from Rio—silver medalist Hisayoshi Harasawa (Japan) and bronze medalists Or Sasson (Israel) and Rafael Silva (Brazil)—is back. The ROC’s Tamerlan Bashaev is ranked No. 1 in this class and took silver at the 2021 worlds. Lukas Krpalek of the Czech Republic earned Olympic gold at 100 kg, then moved up to this weight class and won the 2019 world championship. If there’s a large, tough man anywhere in Tokyo, he’s probably coming after Teddy Riner’s title.
108. Men’s C-1 slalom (canoeing)
107. Men’s K-1 slalom (kayaking)
You won’t find many events without a competitive American this high on the list, but Olympic canoe slalom is exhilarating whether or not you have a rooting interest. It’s like whitewater rafting on a dangerously bumpy river, if you had gates to pass through, frequently had to paddle upstream, had no teammates to help you, and did it all as fast as possible.
Michal Smolen finished 12th in K-1 in Rio, and Zachary Lokken is making his Olympic C-1 debut, but neither is expected to reach the 10-man finals. C-1 has an open field led by Germany’s 2016 silver medalist Sideris Tasiadis, and in K-1, the Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec is the current world No. 1, and earned bronze in 2016.
106. Women’s 3-meter springboard diving
105. Women’s 10-meter platform diving
Besides 2019 World Championships platform bronze medalist Delaney Schnell, the American contingent is not very decorated or experienced in individual diving. Chinese divers have won the past eight gold medals in springboard and the past three in platform; those streaks will probably continue in Tokyo thanks to either Wang Han or Shi Tingmao in springboard, and either Chen Yuxi or Lu Wei in platform.
104. Men’s pole vault
103. Women’s pole vault
The pole vault deserves your love for so many reasons. It’s a crazy event to begin with—imagine seeing a pole three times your height and saying, “Yeah, I want to fling myself into the sky with that!” It’s got the allure of danger but almost nobody gets hurt doing it. Every jump seems to defy the laws of gravity and physics. That split second of a vaulter hanging in the air when you don’t know whether they’re going to clear the bar is breathtaking.
In the men’s event, world-record-holder Armand Duplantis should emerge victorious—he’s got three vaults in the past year higher than what anyone else competing has ever done outdoors—but American Sam Kendricks and Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie should push him.
For the women, it’s anyone’s gold to win. Defending champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, 2016 silver medalist Sandi Morris of the U.S., and 2019 world champion Anzhelika Sidorova of the ROC remain elite vaulters, while the 2021 world leader is American Katie Nageotte.
102. Women’s doubles tennis
This comes in above men’s doubles because the United States has an interesting team, as five-time Grand Slam doubles champion and Rio mixed doubles gold medalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands will be joined by Jessica Pegula. Nicole Melichar, who has reached two Grand Slam doubles finals, was supposed to be paired with 17-year-old Coco Gauff, but Gauff tested positive for COVID and will miss the Olympics.
Both teams will need to best the top doubles team, Czech duo Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. The ROC’s Elena Vesnina is back to defend her Rio championship with new partner Vera Zvonareva. Finally, world singles No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia will be partnered with her superbly named countrywoman Storm Sanders.
101. Men’s 81 kg judo
Sometimes, athletes’ journeys to the Games are far more important than if they win. While both Saeid Mollaei and Sagi Muki could take gold, their story—which is being developed as a TV series—transcends sports.
2018 World Championships gold medalist Mollaei, representing his native Iran, was ordered by Iranian authorities to intentionally lose in the semifinals at the 2019 worlds to avoid possibly having to face the Israeli Muki in the final. Mollaei spoke out afterward, leading the International Judo Federation to ban Iran. Unfortunately, Mollaei was afraid to return home after criticizing the government; he was granted asylum in Germany and has since become a citizen of Mongolia.
Sagi Muki would go on to become the 2019 champion, and also a close friend of Mollaei, with the judokas often supporting each other on social media. Earlier this year, Mollaei was welcomed with open arms at a Grand Slam event in Tel Aviv; he took second place.
100. Men’s rings (gymnastics)
Human shoulders are not meant to work like this.
Eleftherios Petrounias, one of Greece’s flag bearers, is seeking back-to-back gold medals. 2019 world champion Ibrahim Colak represents Turkey, another nation that has never earned a gymnastics medal.
99. Women’s long jump
This sport is so easy to comprehend, so magnificent to view in slo-mo, and so satisfying to turn on when you’ve only got a few minutes to spare. Parents: Watch the long jump with young children. They’ll stop asking for Pokémon toys and start asking you to bring them to the sand pit at the playground.
Two Californians will be in contention throughout: Brittney Reese, entering her fourth Olympics and with a 2012 gold and 2016 silver already to her name, has the third-best jump of the year, while Tara Davis is second-best and set the U.S. collegiate record earlier this year.
98. Women’s uneven bars (gymnastics)
The weakest part of Simone Biles’ repertoire—insofar as blocking shots was the weakest part of Michael Jordan’s repertoire—should allow someone else to hear their national anthem played. Two-time uneven bars world champion Nina Derwael of Belgium could be the lucky gymnast. American Sunisa Lee earned bronze at the 2019 worlds as a 16-year-old, and at the U.S. Olympic trials, Jordan Chiles came in second between Lee and Biles.
97. Men’s 400-meter individual medley swimming
96. Women’s 400-meter individual medley swimming
Each 400 IM could end up improbably close, and Americans might prevail. For the men, whose event will be the first swimming final of Tokyo, Japan’s Daiya Seto and the U.S.’s Chase Kalisz have the two best times of 2021, with Seto just 0.07 seconds ahead (about as fast as my brain can tell my finger to hit the period at the end of this sentence). At the Rio Olympics, Katinka Hosszu set the women’s record that still stands, but the two fastest times so far this year have been by Americans Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger, who will both be swimming the 400 IM at a major international meet for the first time.
95. Women’s 87 kg weightlifting
Mattie Rogers has spent her career (and won two World Championships silver medals) in the 69 kg and 71 kg weight classes. With Katherine Nye taking the U.S.’s spot at 76 kg (see below), Rogers is competing with much larger opponents for the first time in her career, though if her very popular Instagram is any indication, she’s on a constant mission to increase her strength.
She’ll be taking on two-time world champion Wang Zhouyu of China, along with a contingent of South American lifters that, on paper, makes this event look like a soccer tournament: Third through sixth at the 2019 worlds went to women from Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, and Brazil, all of whom will be in Tokyo.
94. Men’s team archery
93. Men’s individual archery
South Korea swept the gold medals in 2016, but that won’t happen in Tokyo.
Brady Ellison is on top of his game. After winning three Olympic medals and appearing on MythBusters, the American took individual gold at the 2019 World Championships, set the world record a couple of months later, won two of the three 2021 World Cup events, and is ranked No. 1 in the world.
He’s really good. I’m not sure if that came across.
92. Women’s golf
Remember when I said I despised golf? If not, that’s probably because it was thousands of words ago. Still, I must give credit where it’s due: Golf is a popular sport, and the top 15 women in the world rankings will all be participating. Four Americans are in that group, including top-ranked Nelly Korda, who won this year’s Women’s PGA Championship at age 22, and her 28-year-old sister, Jessica.
91. Men’s eight rowing
90. Women’s eight rowing
Seeing eight rowers work themselves to the bone in unison is beguiling and oddly calming. I can only imagine what else they could accomplish. Perfectly tuned barbershop octet? Sure!
American teams have won three straight gold medals in the women’s event. While the men’s team in Tokyo is largely unheralded, with only seven teams in the field, anyone could reach the podium.
Also, these are the only rowing events that use a coxswain, meaning each boat in the “eight” competition is actually carrying nine people.
89. Individual rhythmic gymnastics
The way these women and their apparatuses float through the air is absolutely stunning. I will not entertain any arguments to the contrary.
Gone are the days of Dan & Dave. Indeed, gone are the days when most of the current competitors were old enough to have seen Dan & Dave commercials. The decathlon is a great test of all-around athletic brilliance—if you’re not world-class in at least eight of the 10 events, you’re not winning the event.
And with back-to-back champion Ashton Eaton’s retirement, someone new can grab that gold. It might be Canada’s Damian Warner, the 2016 bronze medalist and current world No. 1. Niklas Kaul of Germany, the 2019 world champion, should be right behind him, and Kevin Mayer of France, who took silver in Rio, is still in the hunt. Unfortunately, the U.S.’s streak of seven straight Olympics with a decathlon medal, including gold in the last three, will likely come to an end.
87. Men’s 25-meter rapid-fire pistol shooting
This is, quite sneakily, one of the coolest disciplines in the Olympics. It tasks competitors with shooting five targets, but for the first two rounds, they only have eight seconds to fire their five shots.
Then they have only six seconds for two more rounds.
Then, for the last two rounds of qualifiers and throughout the finals, they only have four seconds.
I’m terrified of guns. If a pistol were nearby, it would take me four seconds just to realize what I was looking at. Even my gun-averse brain finds this event fascinating.
Brothers and Ohio State teammates Henry and Jackson Leverett will represent America, but don’t expect them to earn medals. Defending champion Christian Reitz of Germany might again be the favorite.
86. Men’s trampoline
85. Women’s trampoline
I couldn’t possibly compete in this event, but it is the only one in which I’d be compelled to yell “WHEEEEEE!” every three seconds.
Both 2016 gold medalists, Uladzislau Hancharou of Belarus and Rosie MacLennan of Canada, are back. The men’s side will also have two superb Chinese athletes: Dong Dong, who has three Olympic medals, including gold from 2012, and Gao Lei, who took bronze in Rio and is the back-to-back world champion. Hikaru Mori, the reigning women’s world champion, hopes to win for the host nation.
84. Women’s high jump
Vashti Cunningham would love to become as legendary as her father, former quarterback Randall Cunningham. After earning bronze at the 2019 World Championships and setting her personal best of 2.02 meters (the second-best jump of 2021, 0.01 behind Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh) in May, she’ll have her chance on Aug. 7.
83. Women’s K-1 slalom (kayaking)
82. Women’s C-1 slalom (canoeing)
Most athletes choose to do either kayak or canoe; only a few, like 17-year-old American Evy Leibfarth, are elite at both. At the Junior World Championships a few weeks ago, she took gold in the K-1 and bronze in the C-1 (which is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo), and she is currently ranked 29th and 14th in the world in those events.
No. 1 in the world in K-1 is Jessica Fox of Australia, while No. 1 in the world in C-1 is … Jessica Fox of Australia. Remember how I said that only a few people do both? She’s a two-time Olympic medalist in K-1 and has multiple World Championships gold medals in each.
81. Men’s 800-meter (track)
Botswana’s only Olympic medal was the silver that Nijel Amos won in the 800-meter in 2012. He failed to reach the semifinals in 2016, but he’s back with the fastest time of the year so far. After earning bronze in Rio, Clayton Murphy will have a great chance at another medal, while Emmanuel Korir or Ferguson Rotich could bring the gold medal home to Kenya for the fourth straight time.
80. Men’s 63 kg boxing
American Keyshawn Davis earned silver at the 2019 World Championships, losing to Cuba’s Andy Cruz, who is also in this event. It’s a classic boxing rematch! France’s Sofiane Oumiha is back as well, having won silver in Rio and gold at the 2017 World Championships, and after representing his native Syria in 2012, Wessam Salamana will compete this time as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
79. Women’s 75 kg boxing
Army Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham will become the first female active-duty service member to box for the U.S. at the Olympics, but she’ll have her hands full. This class, the heaviest for women in Tokyo, is stacked. Two 2016 medalists are in the field, Nouchka Fontijn (Netherlands, silver) and Li Qian (China, bronze), along with 2019 world champion Lauren Price of Great Britain.
Sorry, I meant 2019 world champion and former member of the Wales national soccer team Lauren Price.
While I like the individual components of the decathlon—mostly the inclusion of pole vault and discus throw—more rounds means more confusing scoring, and the heptathlon is already hard enough to score.
Fortunately, it’s also a delight. Every component tests a unique skill, and seven events is just enough to punish you for doing poorly in one without completely sinking your chances.
Rio gold medalist Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium is back, and a couple of Americans could challenge her for the crown. Erica Bougard and Kendell Williams, both in their first Olympics, are peaking at the right time, currently ranking fourth and sixth in the world, respectively.
77. Men’s high jump
76. Men’s long jump
JuVaughn Harrison will become the first American since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to compete in high jump and long jump in the same Olympics. More importantly, he’s got the third-highest high jump of 2021, just 0.01 meters behind the world leaders, and the second-longest long jump. Don’t be fooled—these events require vastly different skills besides “insanely strong legs.”
Harrison will be in good American company in both events. Darryl Sullivan and Shelby McEwen are right behind Harrison on the list of best high jumps this season, and Marquis Dendy has the fifth-best long jump in the world in 2021 and wants to make up for missing the Rio Olympics due to injury.
75. Women’s vault (gymnastics)
74. Women’s floor exercise (gymnastics)
Barring calamity, Simone Biles will grab home gold medals in both of these, so let’s discuss some other topics.
First, won’t everyone want to see Biles win all the medals? Shouldn’t these be ranked higher? The answer to both questions is “undoubtedly.” I put them here because I wanted to spotlight the magic of many sports near the top of the list, because these disciplines will already be on display in the all-around events, and because you’d watch these even if I put them 200 spots lower.
Second, who else should you watch out for? Well, other Americans will earn hardware—at the 2019 World Championships, Jade Carey took silver in the vault, as did Sunisa Lee in the floor exercise.
73. Men’s 3-on-3 basketball
3-on-3 basketball is awesome, and you probably played it as a kid on the playground more than you played normal hoops. It’s a half-court game on one basket, field goals are worth 1 or 2 points instead of 2 or 3, and the game ends either after 10 minutes or when a team reaches 21 points.
Unfortunately, there are no stars in the men’s tournament—and no American team at all.
72. Women’s 200-meter freestyle swimming
Unlike other women’s freestyle swimming events that dot the upper echelon of this list, American Katie Ledecky is not the favorite. Ariarne Titmus of Australia has been unstoppable in this event, so expect the 20-year-old to secure a gold medal, and possibly a world record.
Don’t worry, “Katie Ledecky” mentions are still just getting started.
71. Men’s 100-meter butterfly swimming
70. Men’s 50-meter freestyle swimming
Speaking of world records, America’s Caeleb Dressel already has one in the latter and is chasing another in the former. Offering the chance for a Phelpsian gold medal count in Tokyo, these should be his easiest events.
69. Women’s hammer throw
Only eight times has a woman thrown the hammer—which, in and of itself, is more beautiful to watch than any of the other throwing events—at least 80 meters (262.5 feet). Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk has seven of those, including the world record of 82.98 meters (272 feet, 2.93 inches), and has not lost at a major competition in nearly a decade. The only woman who can throw to the same area code as she can is DeAnna Price, who set the American record at the Olympic trials.
American Gwen Berry, who has made headlines for her protests and activism in support of racial justice, will be competing, with an outside chance at a medal. It will be worth watching to see if and how she demonstrates again, and whether the Olympic authorities discipline her for it.
After being dropped from the past two Olympics, baseball is back, but not for long. Baseball-crazed Japan successfully lobbied to get the sport included for Tokyo, but it won’t be seen in 2024. The reasons are the same as before: Not enough nations care, and not enough good players participate.
Major League Baseball did not allow players on teams’ 40-man rosters (essentially current major leaguers and top prospects) to play in the Olympics, so of the six nations competing, four—including the U.S.—are made up of aging former MLBers and low-level minor leaguers. Korea’s KBO League is pausing its season for the Olympics, and also for a coronavirus outbreak.
And then there are the hosts. Japan’s leagues are on an Olympic break too, and with homegrown stars like pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano and outfielder Yuki Yanagita, they should cruise to a gold medal.
67. Men’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving
66. Women’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving
Synchronized diving seems nearly impossible. Having the body control to twist and contort and barely make a splash is crazy enough, but doing it at the exact same time as a partner? Yeesh.
Men’s 10-meter synchro is the only diving event in Tokyo in which the USA will not have competitors, despite the latter country earning a silver medal in Rio, but former World Championships individual bronze medalist Delaney Schnell and returning Olympian Jessica Parratto will team up for the women’s event.
65. Men’s shot put
At the U.S. Olympic trials in June, Ryan Crouser broke the world record that had stood since before he was born, and he did so by almost a foot, hurling the 16-pound ball 73 feet, 10.5 inches. If you gave me unlimited throws to get a total distance of 73 feet, 10.5 inches, I would probably put the ball about 2 feet on the first attempt, drop it on my toes on the second attempt, and collapse from exhaustion shortly thereafter.
64. Women’s 100-meter backstroke swimming
The final of this race is going to be blazingly fast, and a world record is likely. Kaylee McKeown took the world record at Australia’s Olympic trials with a time of 57.45 seconds; Regan Smith of the USA had held the prior world record of 57.57; Kylie Masse is nipping at their heels after earning a 57.70 at Canada’s Olympic trials.
63. Men’s surfing
62. Women’s surfing
Surfing is undoubtedly cool. Nobody has ever gone to the beach and said, “Look at that dumb nerd riding that wave! How un-gnarly!”
It can also be boring to watch if the waves aren’t there. It’s up to the surf gods to decide how fun the sport is. Come on, moon!
While bad waves likely won’t be an issue, anything is possible, including American wins in both events. Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks finished first and second on the 2019 World Surf League tour, while John “John John ‘John John John’ ” Florence—no, sorry, it’s just “John John” Florence—was the 2016 and 2017 champion.
Like baseball, softball is getting one more chance to shine, but the tournament will be a two-horse race with familiar faces. To complement young stars like Rachel Garcia and Aubrey Monroe, the United States will return pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman from the squad that won silver at the 2008 Olympics. They’ve been around for so long that Osterman’s last pro team already retired her jersey number. Not to be outdone, Japan is bringing back three players from the team that beat the U.S. for gold in Beijing.
These two teams have met in the final of all five World Cups held since the last time the Olympics featured softball. Don’t expect anything to change, unless you expect these players to get another Olympics chance in 2024—they won’t.
60. Women’s balance beam (gymnastics)
Simone Biles was the 2019 world champion, but Sunisa Lee bested Biles on the balance beam (say that five times fast) at the U.S. Olympic trials. With the silver and bronze medalist from the 2019 worlds—Liu Tingting and Li Shijia—not being chosen for China’s Olympic team, Lee seems like the choice to steal a title from her countrywoman. There’s almost no way Biles is losing vault or floor, but the beam could be a real test.
59. Men’s water polo
Water polo makes a strong case for hardest sport at the Olympics. Imagine having to swim back and forth for 32 minutes, bobbing up and down while staying afloat with just your legs, reaching over your head to catch and throw a ball, and surveying the other people in the pool at all times.
Now do it while getting kicked underwater. A lot.
It’s an intense, surprisingly violent sport, and one worth your attention. While the American men have an exciting squad with only a few players older than 26, this event is owned by eastern Europe. Expect some grudge matches between No. 1–ranked Montenegro, defending Olympic champions Serbia, and perennial contenders Croatia.
The final will be the last event in Tokyo. Montenegro has never won a gold medal, so that would be a good time to start.
58. Men’s 100-meter freestyle swimming
The 100-meter dash—but wet! Caeleb Dressel should bring this gold home to Florida, but David Popovici of Romania has the fastest time in the world this year, finishing in 47.30 seconds at the European Junior Championships.
Did I say “Junior?” Oh yeah—Popovici is 16.
Kyle Chalmers of Australia is the defending champion, and he took silver behind Dressel at the 2019 World Championships. Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov also can’t be counted out; he has a faster time in 2021 than either Dressel or Chalmers do.
57. Men’s 4x100 freestyle relay (swimming)
56. Women’s 4x100 freestyle relay (swimming)
These are some of the first swimming events on the calendar, and they bring out the best of the best (see above; one rhymes with Shmatie Shmadecky), but they’re neither as flashy as the medley relays nor as important for bragging rights as the individual 100-meter freestyle events.
55. Women’s synchronized 3-meter springboard diving
54. Men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard diving
Springboard gets bonus points because I like seeing the diving board go boi-oi-oi-oi-oing!
If you expected a better reason than that, thank you for believing in me, and I’m sorry for letting you down.
OK, fine, here’s another: American Michael Hixon was a silver medalist in Rio, and he’ll compete in Tokyo with new partner Andrew Capobianco. Both will make the cool springboard sound when they dive.
53. Women’s street skateboarding
52. Men’s street skateboarding
Skateboarding is hip, right? It’s cool? What does that nephew of yours say—“funky fresh”?
As the IOC tries to make the Olympics into something that will engage the teens who are busy trampling my lawn, skateboarding makes its Olympic debut with two events for each gender, park and street—though judging from the official course diagrams, that “street” is twisted enough to give Lombard Street a run for its money.
Street is the less interesting discipline because it requires skaters to take more time to get to each piece of the course while giving them fewer momentum-building ramps to build up speed and hang time. Still, these will be fun events to watch, and the men’s field has a bona fide American sports superstar in Nyjah Huston, who hopes many of his nearly 5 million Instagram followers will tune in. On the women’s side, Japan’s Aori Nishimura will try to fend off a trio of strong Brazilians.
51. Women’s 76 kg freestyle wrestling
Adeline Gray is back. You could say she never left, except for that one time.
The Colorado native had won back-to-back world championships heading into Rio, but after pinning her first opponent, she couldn’t gain ground in the quarterfinals and lost her chance at an Olympic medal. Since then, she’s won two more world titles, she’s the current No. 1 in the world, and she’s put off trying to get pregnant to chase her Olympic dreams.
Her opponents in Tokyo might include defending Olympic champion Erica Wiebe of Canada or Japan’s Hiroe Minagawa, who was vanquished by Gray in the 2019 World Championships final.
The woman who beat Gray in 2016? That was Belarus’ Vasilisa Marzaliuk. She’s back, too.