This is part of Slate’s ranking of every Olympic event—all 339 of them. Here’s where you’ll find the worst events at the Tokyo Olympics, from sports that have too many and from sports that simply aren’t appealing unless you’re already a huge fan. At least you’ll finally find out the difference between a 49erFX and an RS:X.
339. Men’s 50-kilometer race walk
The main thing to know is that a race walker supposedly must always be in contact with the ground: One’s front foot must land before one’s back foot lifts off the road. But this is judged manually, not electronically—watch race walking on TV, and slow-mo replays almost always show competitors with both feet off the ground. It seems illogical to improperly monitor the entire basis of your discipline. Is there really no way to put sensors on each athlete’s sneakers?
Anyways, did I mention that the men’s 50-kilometer race walk is more than 3½ hours long? And that it doesn’t have a women’s equivalent? If you’re going to let men bore us to tears, at least let women do it, too.
I want to take this early opportunity to thank my friend Akiva Wienerkur, who came up with the idea of ranking every event and graciously passed it on to me. I also want to note that in 2016, he put this event second to last. He was wrong.
338. Men’s modern pentathlon
337. Women’s modern pentathlon
Modern pentathlon might have been invented by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, and this is the only reason why it is still contested. It consists of running, swimming, shooting, fencing, and equestrian elements, a set of sports easily accessible to the masses. At least America has a women’s gold medal hopeful in Samantha Schultz Achterberg.
336. Men’s 20-kilometer race walk
335. Women’s 20-kilometer race walk
There might be superfluous events in other disciplines, but a sport in which you simply hope the judges aren’t looking at you as you half-run while furiously thrusting your pelvis forward does not deserve any further recognition.
334. Women’s duet artistic swimming
“Artistic” means “synchronized,” and “duet” means “way easier to choreograph and perform than if an entire team of eight had to do it.” Also, Russians have won gold in every Olympics this millennium.
333. Men’s Laser sailing
332. Women’s Laser Radial sailing
331. Men’s Finn sailing
330. Women’s 470 sailing
329. Men’s 470 sailing
328. Men’s 49er sailing
327. Women’s 49erFX sailing
You didn’t come to this article to have me explain the differences between these sailboats. Laser and Finn are for single sailors, 470 and 49er are for pairs, and they’re all single-hull boats; you’re on your own for anything else. Just know that the United States won a single bronze medal in sailing in 2016 after getting shut out in 2012, and that “Laser sailing” sounds so much more awesome than it actually is.
326. Men’s 10-kilometer open water marathon swimming
325. Women’s 10-kilometer open water marathon swimming
An event that takes nearly two hours and is one of the worst sports to watch on television shouldn’t even be this high on the list, but anybody who can complete that swim deserves respect. The U.S. has former 10 km world champion Jordan Wilimovsky on the men’s side and former 5 km world champions Ashley Twichell and Haley Anderson (who won silver at the 2012 Olympics in London) on the women’s.
324. Men’s triathlon
As with open water swimming, people who can compete at the highest levels of triathlon are about as impressive as any athletes in any sport, but I still have no interest in watching it. This event takes three sports that are better to watch as sprints and makes them all very, very long.
323. Men’s Keirin (track cycling)
322. Women’s Keirin (track cycling)
Racers stay tightly packed behind a pace motorcycle for three laps, then sprint for three laps. It’s like dog racing if you replace the rabbit with a Harley.
321. Women’s 10,000-meter (track)
320. Men’s 10,000-meter (track)
The least-sexy running events—they don’t have the pizzazz of shorter races or the history of the marathon. None of the Americans competing are contenders, and two-time defending champion Mo Farah of Great Britain failed to qualify.
If I had to show the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the 10K, I’d probably explain it how Ron Burgundy explains jogging: “Apparently, you just run.”
319. Men’s field hockey
318. Women’s field hockey
Neither tournament features an American team. The last time the U.S. men qualified, aside from being guaranteed a spot as the host nation, was in 1956. Still, major credit to anyone who plays this sport: I’ve watched dozens of games in my life, and it looks incredibly painful. My back hurts just thinking about it.
317. Men’s K-1 1,000-meter sprint (kayaking)
316. Men’s C-2 1,000-meter sprint (canoeing)
315. Men’s K-2 1,000-meter sprint (kayaking)
314. Women’s C-2 500-m sprint (canoeing)
313. Men’s K-4 500-m sprint (kayaking)
The K or C represents kayak or canoe, and the number represents how many people are in the respective vessel. The sport as a whole is just called “canoeing,” and yes, that’s confusing.
I don’t find paddling through water in a straight line to be hugely exciting, and if you don’t like this hot take, I suggest skipping the next couple of entries. There are 12 sprint canoe/kayak races in Tokyo, and only one of them features an American (more on her later). A few of the races have particularly interesting subplots; these five do not.
It’s important to note that Olympic gender equity was severely lacking in this sport until Tokyo. In 2016, there were 11 men’s events and just five women’s events; this year, eight of each, with the women’s C-2 500-meter as one of the new additions.
312. Men’s single sculls rowing
311. Men’s coxless pair rowing
310. Men’s double sculls rowing
309. Men’s quadruple sculls rowing
These events have no American competitors, making them slightly worse than the next batch. Step it up, male American rowers!
308. Women’s coxless pair rowing
307. Women’s double sculls rowing
306. Men’s coxless four rowing
305. Women’s coxless four rowing
304. Women’s quadruple sculls rowing
I generally prefer sculling (each rower has oars on both sides of the boat) to sweeping (a single oar held in both hands, which is the format of the coxless events) because that’s what I’m personally used to, and I generally prefer rowing events with more people on the team because of the required coordination.
I generally prefer pineapple on pizza, too. My mind works in mysterious ways.
303. Women’s omnium (track cycling)
302. Men’s omnium (track cycling)
Like the decathlon in track and field, athletes accrue points in a series of races (in this case, four of them). The chasm-sized difference is that there are many different skills in the decathlon. There’s only one way to race a bicycle on a track, no matter how many times you do it.
301. Mixed team judo
This event debuts in Tokyo, and while you won’t see eight judoka trying to simultaneously ippon one another on a single mat—which is definitely what I’d like to see from something called “team judo”—the format is intriguing. Each nation has six judoka from the same weight classes going 1-on-1, and whichever nation gets four wins advances; if the score is tied 3–3, a random class is chosen, and the athlete who scores first wins.
My chief issue is that not all nations had six judoka qualify, so there will be a number of walkover wins.
300. Men’s time trial (road cycling)
Do you like watching just one athlete compete when you could watch multiple athletes at the same time instead? Do you watch NASCAR qualifying but skip the race? If so, time trial cycling is for you.
Americans Brandon McNulty and Lawson Craddock have great names but little chance of winning.
299. Women’s 5,000-meter (track)
298. Men’s 5,000-meter (track)
Look, some track has to go down here—they can’t all be in the top 20. If being half as long as the 10,000-meter makes these events twice as exciting, then the 1,500-meter and shorter races are still a whole lot more exciting. Keep an eye out for American Paul Chelimo, the silver medalist in Rio who is back for another shot at gold.
297. Men’s K-1 200-meter sprint (kayaking)
296. Men’s C-1 1,000-meter sprint (canoeing)
295. Women’s K-1 200-meter sprint (kayaking)
Here are three Olympic champions looking to repeat.
Great Britain’s Liam Heath took gold in the K-1 200-meter in Rio and is the defending world champion.
Sebastian Brendel of Germany has won back-to-back Olympic titles in the C-1 1,000-meter, but he should have an interesting challenger in Moldova’s Serghei Tarnovschi. Tarnovschi was originally awarded bronze in 2016 but was stripped of his medal and suspended for four years after he failed a doping test. Had these Olympics taken place last year, he wouldn’t have had time to qualify for Tokyo, but thanks to the coronavirus (nobody has ever said that before), his suspension ended soon enough to give him another chance.
If you’re looking to win a gold medal and you’re not New Zealand’s Lisa Carrington, you should try a different event. She’s won the past two Olympic golds and taken every World Championships title since 2011. (She also earned 2016 Olympic bronze and 2019 worlds gold in the K-1 500-meter and will challenge Danuta Kozak in that event.)
294. Women’s triathlon
This event outranks the men’s version by 30 spots because American Katie Zaferes, the 2019 World Triathlon Series champion, should contend for a medal.
293. Men’s team sprint (track cycling)
292. Women’s team sprint (track cycling)
291. Men’s sprint (track cycling)
290. Women’s sprint (track cycling)
All of these events are convoluted. The individual event has cyclists slowly traveling around the track for a few laps, then finally going full-speed at the end. The team events have two (women) or three (men) cyclists per team who must trade off leading laps. It’s as if track cycling was built to not make sense.*
289. Men’s 800-meter freestyle swimming
This is making its Olympic debut, but I’d rather save my breath for the other 15 freestyle races. The most interesting storyline is that reigning world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy is battling mono.
288. Women’s K-2 500-meter sprint (kayaking)
287. Women’s K-4 500-meter sprint (kayaking)
286. Women’s K-1 500-meter sprint (canoeing)
If you look up unparalleled in a Hungarian dictionary, you won’t find it because the Hungarian word is példátlan, but you will see a picture of Danuta Kozak. She won gold in K-1 and K-4 in 2012 and 2016 and added K-2 gold in Rio to become the first woman to win all three events at the same Olympics. She pulled off the triple again at the 2018 World Championships, and now she’s going for it in Tokyo.
285. Nacra 17 sailing
A quirk of Olympic sailing is that many of the boats are essentially designed for the Games; for example, the Finn was created for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. The Nacra 17 is no exception, as it was constructed to fit the International Olympic Committee’s specifications for a new mixed-crew boat. It gets extra credit because it’s the only multihull boat and only mixed-gender boat used in Tokyo.
284. Team dressage
283. Individual dressage
This is one of the easier sports to make fun of—“fancy pony dancing”—but it requires marvelous cooperation and understanding between rider and horse. Plus, equestrian is unique in that it’s the only Olympic discipline that always has mixed competition as opposed to separate events for men and women. Still, dressage is dressage. You can turn it on and know within 10 seconds if you’ll love it or hate it, and you’ll probably hate it.
282. Men’s taekwondo 58 kg
281. Men’s taekwondo 68 kg
280. Men’s taekwondo 80 kg
279. Men’s taekwondo +80 kg
Taekwondo is fun for a few moments and shockingly uninteresting in the long run; mostly, it’s two competitors frantically trying to punch each other in the chest protector. (Spinning head kicks are less frequent than you’d hope.) I’d suggest rooting for Cheick Sallah Cissé, the defending champion at 80 kg and the only gold medalist in the Ivory Coast’s Olympic history.
Also worth watching: Pita Taufatofua of Tonga, known for covering his chest and arms in oil during the opening ceremony, and for also competing in cross-country skiing at the 2018 Winter Olympics. I met him at a party in Pyeongchang, and he was exceedingly nice, though he was unfortunately wearing a shirt.
278. Women’s 49 kg taekwondo
277. Women’s +67 kg taekwondo
No Americans in these competitions, though both have a 2016 bronze medalist who then took home 2019 World Championship titles: Panipak Wongpattanakit (Thailand, 49 kg) and Bianca Walkden (Great Britain, +67 kg). Thailand has never won Olympic gold in taekwondo.
276. Men’s 100-meter breaststroke swimming
275. Women’s 100-meter breaststroke swimming
World record holder and defending Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Great Britain hasn’t lost this event at a major international tournament since 2015, and he’s not going to lose in Tokyo.
World record holder and defending Olympic champion Lilly King of the USA hasn’t lost this event at a major international tournament since 2015, and she’s not going to lose in Tokyo either.
274. Men’s team pursuit (track cycling)
The team pursuit is the best of the Olympic track cycling events, but the Americans didn’t qualify a team for the men’s event. Look for Denmark, which set three world records in two days at the 2020 World Championships, to continue their dominance.
273. Men’s trap shotgun shooting
Trap is one of the better shooting disciplines to watch on TV; the clay targets can be flying at any angle, whereas skeet targets are far more predictable. After failing to send anyone to London or Rio, the U.S. men are back with two trap shooters this year, including 2019 Pan American Games champion Brian Burrows, but Europe dominates trap. The event features defending champion Josip Glasnovic of Croatia, who at 38 is still two years younger than top-ranked Mauro De Filippis of Italy.
272. Women’s shot put
It’s very curious that the vast majority of the top 30 throws in history were done by athletes from the USSR or East Germany. It’s also curious that the top Google hit for “women’s shot put preview” is from 2011. Turn it on so it gets good ratings and more people talk about it in 2024! Plus, turn it on to see Americans Jessica Ramsey and Raven Saunders, who are both having strong seasons.
271. Men’s team épée fencing
270. Men’s individual épée fencing
First, let’s quickly get the types of fencing out of the way:
• Épée: Only touches with the tip of the sword count, and the entire body is the target.
• Foil: Only touches with the tip of the sword count, and only the torso is the target.
• Saber: Touches with any part of the sword count, and above the waist (besides the hands) is the target.
Anyway, American men aren’t competitive at épée; none has earned a medal since 1932. The defending Olympic (South Korea’s Park Sang-Young) and world (Hungary’s Gergely Siklosi) champions will both be in the field.
269. Women’s 200-meter backstroke swimming
268. Men’s 200-meter backstroke swimming
I like the backstroke because it’s the only one I can do without looking like I’m drowning at all times, but it’s not the flashiest or fastest stroke.
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown should win easily on the women’s side. Evgeny Rylov of the Russian Olympic Committee—which is the name Russian athletes will compete under due to the continued fallout from that nation’s doping program—has a big edge on the men’s side, but American Ryan Murphy, the defending gold medalist and Pose creator (not really), could catch him.
267. Men’s madison (track cycling)
266. Women’s madison (track cycling)
In the madison, teams of two must complete 200 total laps, with only one cyclist racing at a time; they can tag in their teammate whenever they want. If that was it—200 laps with a cool strategic angle, fastest team wins—these events would be considerably higher on the list. Instead, every 10th lap is a sprint for bonus points, and there are also bonus points for lapping the field, making it unnecessarily complicated.
265. Men’s 400-meter freestyle swimming
264. Men’s 200-meter freestyle swimming
Sacrifices to the event rankings gods must be made, and these are Paschal lambs.
These should be competitive races, but they lack superstars, and not just from the U.S. Sun Yang of China would have been the favorite in both events, but he’s serving a doping suspension. None of the five fastest times this year in either event have been set by a swimmer who has won an individual Olympic medal before. Watch for 21-year-olds Elijah Winnington (“Winning” is in his name, after all) of Australia in the 400 and Thomas Dean of Great Britain in the 200.
263. Team eventing (equestrian)
262. Individual eventing (equestrian)
Eventing is a combination of dressage, jumping, and cross-country riding. It’s fine.
One quirk about the equestrian events is that you can be exceedingly old (in athletic terms) and still compete at the highest level. Most notably, Canada’s Ian Millar was 65 when he participated in his 10th and final Olympics in 2012.
That brings us to Phillip Dutton. At age 57, this will be his seventh Olympics. Formerly representing Australia, for which he won golds in the team event in 1996 and 2000, he became an American citizen and earned individual bronze as a 52-year-old in 2016. Also, his horse this year is named Z. Such a boss.
261. Women’s time trial (road cycling)
The presence of two fascinating Americans gives this event a boost.
Chloé Dygert excels on both road and track; she was the 2019 world champion in this event and will also compete in the track cycling team pursuit, having been on the team that won silver in 2016. She’s got more hardware than Bob Vila, and she’s only 24.
Amber Neben, on the other hand, is 46 and heading to her third Olympics. Lest you think age would take its toll on any Olympian who doesn’t let their horse do all the heavy lifting, she won time trial gold at the 2016 World Championships and finished sixth last year. Speaking of the USA’s ageless wonders, there will be a new champion after Kristin Armstrong took her third straight Olympic gold in 2016, one day shy of her 43rd birthday. The biggest threat to the Americans in Tokyo is Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands.
260. Women’s single sculls rowing
Kara Kohler won bronze at the 2019 World Championships and represents the United States’ best hope at winning an individual medal in rowing.
259. Women’s team pursuit (track cycling)
The best track cycling event this year comes in at No. 259. I think that says it all.
The American team earned silver in this event in Rio and is currently ranked sixth in the world after winning the 2020 World Championships. It’ll have to contend with European powers Great Britain, Italy, and Germany.
258. Men’s 1,500-meter freestyle swimming
This is the longest swimming race in the pool, and it’s a slog.
2019 world champion Florian Wellbrock of Germany—who also won the 10-kilometer open water event that year—is the favorite. He’s only 23, but he’s swum more in his life than my entire family tree combined.
257. Men’s RS:X sailing
256. Women’s RS:X sailing
This is actually windsurfing, which is objectively cooler than sailing, and putting a colon in the middle of the name of your equipment is also objectively cool.
Don’t expect any Americans to vie for medals. After squeaking out a narrow victory in Rio, France’s Charline Picon will attempt to repeat in the women’s event.
255. Women’s C-1 200-meter sprint (canoeing)
This is the most palatable sprint canoeing event because it’s the fastest and shortest, but also because Nevin Harrison could become the first American woman to ever win canoeing gold. She’s already used to being at the top, having earned gold at the 2019 World Championships at the ripe old age of 17. With this event making its Olympic debut, she’s in position to not only win it in Tokyo but dominate it through Paris in 2024, Los Angeles in 2028, Brisbane in 2032, and judging from current global warming trends, Antarctica in 2036. Her main opponents this time around will be Canada’s Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and Belarus’ Alena Nazdrova.
254. Men’s parallel bars (gymnastics)
This is China’s Zou Jingyuan’s event to lose. Don’t count on it.
253. Men’s horizontal bar (gymnastics)
This isn’t adjacent to parallel bars in the rankings because they’re so similar—in fact, no athlete will be a medal contender in both events— but because life is random and coincidences happen. Accept that you can’t control everything.
Nineteen-year-old Daiki Hashimoto and two-time Olympic all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan could win gold for the host country, but Croatia’s Tin Srbic and the Netherlands’ Epke “Alice in” Zonderland might also propel themselves to glory.
252. Men’s 50-meter rifle three positions shooting
251. Women’s 50-meter three positions shooting
The three positions in the name are prone, kneeling, and standing. The three positions on each podium are unlikely to be filled by Americans.
*Correction, July 27, 2021: This article originally misstated that team and individual sprint track cycling competitors start at opposite sides of the track. They do not; that’s individual pursuit track cycling.