Things to know about the sports making their Olympic debut: Skateboarding, Surfing and Karate.

two men competing in karate

The long-awaited Tokyo 2020 Olympics kick off today, with brand new sports added to the Games program: Skateboarding, Surfing, Karate, Sport Climbing and Baseball/Softball.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to make the cut, a sport must be governed by the International Federation, practised widely worldwide, and meet several other vital criteria. Host countries can also propose new sports, usually because they’re popular within their country or youth-focused- we’re looking at you skateboarding and surfing.

We’ve picked our favourite three new sports and pulled out some surprising facts and insights that make them interesting additions to this year’s games.


When it was announced that skateboarding would be making its Olympic debut, many were unsure how the scoring would work and whether it could even be classified as an Olympic sport. Regardless it’s an exciting addition as the sport that began on the outskirts now launches into the mainstream. 

Tokyo will feature two skateboard disciplines, park and street, with the park competition taking place in a smooth, dome-shaped bowl, with competitors scored on originality and difficulty of tricks. Meanwhile, the street competition mimics a skatepark, with stairs, rails and other features where athletes will have a set amount of time. 

In a shrewd move by Nike, the US Olympic Commission signed a massive deal with the iconic brand that all athletes must be dressed head-to-toe in Nike apparel and footwear during all official Olympic engagements. This includes press conferences, interviews, official appearances, and medal ceremonies; however, athletes are free to wear whatever they want during the actual competition. 

One of the big stories of the Tokyo games, 13-year-old Brit Sky Brown is a strong medal chance in the women’s park event, having won bronze in the 2019 World Championships. She will be Great Britain’s youngest ever summer Olympics athlete.


Taking place at Tsurigasaki Beach in Ichinomiya, surfing will feature men’s and women’s events. There will be a preliminary round before the head-to-head knockout competition, with athletes competing with a shortboard for greater manoeuvrability. Most importantly, given that surfing relies so heavily on the elements, the timing for the competition is flexible. It means that competitions can be postponed to a later day to ensure the ideal conditions are utilised. 

Surfing’s inclusion in the Olympics is more than a century in the making: Duke Kahanamoku, a three-time gold medalist in swimming who is widely considered the father of modern surfing, first argued for the sport to be included in the Olympic programme in 1912. Surfing is a prevalent sport in Japan. The “Land of the Rising Sun” has around two million recreational surfers.


Having originated in Japan, karate is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020; however, this could be a one-off as it is not currently slated for the 2024 Paris Olympics program.

The Tokyo Games will feature two karate disciplines: kata (form demonstrations, where athletes are judged on technique) and Kumite (a mat competition where athletes compete head to head). 

In kata, competitors will be judged on various factors, including the power and speed of hits and kicks and the transition from multiple movements.

In Kumite competition, athletes secure points for landing hits on their opponents. Athletes can earn between one and three points per hit, with three points reserved for the most challenging maneuvers, including an upper-level kick. 

The events will occur at the Nippon Budokan, which hosted the first World Karate Championships in 1970. 

With no Olympic precedent set, the field is wide open for the 80 athletes expected to compete.

Japan, the country from which karate originated, has claimed the most medals in world championship competitions.

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