Olympics 2021: What you need to know about the 4 new sports

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LEMOORE, CA - JUNE 20: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii after surfs in the Women's Bonus Run of the Qualifying Round of the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe on June 20, 2021 in Lemoore, California. (Photo by Jackson Van Kerk/World Surf League via Getty Images)
Four-time surfing world champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii. (Jackson Van Kerk/World Surf League via Getty Images)

Olympic chiefs have chopped and changed the sporting programme in recent years to cater for a younger audience in a bid to keep the Games relevant.

For the Tokyo event, four new sports have been added, with athletes now competing for medals in surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate – bringing the total number of sportsup to 33.

With medals spread across 339 different events in total, here's what to expect from the sports making their Olympic debut.

SURFING

Venue: Tsurigasaka Beach (100km from Tokyo's Olympic stadium in the Ichinomiya town on Chiba Prefecture's Pacific coastline)

Surfing's Olympic debut in Tokyo involves a men's and women's competition consisting of 20 competitors in each. 

Surfers will be given 30 minutes per heat to catch waves in an attempt to tally the best score they can over that period. 

The best two scores from each surfer makes up their overall tally. 

An expert judging panel of five will rank each surfer's wave out of 10, based on criteria such as the degree of difficulty and risk associated with the tricks they perform, as well as the waves they catch.

Higher scores will be given to surfers who show innovation or push the boundaries with manoeuvres such as aerials or tail slide variations, while the variety of tricks, how seamlessly an athlete can incorporate them into a ride and the speed, power and flow of their surfing style will also factor into the judges' scoring.

Round one will feature four surfers, round two will have five, while from round three onwards the competition turns to a one-on-one format, with no two surfers allowed to catch the same wave and surfing etiquette dictating which surfer has right of way for any given wave.

Sadly, legendary surfer Kelly Slater won't be competing in Tokyo after being pipped by fellow American John John Florence in qualifying, with Brazil's current and former world champions Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina plus Australia's Owen Wright among the big-name men to look out for.

On the women's side, American reigning world champion Carissa Moore looms as the surfer to beat, while Australia's medal hopes rest on the shoulders of seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore.

Teresa Bonvalot of Portugal rides a wave in the women's main round during the 2021 Isa World Surfing Games in El Salvador, in El Tunco beach, El Salvador on June 5, 2021. - Teresa Bonvalot qualified this Saturday to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2021. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS / AFP) (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)
Surfing's Olympic Games debut in Tokyo involves a men's and women's competition consisting of 20 competitors in each. (Getty)

CLIMBING

Speed, strength, agility, flexibility and nerves of steel will all be put to the test when sport climbing debuts at the Tokyo Games.

Athletes (20 men and 20 women) will compete in three different disciplines – speed, bouldering and lead – with their ranking in each one multiplied together to determine where they place in the overall standings. 

The climber with the lowest score after their three rankings are multiplied together wins the gold medal.

The Speed discipline pits two climbers against one another on an identical course, with the fastest to the top of the 15m-high wall declared the winner.

Bouldering sees athletes given a four-minute timeframe to climb as many fixed routes on a 4.5m wall as they can, with overhangs and holds of varying sizes (some that can only be held by the fingertips) representing a demanding challenge for climbers. Time awareness, meticulous planning, strength and dexterity are crucial for success.

Oct 10, 2018; Buenos Aires, Argentina; The crowd gather to watch on as Petar Ivanov (BUL) competes in the Sport Climbing Mens Combined Lead Final at Parque Mujeres Argentinas, Urban Park during The Youth Olympic Games, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mandatory Credit: Lukas Schulze for OIS/IOC Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Sport climbing makes its debut at the Tokyo Games. (Lukas Schulze for OIS/IOC handout photo via USA Today Sports)

Lead sees climbers tackle a wall of more than 15m in height within six minutes. Athletes use safety ropes as they scale higher up the wall, and complete the course if they attach to the top point. If climbers fall their score is measured from where they last attached, while climbers who reached the same height will be ranked according to their speed.

Slovenia's six-time world champion Janja Garnbret and Britain's Shauna Coxsey will be among the medal favourites in the women's event, while Czech Republic's Adam Ondra and Japan's world champion Harada Kai are expected to feature prominently in the men's.

KARATE

It's only fitting that karate makes its Olympic Games debut in Tokyo, with Japan's centuries-old discipline becoming the third Olympic martial art after judo and taekwondo.

Meaning "empty hand", karate will see a total of 80 competitors (men and women) competing across a number of different weight categories in one of two events – Kumite and Kata.

Kumite sees two athletes lock horns for three minutes, with points landed for a proper strike (kick or punch) to the head, neck, back or belly of an opponent. The first to eight points or the person with the most points after three minutes is the winner. In the event of a tie, the person who landed the first point is the winner.

Victorious competitors in each weight category advance through an elimination round and into the semi-finals, before vying to qualify for the gold medal bout.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24: The Spanish Karate sportswoman Sandra Sanchez is pictured during a training session on February 24, 2021 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)
Where else but in Tokyo could the Japanese martial art of karate debut at the Olympic Games? (Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)

Kata – meaning "forms" – is more technical and performance-based, with seven judges scoring how faithfully a competitor can recreate moves from a myriad number of traditional techniques.

It was perhaps best explained by Japan Karate Association accredited instructor Somnath Palchowdhury.

“Kata is like a library of karate moves and techniques," Palchowdhury told the Olympic Channel. 

"You may or may not use them in Kumite due to their complexity and fatal nature. Kata is the heritage of karate and one is not supposed to change in the original composition."

Each country is allowed a maximum of only four men and four men, with a limit of one athlete per county, in any given event. Host country Japan will have the full quota of eight competitors (four men and four women).

SKATEBOARDING

American skateboarding legend Tony Hawk may have helped put the sport on the world map but its Olympic inclusion has come a little too late for the 52-year-old.

Skaters at the Tokyo Games will compete in either the Park or Street events, with courses at Tokyo's Ariake Urban Sports Park designed to replicate those seen during world championship events but on a slightly larger scale.

The Street event (held on 25–26 July) will see skaters take on the typical stairs, handrails, curbs, benches, walls and slopes found at many urban skateparks around the world.

Skaters have the freedom to tackle the course in any way they see fit within the designated time limit, with scores based on the difficulty of tricks, height achieved off jumps, and the speed, originality, execution and composition of their runs.

Sky Brown, 10, from Miyazaki in Japan during the Skateboard GB Team Announcement at the Graystone Action Academy, Manchester.
Britain's 12-year-old skateboarding prodigy Sky Brown is set to turn heads at the Tokyo Games. (PA)

The Park competition is intrinsically linked to the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles, where skateboarding culture exploded in the 1970s and drained swimming pools became the canvas on which skaters perfected their craft.

The smooth, deep bowls on the Park course have steep inclines that skaters can use to launch off into massive airs.

Competitors are scored for the difficulty and originality of their runs, with flips, spins and grabs among the eye-catching array of tricks in the high-octane event.

All eyes will be on Britain's skateboarding prodigy Sky Brown as she looks to make a successful Olympic debut at the tender age of 12, despite suffering a broken wrist and hand as well as skull fractures when she fell from a half-pipe in Southern California last year.

BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL

In addition to the four new sports, baseball and softball make their return to the Olympic programme in Tokyo after having been absent since the Beijing Games in 2008.

The reinstatement of the two sports came after the organising committee invited the host country to propose the temporary inclusion of additional events, with baseball and softball's popularity in Japan making them an easy choice.

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