We are a few days away from Opening Ceremonies, stumbling and bumbling our way into a Games postponed a year and now without live spectators. But the athletes have waited and trained and practiced and now it’s Their Time.
There will be some changes for Tokyo 2020, not the least of which will be boxes of face masks and gallons of hand sanitizer. It’s not even really weird that the year these contests are being held is not the year they will be named (Wha? Not Tokyo 2021? Nope).
Consider that the Games of the VI Olympiad were in Berlin, in 1916. Didn’t know about those? They were cancelled because of World War I, but the IOC kept them in the official list. Whereas the IOC didn’t include the 1906 Games in Athens, which are now called the Intercalated Games, because the IOC didn’t run them. Whenever you wonder why the IOC is doing something out-of-touch with reality, just remember the VI Olympiad.
But these changes are exciting, so let’s discuss. Let’s talk about some of the new sports, the new Mixed Teams, and the new peoples we will see competing.
Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl…
Mixed Gender Teams! We’ve seen some of this in the Winter Olympics, first with figure skating, then with Alpine skiing. Of course, the equestrian teams have had both men and women for decades, with women often driving up the scores in dressage and men in the jumping portion. But now the opportunities to open up the events have expanded, and in Tokyo 2020, there will be:
- Table Tennis
- Swimming relays
- Track relays
The Belgians, French, and British are crackerjack at the triathlon, if recent world championships are any indication. The South Korean archers are strapping on the arm protectors and making room on their medal display wall. I would surmise that Team USA will be setting the swimming pool on fire–c’mon, wouldn’t you want to see Crazy Arms Phelps & IronWoman Ledecky in a medley? Michael, come out of retirement! And the 4×100 and 4×400 track medleys should be interesting, given the speedsters in Jamaica.
In part, the IOC has embraced all these new events in order to help close the gender gap without adding brand new sports. But they’ve added new sports, too.
Spider Monkeys, Ollies, and Kookism
The Olympics are always strung between points of tension about adding more events. Sport enthusiasts want to see Their event, and host cities want to create as few venues as possible. In theory, the IOC tries to hold the line against “gigantism,” which is why they kicked wrestling out briefly, in 2013, to make way for new sports. They backtracked slightly and increased the total number of sports from 28 to 33.
The new ones added after Rio include Baseball/Softball, Karate, Sport Climbing, Skateboarding, and Surfing. Presumably, you know the rules for softball, and karate will be scored somewhat like taekwondo and judo. I wrote extensively about the other three in my “X” Olympic post before (see end of post), but think about them this way.
Skateboarding, like snowboarding which itself was designed to be skateboarding on snow, will have two divisions. Street will involve athletes performing maneuvers on rails, stairs, benches, and so on for points. Park will be more like half-pipe, where skateboarders do “tricks” (can I call them that?) in a bowl-like setting. Skateboarding is judged, which means there are already favorites. It also favors the young, as 13-year-old Sky Brown will be the youngest member on the British team.
Surfing is also judged for points. There are terms we haven’t heard yet like Cutback, Punt, and Kook. Even I know not to be a Kook. TEAM USA surfers also seem very young and 75% blonde.
Sport Climbing may be my new favorite event. I had a chance to catch the U.S. Trials and was fascinated with the Lead Climbing and Bouldering. Basically, these tall and skinny athletes with genetically-modified velcro fingers crawl upside-down underneath artificial rocks and find toeholds that are 2 cm wide as they sedately saunter up a wall. There seem to be a lot of teenagers on the teams.
Speed Climbing is just complete mayhem. These spider monkey kids fly up a 50 foot high wall in five seconds. I was exaggerating about the genetic modifications, but not about the five seconds. Take a look at this short replay. It’s not on fast forward.
News Flash: There Are Different Kinds of People
New team mixes, new sports, and now new athletes along the gender spectrum. The IOC, which has long been able to manage different types of competitors, from 7 ft 6 inch tall Yao Ming to 4 ft 8 Kerri Strug, has finally figured out that athletes are diverse. The protocols to allow transgender athletes to compete were drawn up decades ago, but this will be the first Olympics to have transgender and non-binary athletes.
Laurel Hubbard has qualified to compete in women’s weightlifting for New Zealand. Hubbard is transgender and will compete in the +87 kg division. Because she is the first openly trans person to compete, she has been the subject of unrelenting press and will no doubt have to listen to 8,000 cameras click when she competes. Actually, they may limit people in the arena, which will be to her benefit. Suddenly, the world is full of experts in women’s weightlifting, when they’ve never bothered before. Most people don’t even know that women’s weightlifting was one of the last of the original sports from Athens to admit women at all, and not until the year 2000.
In case you’re wondering, and I’m sure you are, for a transgender person to compete in the women’s division of events, they have to take drugs to suppress their testosterone below a certain level. That level is far below what studies have described as the average range for men. Keep in mind that none of the non-transitioning women athletes are required to measure their natural testosterone levels. So we don’t know at all whether Hubbard has a hormone advantage or even a disadvantage in her division, which isn’t all there is to weightlifting anyway.
Frankly, I think the most amazing statistic is that she’s 43 years old!
There are also a handful of non-binary athletes jumping into the fray. For instance, Nikki Hiltz from right here in Northern California, will be competing for the U.S. in the 1500 m. Soccer-player Quinn plays for Team Canada, which means they already have a bronze medal from 2016, although they didn’t identify as non-binary at the time. Canada didn’t play the U.S. in Rio, but they might in Tokyo. Don’t you want to see Quinn face off against Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe? I do.
I was also hoping to see trans athlete Leo Baker compete for Team USA. However, Baker decided to withdraw after winning a spot in the Olympic Trials. Choosing to move ahead with their physical transition pushed them out of qualifying for the women’s team. Perhaps we will see them competing in the future as well on the men’s side. Wouldn’t be the first person to do that.
Sport is about striving to be the best you can be. The Olympics is about showing the entire world what that means, in your authentic self. Whoever competes and however they do it ought to be enough of an end itself. We ought to embrace all who push towards the borders of physicality to show us things we’ve never seen before.
Plus, softball starts TODAY (Tuesday). Australia/Japan should be a dogfight and USA/Italy should be excellent. Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott played on the silver medal-winning 2008 team, so they will be wily veterans.
Olympics TODAY, y’all!
Want to read more?
The A to Z Olympics has more detail on the new sports–including “X is for X Games” as well as LGBTQ+ athletes. Click here.
Outside the Rio Spotlight highlights Team USA athletes, and some are back for more. For more details, click here.