Now that the heart-wrenching and historic 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are over, what do we have to look forward to? In just over two years, the games will return to Asia, to Tokyo. Here’s a taster of what we are all set to become armchair experts on:
Five new sports have been approved by the IOC for inclusion in 2020: baseball & softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing. (For the Paralympics there will be two new sports: badminton and taekwondo).
Baseball makes total sense: it’s Japan’s most popular sport. Baseball has appeared sporadically at Olympics past, more often as an exhibition sport than as a medal competition. It had only a five-Olympic run (1992–2008) as an official event before London voted it out. Japan has medaled in three of the five Olympic baseball tournaments and in three of the four softball ones – including a gold-medal victory for the ladies over the U.S.A. in 2008 – so you can bet they’re looking forward to this one in 2020.
Like the 2008 games, amateur restrictions will be lifted, opening the way for American Major League players to participate (if their franchises allow it, of course). Games will be held at Yokohama Stadium and Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, rather than Tokyo’s two baseball stadiums (presumably so as not to interrupt the regular pro season).
Karate too is a no-brainer: men’s judo was first introduced at the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics (women’s judo was added in Barcelona in 1992), so it makes sense that Japan – a country with a strong martial arts connection – would want to include another one. Karate has its roots in the Ryukyu Empire (the land that was Okinawa before it was annexed by Japan in 1879). There will be both kumite (sparring) and kata (form) competitions, following the regulations of the World Karate Federation. Both the karate and judo events will take place at Nippon Budokan, the national martial arts stadium that was built for the 1964 games.
The other sports, however, are novel choices – part of the IOC’s strategy to appeal to younger viewers. None of these sports has a mainstream following in Japan, though the country has produced some serious contenders.
The skateboarding competition – which will include park and street events – will be held at the Olympic BMX Course, a temporary venue in Odaiba (one of the artificial islands on Tokyo Bay). The sport climbing competition, which will be a combined lead, bouldering and speed event, will be held at Aomi Urban Sports Venue (another temporary facility in Odaiba).
Japan has some fantastic surf spots, though those in the Tokyo area aren’t the best the country has to offer. However, if there is one place near-ish the capital with consistently good waves, it’s Tsurigasaki (in neighbouring Chiba prefecture), and this is where the surfing will take place. It’s already a venue for the World Surf League’s qualifying series.
The shortlisted sports that didn’t make the cut? Bowling, squash and wushu (Chinese martial arts).
We’re most excited about the event that will take place actually in the city itself: race walking, which will be held in the Imperial Palace Garden. With the moats and keeps from the castle that once stood here as a backdrop, it’s sure to inspire some wanderlust in at-home viewers. And if there is any sport that Tokyoites are intimately acquainted with, it’s race walking. After all, what city dweller isn’t?
The opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the athletics and some soccer matches, will be held at the new National Stadium. Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the 80,000-seat stadium will be made of steel and timber, with latticework that references traditional architecture and greenery incorporated throughout. It’s set to be completed in November 2019.
Besides the new stadium, most of the other new facilities in the works are on artificial islands on Tokyo Bay – pretty much the only place in Tokyo with room for structures of such monumental size. The Olympic Village will also be nearby, in the bayside Harumi district; after the event, the units will be sold as residential apartments.
In addition to the Budokan, venues from the 1964 games that will make a return appearance include the iconic Yoyogi National Stadium (handball), designed by Japan’s foremost modern architect Kenzō Tange, and Equestrian Park (for the equestrian events, dressage, eventing and jumping, naturally). Boxing events will be held in Rokugien, the national sumo stadium.
The most recent venue news is that the track cycling and mountain biking events – originally scheduled to take place at temporary facilities to be built on the bay –– will now be happening in Izu, at the Izu Velodrome and Izu Mountain Bike Course, respectively. It’s a cost-cutting measure that will mean extra travel for the athletes: Izu is a peninsula some 120km southwest of Tokyo. On the plus side, the organisers are promising Mt Fuji views for the mountain bike events. (A bold promise, as haze often obscures the mountain).