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The Weirdest Sports You Didn’t Realize Are Part of the Summer Games

The Summer Games is a powerfully symbolic occasion that unites distant nations of the world for two weeks of incredible sportsmanship and international friendship. But as lofty and moving as the event is, there is no denying that it appeals very much to the primal side of humankind. After all, among the most awe-inspiring aspects of the Summer Games is simply watching incredibly athletic bodies of all sizes and shapes perform unbelievable physical tasks.

Some of these physical tasks, however, can look pretty silly to the uninformed observer. Some of us might even scoff at events that don’t fit our idea of a “real sport”. But considering that most people will be watching the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo from their living room couch or neighborhood bar, who are we to judge world-class athletes?

In order to instill an appreciation for some of the lesser-known events of the Summer Games, here are four of the weirdest sports that will take place in Tokyo in 2020.


1. Synchronized swimming

Formerly known as water ballet, this sport may look like a fancy pool party to the untrained eye. But have you ever tried to tread water with both arms in the air? Synchronized swimmers are not permitted to touch the bottom of the pool, which is a seriously tall order when you consider that the typical routine includes complicated throws, lifts, dives, and leg positions. On top of that, all of these movements require flawless synchronization with the music and your teammates and advanced breathing techniques.

weird sports olympics

Since its debut at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, Russia has been the reigning champ of this sport, taking home 10 gold medals. The USA is the second most top contender, having taken home 5 golds, 2 silvers, and 2 bronzes.


2. Table tennis

How exactly is a sport commonly played in bars part of the largest international athletic competition in the world? Table tennis may sound a bit wimpy, but see one round played top tier athletes and you’ll work up a sweat just watching. At the Summer Games, table tennis is played at lightning speed. The athletes are constantly in motion, staying light on their toes and diving to save balls. What table tennis lacks in brute muscular strength it makes up for granular precision.

weird sports olympics

China is the unrelenting champion of table tennis, having won 53 of 100 total medals since the sport’s introduction to the Games in Seoul in 1988. Interestingly, table tennis is also among North Korea’s best sports. The Hermit Kingdom has taken home 4 medals in table tennis, the 6th best ping-ponging nation in the world.


3. Race walking

Envision an army of lean, mean walking machines, and you essentially have the sport of race walking. First-time spectators of the sport are immediately struck by how lean the athletes are, like the most aerodynamic humans you’ve ever seen. Not only that, these athletes move fast with speeds between 6 and 8 miles per hour – that’s faster than jogging!

weird sports olympics

But how exactly is race walking different from running? Race walking requires that one foot is in contact with the ground at all times, making race walking strides considerably shorter than running strides. And if you’re looking for a way to get in shape, race walking is not only superior to jogging in the amount of calories it burns, but is also far healthier for your joints in terms of impact absorption.


4. Modern pentathlon

Imagine a sport that combines fencing, swimming, horseback riding, running, and pistol shooting. If that sounds like training drills for ancient Greek warriors, that’s because this sport originated from the exactly that. Modern pentathlon is a mashup of all the skills that would make you a fearsome opponent to meet on the battle field. The Winter Games feature a snowy version of this sport, the biathlon.

weird sports olympics


This complex sport used to be broken up into five days, one for each of its events, but since 1996 it has been condensed into one extremely demanding day for its athletes. The sport does, however, differ from Iron Man competitions in that the athletes get breaks and wardrobe changes in between each different event.

In the most recent Sumer Games, eastern European countries (namely Russia) have dominated the modern pentathlon, especially the men’s event. But this isn’t necessarily a sport that favors any particular region. Athletes from China, Australia, Mexico, and western Europe have also had strong showings in recent years.


How to Watch these Weird Sports in 2020

It can be hard to find live broadcasts of events that don’t feature any American athletes or are not universally loved by American audiences. If you want to catch these weird sports in 2020, do your research on competition times and broadcasting schedules so you don’t miss out. The official website, tokyo2020.jp, will feature a full list of official providers once the Games are underway.


Want to see these weird sports up close and personal in Tokyo in 2020? Check out our Summer Games travel packages and get started planning the bucket list trip of a lifetime.

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