What You Need to Know About The Tokyo Summer Olympics

Including the new sports categories, sustainability practices, mascots, and what the athletes could be eating.

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

While the world was on a giant pause due to the pandemic, we (temporarily) lost out on the highly-anticipated, long-awaited 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Now, after even more of an anticipatory wait, they’re finally here — and we’ve summed up everything you’ll want to know heading into it. Let the games begin… literally!

When Are The Tokyo Summer Olympics?

Brief Olympics refresher (it’s OK… it really has been a while!). The Olympic games are broken up into the Summer and Winter Olympics, alternating between the two every two years. This means we have a Summer Olympics event every four years — this actually started in 1896 in Athens, Greece! — and the event we’re heading into was slated to take place in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Now in 2021, we’re picking up where we left off from Rio in 2016, with exciting sports like gymnastics, volleyball, diving, and more.

A Glimpse at The Summer Olympic Program

Though there are a lot of changes in this delayed summertime event (mostly due to the pandemic), there are even more great things to keep your eye on. We’ve got some exciting additions to the athletic lineup this year, including — for the first time ever — surfing. And this may be the most high-tech Olympic event we’ve ever seen, thanks to Japanese technology and innovation. 

Beginning July 21 and concluding August 8, Tokyo will host 33 competitions (comprising 339 events) across 42 venues, beginning with baseball, softball, and football, and ending with several events (all culminating on August 6), including water polo, volleyball, gymnastics, handball, golf, diving, and more.

Names to Know

Some Team USA Stars

  • David Boudia, diving
  • Simone Biles, gymnastics
  • Caeleb Dressel, swimming
  • Oksana Masters, para-cycling
  • Grant Holloway, track and field
  • Nyjah Huston, skateboarding
  • Noah Lyles, track and field
  • Carissa Moore, surfing
  • Katie Ledecky, swimming

Around the Globe

  • Stephanie Gilmore, surfing, Australia
  • Sky Brown, skateboarding, UK
  • Usain Bolt, track and field, Jamaica
  • Eliud Kipchoge, track and field, Kenya
  • Adam Ondra, sport climbing, Czech Republic
  • Leticia Bufoni, skateboarding, Brazil
  • Masahiro Tanaka, baseball, Japan
  • Sanita Puspure, rowing, Ireland
  • Nikita Nagornyy, gymnastics, Russia

Storylines to Follow 

Simone Biles

Simone Biles “could be the first woman in 53 years to defend an Olympic all-around title” this year and is expected to lead Team USA to another victory. Apparently, she hasn’t just maintained her skill level, she’s “gotten better.”

Alyson Felix 

Gold medalist Alyson Felix returns to the Olympics for the first time since becoming a mother in 2018.

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka made headlines when she withdrew from the French Open in May for her mental health and will likely make headlines again for what is expected to be a gold medal performance at the Olympics this month.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe, one of the most celebrated soccer players in the world, may make her last Olympic appearance this year.

Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore

Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore, world champion professional surfers from Australia and the US, have had a heated rivalry in the World Surf League since roughly 2011, alternating world titles ever since. Their competition on the world stage will undoubtedly be a highly viewed event in Tokyo. 

Sky Brown 

Sky Brown, a skateboarder from the UK, is just 12 years old and one of the youngest Olympians of all time. 

What You Need to Know About The Tokyo Summer Olympics

Yes, We’re Still Calling it Tokyo 2020 Games 

The time warp that has happened in all of our minds over the past 18+ months might make us feel like we’re still in 2020 — and the title of this event doesn’t help with that confusion! These are technically still considered (and called) the 2020 Games, despite it being 2021. 

This is more symbolic than you might guess at first glance. The Olympic committee agreed to keep the “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020” name, stating that it serves as a beacon of hope in troubled times: “Hosting the Games in 2021 is already very symbolic, and we hope the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be a celebration of humankind.”

This Year Will be Different Than Others 

This isn’t the first time the Olympics have been canceled — WWI and WWII led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympics. In fact, the 1940 Summer Olympics were due to take place in Tokyo and weren’t rescheduled until 24 years later, in 1964. The 1940 Winter Olympics were set to be hosted in Sapporo, Japan, and rescheduled 32 years later.

Fortunately, these Olympic Games were only set back by a year, perhaps because this is the first time that this kind of delay hasn’t been due to a world war. In fact, COVID-19 has had the most significant impact on the sporting world (globally!) since that era. Another big change? The arena won’t be as diverse this year, either, thanks to the pandemic. Foreign visitors are banned from Tokyo, meaning the spectators will only be local citizens.  

This is Japan’s 4th Time Hosting! 

Japan has hosted the Olympic games three times leading up to the Summer Games in Tokyo, beginning in the same city with the 1964 Summer Olympics (which, fun fact, actually took place in October of that year to avoid heat and typhoons!), then two Winter Olympics events (1972 in Sapporo, and 1998 in Nagano). The “2020” Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be the second time the city — and the country — has hosted this global event.

Recycled Medals  

The medals for the 2020 Olympics are totally green — environmentally, that is. They’re made of recycled electronics! Nearly 80,000 tons of materials were collected across Japan to create the gold, silver, and bronze medals. 

Sustainability Practices

Tokyo 2020’s sustainability plan incorporates zero-emission transport (provided by Toyota), cardboard beds for athletes, the aforementioned recycled medals, recycled plastic podiums, Asics kits made from recycled materials for Team Japan, and more sustainable face masks.

New Sports Categories

Some exciting never-before-seen Olympic sports are being introduced this year, and some are making a comeback after a brief hiatus. 

This year, set your sights on the sea as surfing is introduced to the Olympic arena. Back on land, Tokyo has constructed a massive skate park for the brand new skateboarding event. And keep an eye out for sport climbers, as the “climbers version of a triathlon” will also be introduced to the Games. Karate — a sport with ancient East Asian origins — will debut in Tokyo this year as well. And baseball and softball are back for the first time since 2008!

There Will Be Robots

In true Japanese fashion, the Tokyo Olympics will unveil some serious innovation. Toyota has engineered robots to help welcome guests, transport items, and support both athletes and attendees. The AI is pretty incredible and will only enhance the spirit of hope and perseverance after a stretch of difficult times across the globe. 

Technology Boom

The Olympic committee says that the upcoming event in Tokyo will be “the most innovative Olympic Games in history,” thanks to tech partner Intel supplying 5G connectivity and infrastructure. Some of the more exciting components? Self-driving cars, facial recognition systems, VR live viewing experiences, real-time translation technology, and of course, the aforementioned robots.

The Mascots 

Elementary school children in Japan voted on the mascots for the Olympic and Paralympic games: Miraitowa and Someity, respectively. MIRAITOWA is a Japanese portmanteau of the words “mirai” and “towa,” which mean “future” and “eternity”; SOMEITY sounds like “so mighty” and is drawn from the Japanese word for a popular cherry blossom, someiyoshino. Their design echoes that of beloved Japanese anime franchises like Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and even Sailor Moon.

The Athlete Menu

Olympic athletes are typically on a very regimented diet, and during the games, they will be able to nourish themselves with local, cultural delights from the Tokyo region. The Japanese menu in the athlete dining center will blend traditional and modern cuisine to serve up “rice balls, noodles and teppanyaki, skewers (yakitori) and Japanese savory pancake (okonomiyaki),” and evidently, they’ll be able to choose between over three thousand different meals every single day!

Let The Games Begin!   

After a year’s delay, this long-awaited event will be even more exciting than originally anticipated. Between the new technology, the incredible athletic lineup, the new sporting events, and more, this is a bright spot we can all look forward to no matter where in the world we’re watching. And at the very least, we can all be inspired to be our best selves, particularly when watching the incredible tenacity of the human spirit.