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Next up at the Olympics, Lifestyle Sports

Updated on November 2, 2019
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Gill Schor is the publisher of Sports History Magazine, a unique publication that features articles related to sports history.

Duke Kahanamoku, surfing's first ambassador who pushed for the sport's inclusion in the Olympics. His dream would finally come true a century later at the 2020 games in Tokyo, Japan.
Duke Kahanamoku, surfing's first ambassador who pushed for the sport's inclusion in the Olympics. His dream would finally come true a century later at the 2020 games in Tokyo, Japan.

Surfing, skateboarding and wall climbing, lifestyle sports with a focus on youth appeal and gender equality, will make their debut at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. For the first time in the annals of the games, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is providing flexibility and innovation by allowing a host country to propose its own sports, while still preserving the core of the classical Olympics.

Recognizing the myriad of entertainment options available to athletes and sports fans today, the IOC decided to take a selection of their 2020 competitions to the host nation. In the case of Japan next year, young hipsters who seek out thrills on ocean surfs, urban pavements, and vertical walls will now have a chance to earn medals at the world’s greatest sporting stage.

Founded on the ideals of the ancient Greek games, the first modern Olympics took place in 1896, bringing together 14 nations and 241 athletes in 9 sports. Fast forward 120 years, the 2016 events in Rio de Janeiro featured 207 nations, 11,238 athletes and 28 different sports. No doubt, the Olympics have evolved over the generations to meet the vast changes in popular culture, globalization, and technology.

With some exceptions, no new sporting events at the Olympics have been assured a permanent spot...

But no new sport, or any one of its categories, will be assured a permanent spot at the prestigious athletic extravaganza. Plenty of competitions have appeared, disappeared and reappeared since Pierre de Coubertin launched the games in Athens, Greece. Tug-of-war, underwater swimming, standing high-jump and dueling pistol shooting are just a few events that were held at one point and then canceled. The shooting competition in 1900 even featured live pigeons that were killed in the air as part of the event. To the abhorrence of spectators and animal rights activists, the use of live pigeons would be discontinued in future games.

Even non-athletic competitions were showcased during certain periods and then terminated. Between 1912 and 1948, seven Olympiads incorporated art into their programs. Five major categories were selected for medal contention: architecture, painting, sculpture, literature and music. American Walter Winans became a dual medalist in 1912 when he won silver in marksmanship and gold in sculpture.

Art in the Olympics was eventually scrapped since artists were deemed professionals and not amateurs like their counterparts on the field and in the swimming pool. Some of their works even sold while on display at the games. Eventually, the medals awarded for art were also stripped from the official records of the IOC.

A century after Duke Kahanamoku pushed for surfing's inclusion in the Olympics, his dream is finally being realized...

After several failed attempts over the years, the International Surfing Association (ISA) finally succeeded in breaking into the Olympics. Twenty men and twenty women will ride shortboards on waves at Shidashita Beach, some 40 miles outside Tokyo. Even Kelly Slater, the 48-year old all-time surfing champion, expressed an interest in competing at the momentous event.

With roots in the South Pacific, surfing was promoted internationally by Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming (1912, 1920). Born in 1890 when the island was still a kingdom, Duke was the leading surfer of his day and the sport’s first ambassador who pushed for its inclusion in the Olympics. A century later, his dream is finally being realized.

By the 1950’s, the water-borne sport gave birth to “sidewalk surfing”, or skateboarding as it later became known. A recreational street fad practiced by surfers in Southern California when they weren’t out on the water, the land-based flat board turned into a lifestyle sport with the advent of the kicktail and urethane wheels.

By the end of the 1970’s, a new generation of surfers-turned-skateboarders started talking about transforming their passion to an Olympic competition. That vision will now take place as eighty men and women will compete in four different skateboarding events at the Aomi Urban Venue in Tokyo.

Joining surfing and skateboarding, sport climbing will witness forty male and female athletes participating in a triple test of speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering on artificial walls. Emphasizing strength, endurance and technique, worldwide competitions in this discipline got going in the 1990’s and the sport today boasts 35 million climbers who scale walls in over 140 countries.

Balancing old and new, classical and emerging, the Olympics continue to excite us every four years with all forms of athletics and gamesmanships.

© 2019 Gill Schor

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