Worth the watch: 5 sports in the Tokyo Olympics you can’t miss

Photo of Toni-Ann Williams
Erin Haar/Staff

With the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony quickly nearing, our TVs will soon be dominated by athletes from all over the world performing superhuman acts and breaking records. Sports too often overshadowed will enter the Olympic spotlight for the first time in five years.

While every sport in the Summer Olympics is electrifying in its own way, here are the five that have a special place in our hearts.

5. Table tennis

Table tennis holds the ultimate soft spot in our hearts. Rare is the person who has not, at some point, picked up a paddle and a pingpong ball. A successful table tennis rally is cathartic in its sight, sound and rhythm.

At the Olympic level, that rhythm is dialed up to a frenetic 100. While table tennis players might not exhibit the same record-breaking athleticism as other athletes, their superhuman reflexes are on full display. We appreciate table tennis because anyone can play it. We appreciate Olympic table tennis because only those athletes could be that good.

4. Volleyball

Volleyball may be the quintessential team sport. There is no other competition that so thoroughly requires a team. There is individual greatness to be had, but there is no spike without a set, no set without a pass and no pass without defense.

Volleyball has few of the boundaries that make other Olympic sports so exciting. There is no world record to be had on a court or beach.

Objective standards, however, are replaced by breathless rallies, blocks and spikes as two teams duel against each other and the ultimate enemy: gravity.

3. Swimming

An unspoken foundational sport in every Summer Olympics, swimming is a must-watch, especially if you’re a Cal fan. Led by team captains Simone Manuel, Allison Schmitt, Caeleb Dressel and former Bear Ryan Murphy, Team USA is set to make a splash.

Swimming is the ideal Olympic sport because it benefits the most from being televised. Without names and flags edited onto broadcasts, swimmers are largely unrecognizable blobs making waves. With labels, stopwatches and commentators, the events become digestible for all viewers, swim experts and newbies alike.

2. Gymnastics

You’d be lying if you said gymnastics isn’t exciting. The heights gymnasts reach and the boundaries they continue to push are unparalleled — does physics even exist in Simone Biles’ world?

Whether you’re watching Biles contend for another five Olympic medals, the United States vie for another 1-2 finish in the women’s all-around or Sam Mikulak compete in his third Games, artistic gymnastics is sure to thrill.

And don’t forget to tune in for rhythmic and trampoline gymnastics, both of which are just as worthwhile.

1. Track

There is something engagingly simple about track events. We were born to move, and in many ways, track is the simplest expression of our desire to be free under our own power. Whether or not they use a prosthesis, the sight of athletes at the white starting line elicits thoughts often forgotten in the playgrounds of years past.

Who is it? Who’s the fastest?

This is where the Eliud Kipchoges, Usain Bolts and Florence Griffith Joyners of the world were born. Whether it’s 100 meters or 10,000 meters, the fastest people on the planet redefine what it is to be human on the Olympic track.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is editor in chief and president and Jocelyn Huang is the managing editor. Contact them at [email protected].