New sports mesmerise, puzzle and entertain to leave an indelible mark on Tokyo 2020

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 26:  Momiji Nishiya of Team Japan celebrates during the Women's Street Final on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 26: Momiji Nishiya of Team Japan celebrates during the Women's Street Final on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing brought a different flavour to the Olympic Games showcasing the full gamut of human ability.

Four first-time sports were added to the programme for Tokyo 2020, exposing new audiences to the joys and intrigue of the quadrennial showpiece. Karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing made their debut at these Games.

The new sports mesmerised, entertained and, in some cases, puzzled the uninitiated whether it was fighting an imaginary rival, defying gravity, grinding, sliding or catching a wave.

We look at some of the men and women that became the first Olympic gold medallists in their respective sports.

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Board-breaking performance

Brazil's Italo Ferreira gave the Olympics the first surfing champion it deserved, displaying incredible skills navigating the waves at the Tsurigasaki Beach and dogged determination to earn the crown.

The reigning World Surf League champion Ferreira broke his board on his first wave. He returned to the shore for a new board and completed the final with a winning score of 15.14 to become the first Olympic surfing gold medallist.

"It's one of the best days of my life for sure," he said.

"I was so nervous at the beginning, but I just tried to surf and have fun because two months ago I was busy with training and thinking and dreaming and now I've got the gold medal.

"The dream came true."

It's quite heavy (the medal). I'm very proud and honoured. I feel super blessed, super fortunate. It's been an incredible experience.

The irrepressible Carissa Moore of the United States added the Olympic title to her laundry list of achievements in the women's competition.

Moore scored waves of 7.33 and 7.60, taking her chances early on to earn a comfortable victory over South Africa's Bianca Buitendag in the final.

"It's quite heavy (the medal). I'm very proud and honoured," said Moore.

"It's been a crazy couple of days, a little bit of a rollercoaster of emotions just trying to figure out the break, find my rhythm, learning how to trust myself without my family here.

"I feel super blessed, super fortunate. It's been an incredible experience."

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Janja Garnbret of Slovenia  during the Sport Climbing Women's Combined, Qualification on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tsuyoshi Ueda - Pool/Pool)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 04: Janja Garnbret of Slovenia during the Sport Climbing Women's Combined, Qualification on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Aomi Urban Sports Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tsuyoshi Ueda - Pool/Pool)
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Reaching the pinnacle

Sport climbing provided wall-to-wall action. And what is not to like about a sport combining speed, agility, and a good dollop of fear?

Billed as the fastest race at the Olympics, the speed climbing discipline challenged people's idea of fast. Yes, Usain Bolt could cover the 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, but how fast would he have scaled a 15-metre wall?

Spain's Ginés López, who was crowned the inaugural Olympic champion in the men's combined sport climbing, won the speed event reaching the top in a time of 6.42 seconds. The 18-year-old proved his all-around ability finishing seventh in lead and fourth in bouldering to reach the pinnacle of his sport.

"It's a dream come true," said López. "I didn't expect it at all. I didn't expect to get into the final. A dream come true. "[It helped] having my head in the right place, which during this past year I've not been able to do, but here I was able to feel in the right place."

This was by far the hardest competition in my entire career because if I ever thought that I was feeling under pressure in other world cups… the Olympics is something different.

Slovenia's Janja Garnbret lived up to her favourite tag in the women's event, adding the Olympic title to her six world championship gold medals.

Only 22 years old, Garnbret highlighted her class and underscored her title as the world's greatest female climber, winning the Olympic title by five points.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I felt a lot of pressure from people around me saying that I was already the winner, but I knew that it is not as easy as people think," Garnbret said.

"So the fact that I made it, that I handled all of this, being focused all the time, I am very proud of how I handled this.

"This was by far the hardest competition in my entire career because if I ever thought that I was feeling under pressure in other world cups… the Olympics is something different."

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A karate homecoming

Karate made an apt Olympic debut in the country of origin. Contested over two disciplines – kata and kumite – the sport invited excitement and intrigue at these Games.

First, for the intrigue. For any first-time watcher, the kata would look like a mixture between martial arts and performing arts with an intimidating twist.

The first karate and kata Olympic gold medal ended around the neck of the age-defying Sandra Sanchez of Spain. Sanchez ascended the throne as the queen of the kata on the eve of her 40th birthday.

"It is crazy. I am so emotional, I am feeling so many things together. I am happy, but I want to cry," said Sanchez.

"I think I need more time to believe that this is real. I want to see my kata and make sure it happened because right now, I can't believe it.

"This was the perfect final, with SHIMIZU (Kiyou), in Japan, at the Budokan. This really is the best moment. It is amazing."

I was able to tell Okinawa, Japan, and around the world that karate, which is Okinawa's tradition, is loved by a lot of people.

Three-time world champion KIYUNA Ryo won Japan's only karate gold medal, securing the men's kata title for the host nation.

The Japanese karateka gave a powerful kata performance scoring 28.72 to beat Spain's Damian Quintero (27.66).

"Olympics draws the most attention. I was able to tell Okinawa, Japan, and around the world that karate, which is Okinawa's tradition, is loved by a lot of people," said Kiyuna. "I am happy to leave my mark on Okinawa's history."

In the kumite category, a sparring discipline, the six gold medals went to six different nations and could be the last titles for the sport at the Games as karate will not feature at Paris 2024.

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: Keegan Palmer of Team Australia competes during the Men's Skateboarding Park Preliminary Heat 4 on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on August 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: Keegan Palmer of Team Australia competes during the Men's Skateboarding Park Preliminary Heat 4 on day thirteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Urban Sports Park on August 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Camaraderie on full display

No sport quite represented generational mix as did the skateboarding from the teenage podium in the women’s street competition to the 40-something duo in the men’s park event.

Skateboarding brought plenty of youthful vigour, slides, grinds and flips to these Games.

Japan established themselves as powerhouses of the sport at Tokyo 2020, winning three of the four gold medals on offer.

The hosts won the men’s and women’s street titles courtesy of HORIGOME Yuto and 13-year-old NISHIYA Momiji with YOSOZUMI Sakura clinching the gold medal in the women’s park competition.

It’s an absolute honour to skate with my friends. I can’t believe I’m here in Tokyo for the Olympics, skating with so many of my best friends from when I was little.

The women’s street event saw Nishiya lead the youngest ever podium in Olympic history with Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (13) and compatriot NAKAYUMA Funa (16) winning the silver and bronze respectively.

“I’m so happy to win the Olympics in Japan, and I’m so happy to win my first Olympics as one of the youngest competitors,” Nishiya said. “Skateboarding is fun and interesting to do, so I want everyone to try skateboarding.”

The 18-year-old Australian skateboarder Keegan Palmer produced two sensational performances in the finals to win the men’s park gold medal.

“It’s an absolute honour to skate with my friends. I can’t believe I’m here in Tokyo for the Olympics, skating with so many of my best friends from when I was little,” said Palmer, demonstrating the camaraderie among skateboarders. “And now we’re all on the podium together, and it’s an absolute honour.”