Check if your outdoor activity is an Olympic sport

Check if your outdoor activity is an Olympic sport


There are a total of 40 sports in the Olympics, including both summer and winter types. If you take a closer look, it’s clear that about 1/3 of them are outdoor activities of interest to us, including such sports as surfing, road cycling, ski mountaineering, and triathlon. Yes, we made that discovery ourselves just before writing this article. In it we will list all the outdoor sports in the Olympics and briefly talk about each, so you can follow your favorite activities at the next summer Games in Paris in 2024 and the winter Games in Milan Cortina in 2026. For convenience, we’ve divided the list into water, land, and mixed sports (multisports) — as in our own Outdoor Encyclopedia.

Olympic outdoor sports: water

There are six Olympic outdoor water sports, one of which has two additional disciplines, so there are seven in total according to the official classification.

Surfing Olympics

Surfing is one of the newest Olympic sports that made its debut at the last summer Tokyo Games in 2021, which was originally supposed to take place in 2020, although the idea of including it had been floating around for decades. The competition takes place on popular beaches with good waves — in Tokyo, it was Tsurigasaki Beach on the Chiba Peninsula. The Paris Olympics competition will be held on Teahupoo Beach in Tahiti, a French Polynesian island in the Pacific Ocean. There are 40 surfers in all, including 20 men and as many women. They compete on short boards.

Marathon swimming Olympics

Marathon swimming is also one of the relatively new Olympic sports, which was also first included in the program at the Asian Olympics — in Beijing in 2008. Its difference from regular swimming is that the races take place in open water, not in an indoor pool.  That's why it and not the other one is on our list. As a rule, it is a river or large lake near the place of the games — in Paris, it will be the Seine River. The length of the swim is 10 km, which is a marathon distance for swimming, like 42 km in running, which is very long. It takes at least two hours.

Sailing Olympics

Sailing, on the other hand, is one of the oldest Olympic sports, which has been on the program for more than 100 years, namely since 1900, when the Games were also held in Paris. In 2024 they return to the city, which gives this sport special importance and as a consequence attention to it. The competition will take place in the Marseille Marina in several traditional disciplines, to which the organizers added five new ones, including kiteboarding and windsurfing. This is because, in the international sports classification, they belong to sailing. So we can say that these activities are now Olympic sports too!

Canoe Olympics

Canoe is a sport that has been part of the Olympics since 1936 in Berlin and will next take place at the Vaires-Sur-Marne Nautical Stadium near Paris. At the Olympics, a canoe is divided into two separate sports among a total of 40: canoe flatwater and canoe slalom. The content of the former is easy to guess from the name; the latter is the passing of river rapids. The competition also has two subtypes depending on the type of boat — canoe proper and kayak. The latter, in turn, also includes a new discipline — extreme kayak, another great debut in Paris.

Rowing Olympics

Rowing is almost as old as the Olympics. It has been held at absolutely every Games in modern history except the very first in Athens in 1896. In Paris, the competition will take place in the same place as the canoe. Typically, more than 500 male and female athletes take part in disciplines and events such as Single, Double (including Lightweight), and Quadruple Sculls; Pair; Coxless Four; and Eight. The British are traditionally in the lead thanks to races like Oxford versus Cambridge.

Olympic stadium in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. Christoph Keil / Unsplash

Olympic outdoor sports: land

Olympic outdoor activities practiced on land include 10 sports, half of which are skiing and other winter sport for which snow is must-have.

Cycling Olympics

Cycling is one of the oldest and, as a consequence, traditional sports in the Olympic program. It made its debut at the first Games in Athens in 1896 but was not included in the program for the next three years until it reappeared in Stockholm in 1912. We are talking about road cycling. The second major discipline, the mountain bike, appeared in 1996 in Atlanta. Competitors take part in elite races with a common start-finish and individual time trials around the Olympic capital. Compared to swimming, where one athlete like Michael Phelps can win 10 gold medals at only one Games, it is very prestigious to win a medal in cycling.

Golf Olympics

Golf is an outdoor activity that not everyone would call a sport, but rather an outdoor game. However, it’s not just a sport, but a permanent Olympic sport since the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But it was also on the programs of 1900 and 1904. The golf competition takes place on a golf field inside or near the cities in two main formats: stroke play and match play across 72 holes. Among the more than 100 athletes, Americans (think Tiger Woods) are traditionally considered the best, but other countries are not far behind.

Sport climbing Olympics

Sport climbing is another outdoor activity along with surfing, which became an Olympic sport at the last Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Although it takes place in artificial walls with rocks, we included it in the list because it is primarily an outdoor activity rather than an urban sport. Olympic sport climbing has three disciplines: bouldering, lead climbing, and speed climbing, and 28 athletes in total. (For amateurs: if this sport seems difficult to you, try the via ferrata).

Equestrian Olympics

Equestrian or horse riding is a sport that has been in the Olympics since 1912. It is held at hippodromes, which are usually found in almost every major city in the world. In Paris, it is Chateau de Versailles. Don’t think, however, that horseback riding is as easy as amateur rides in the parks. It takes years of training to achieve success in its three subspecies — dressage, eventing, and jumping (over the barriers). From there, only the world’s best riders (and horses, of course) compete in the Olympic Games.

Skiing Olympics

Skiing is the number one winter Olympic sport with nearly a century of tradition. Its main variety, Alpine skiing, made its debut at the Games in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Bavaria, Germany. In addition to it, it is cross-country skiing and Nordic combined, which also includes ski jumping. If you add target shooting, you get biathlon, and if we go back to jumping we get freestyle skiing, as in two other Olympic disciplines. We already said, that the last winter Games were in Beijing, the next will be in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites, Italy, in 2026.

Snowboarding Olympics

Snowboarding is a separate sport that, in the words of the Olympic Committee itself, "combines skiing, surfing, and skateboarding." It was first inducted in 1998 at the Nagano Games in Japan and is unlikely to ever leave the program, considering it has since evolved from an extreme sport to one of the major winter sports on par with skiing. Its main competitions today are giant slalom and parallel giant slalom, half-pipe, snowboard cross, Slopestyle, and Big Air.

Ski mountaineering Olympics

Ski mountaineering or skimo, as it is usually abbreviated, is a challenging outdoor activity that will make its debut at the Winter Olympics in 2026. The organizers explain its inclusion by the fact that Italy is the best country to practice it, as well as its growing global popularity (a good coincidence). The competition takes place on the same mountains as Alpine skiing, with the difference that the athletes climb the rocky ice peaks with skis, gaining up to 1,000 meters or more in height. More accurately, these are individual, sprint, and mixed men's and woman's relay races among a maximum of 48 athletes.

Olympic rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games. Derrick Payton / unsplash

Olympic outdoor sports: air

No air sports in their purest form, such as paragliding, can be classed as Olympic outdoor activities today, but perhaps they will appear in the future.

Olympic outdoor sports: multisport

Among the Olympic outdoor activities, there is one multisport or mixed sport, which combines several sports at the same time.

Triathlon Olympics

Triathlon is the world’s premier multisport, which has been part of the Olympic program since the 2000 Games in Sydney. Known more for the Ironman competition, it combines swimming (1.5 km), road cycling (40 km), and running (10 km). In swimming, the competition takes place on open water. The exact start and finish point of triathlon competitions in Paris is the Pont d’lena, one of the main bridges over the Seine River. The main innovation of the Olympic triathlon, men’s and women’s mixed relay, will be repeated in Paris after the success in Tokyo. In all, more than 100 athletes participate in it.


So the bottom line is that among the 40 Olympic sports, 13 are outdoor activities or 22 with the disciplines included. Here they are again in one list for better remembering:

  • Surfing
  • Marathon swimming
  • Sailing, including kiteboarding and windsurfing
  • Canoe, including flatwater and slalom using canoes and kayaks
  • Rowing
  • Cycling, including road and mountain biking
  • Golf
  • Sport climbing, including bouldering 
  • Equestrian (Horse riding)
  • Skiing, including Alpine, cross-country, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and freestyle skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Ski mountaineering
  • Triathlon

Consequently, the list doesn't include sports like swimming and diving (in the Olympics: jumping in the pool), archery and shooting, cycling using BMX bikes and track cycling, luge, bobsleigh and skeleton, ice skating, and, of course, all play sports like baseball, even if they are practiced under clear (or rainy) skies. 

Go to the Outdoor Encyclopedia to learn more about these and many other types of outdoor activities and to read short and detailed guides on them, or write your own if you can’t find one. In the latter case, write to [email protected] with a short story about you and your experience, which makes you a better writer on the topic. So you will become one of its authors.


Text: Ivan Kuznetsov

Cover photo: Ben Wicks / Unsplash

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