A viewing guide to the Tokyo Olympics' must-watch events

·10 min read
Simone Biles.
Simone Biles. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Seventeen consecutive days, 7,000 hours of programming, 339 events, 33 sports, five cable networks — and a 13-hour time difference between New York City and Tokyo. It is frankly dizzying to think about where to even begin with watching the summer Olympics.

While NBC plans to begin its tape-delayed, nightly primetime coverage at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. ET on Sundays), Olympic obsessives who don't want the internet to spoil their viewing experience can plan their early-morning viewing schedules below. For those with the self-discipline to stay off their phones during the day, primetime coverage is expected to cover the highlights from swimming, gymnastics, track & field, diving, and beach volleyball, as well as "significant coverage of live events."

What to watch

All times are ET

The Opening Ceremony

Watch it live: 7 a.m. Friday on NBC, or streaming on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app

Catch it again: 7:30 p.m. on NBC, and rebroadcast on NBCOlympics.com.

Why watch: While most Olympic Opening Ceremonies are boisterous affairs, Japan is planning a much more "sobering" event than we've seen in recent years. "Very Japanese, but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality," Marco Balich, a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremonies executive producer, told Reuters, alluding to the postponed Games, the more than 4 million people who've died globally in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fierce opposition to the Games in the host nation. Still, you won't want to miss the Parade of Nations, where women's basketball legend Sue Bird and Miami Marlin's baseball player and silver-medal-winning speedskater Eddy Alvarez will be the first duo to carry the flag for Team USA after the IOC changed its rules to allow for two flagbearers out of attention to gender equality.


What to watch: The U.S. Men's Olympic team heads to Tokyo after two bruising exhibition loses to Nigeria and Australia — a shock for "the most successful team in international competition ever, winning medals in all 18 Olympic tournaments it has entered, including 15 golds," Deadline reports. But don't expect that losing streak to hold. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is serving as the head coach of the U.S. national team, which includes Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, and Devin Booker. The group stage begins for the Americans against France on July 25 at 8 a.m.; quarterfinals begin on Aug. 2 at 9 p.m.; semifinals start on Aug. 5 at 12:15 a.m., and the gold medal game is on Aug. 6 at 10:30 p.m. Good luck planning your sleep schedule! Notably, a Peacock Premium subscription is required to watch live U.S. men's basketball.

Like the U.S. Men, the U.S. Women's Olympic Team was also in "unfamiliar territory after dropping two exhibition games in a row for the first time in a decade," ESPN writes. But the American women are still favored to win the gold, especially with a roster that includes the Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson and the 40-year-old Bird, a four-time gold-medal-winning Olympian and the most decorated athlete in her sport. The group stage begins for the Americans against Nigeria on July 26 at 12:40 a.m.; quarterfinals begin on Aug. 3 at 9 p.m.; the semifinals start on Aug. 6 at 12:40 a.m.; and the gold medal game is on Aug. 7 at 10:30 p.m. View the full schedule for both the men's and women's tournaments here.

Catch it again: Watch replays here.


What to watch: The 2020 Olympics mark the first time that women have had a chance to compete in canoeing. Look to root for 19-year-old Nevin Harrison, a sprint canoer poised to become the youngest Olympian to win a gold in the discipline. She'll appear in the women's C1 200 meters, with the quarterfinals beginning at 10:53 p.m. on Aug. 3, and the final at 12:10 a.m. on Aug. 5. The full canoe and kayak schedule can be found here.

Catch it again: A canoe sprint is a blink-and-you-miss-it event, so if you're out of the room, revisit any race here.


What to watch: The U.S. women's qualifier is on July 25 at 2:10 a.m. America's four-person team includes Simone Biles, Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum, while MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey have individual spots. Only the top two Americans can make the cut for the individual all-around and the event finals, so the qualifier is actually a rather high-stakes day. The U.S. women's team final will be on July 27 at 6:45 a.m., and the women's all-around final is on July 29 at 6:50 a.m. Watch for Biles to win up to five golds.

Also consider tuning in on July 25 at 4:05 a.m. to see Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, the 46-year-old who is the oldest Olympic gymnast ever and attending her eighth Games. She has five skills named after her in the Women's Artistic Gymnastics Code of Points; Biles, by comparison, has four.

For individual events, check the artistic gymnastics schedule here. Access all live men's and women's artistic gymnastics events here; also check the full schedule for trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics.

Catch it again: NBC assures that gymnastics will feature prominently in its primetime coverage. You can also access replays here.


What to watch: New this year, the skateboarding women's final begins at 8 p.m. on Aug 3, while the men's finals are the same time the next day. But trust me when I say you'll want to watch the qualifiers, which start as soon as July 24 at 7:30 p.m., because of all the young talent in this stacked competition. Japan will be championing 14-year-old Misugu Okamoto in the park competition; Brazil's 13-year-old Rayssa Leal will participate in street; and Great Britain's Sky Brown, also competing in street, is only 12. View the full schedule of events here.

Catch it again: Since skateboarding is new to the Olympics and designed to attract younger viewers, one would expect NBC to push it pretty heavily during primetime. If not, you can catch any replays here.


What to watch: The Olympics began on Wednesday for the U.S. women's soccer team, who stunningly lost in a 3-0 upset to Sweden. The U.S. had been the favorites to win gold, while Sweden was ranked No. 5.; the loss broke the U.S. women's soccer team's 44-game unbeaten streak. The Americans have two more games to try to survive the group stage: against New Zealand on July 24 at 4:30 a.m., and against Australia on July 27 at 4 a.m. The semifinals begin on Aug. 2 at 4 a.m.; the gold medal match is on Aug. 5 at 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, the U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Catch it again: All soccer replays can be found here.

Sport climbing

What to watch: An essential part of the Olympic viewing experiencing is turning on the TV at some point and going, "Wait, that's a sport?" But you'll be blown away by this new addition to the Games, in which athletes climb walls in three disciplines: speed, bouldering, and lead. High schooler Colin Duffy, 17, is one to watch on the U.S. team, but he'll have to beat the Czech Republic's intimidating Adam Ondra. Get a sense of the sport by watching the men's final at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 5, or the women's final the next day at the same time. The full schedule can be perused here.

Catch it again: This might be a harder event to find during primetime, so if you miss it, the replays are here.


What to watch: There are 111 swimming medals, so understandably it can be hard to decide where to start. The good news (for audiences, anyway) is that you'll be able to watch many of the premier events live during NBC's primetime coverage because swimmers will be racing in the mornings in Japan. Definitely clear your schedule for the women's 400m freestyle final at 9:30 p.m. on July 25, when five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky is expected to face off against her primary rival, 20-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus, in one of the biggest nail-biters of the Games.

And while there will be no Michael Phelps in the pool in Tokyo (although he'll be offering his commentary on NBC), the U.S. men's star swimmer will likely be Caeleb Dressel, who could win up to six gold medals at the Games. The Washington Post expects him to "challenge world records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races, in addition to the 100-meter butterfly record he set in 2019." The men's finals for those events will air on July 31 at 9:30 p.m., July 28 at 10:27 p.m., and July 30 at 9:30 p.m. respectively. Check the full swimming schedule here.

Catch it again: Swimming will mostly be live during NBC's primetime coverage, but if you miss a favorite event you can watch the replays here.


What to watch: Naomi Osaka will make her big return to tennis at the Olympics, representing her home country despite having been raised primarily in the United States. As of the time of publication, the match-ups haven't been finalized, but mark your calendar for the women's singles gold match on July 30 at 11 p.m., and view the full schedule for the men's and women's events when they are posted here.

Catch it again: You can expect lots of coverage following Osaka's highly-anticipated return. Replays will be found here.

Track & Field

What to watch: Track and field events run for 10 of the 17 days of the Olympics, and there's a lot to watch. But definitely don't miss nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix's final appearance at the Games, since she could tie or break Carl Lewis' record of 10 for the most medals won by an American track & field athlete. Her marquee race will be the women's 400m, the final for which airs at 8:35 a.m. on Aug. 6.

There's also a fun race cooking up in the women's 400-meter hurdles between fellow Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, who is the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian this year at 21. While Muhammad won gold in Rio in 2016 and has remained dominant, McLaughlin stunned her at the U.S. trials by taking first place and setting a new world record. They'll likely face off again on Aug. 3 at 10:30 p.m.

Also be sure to catch first-time Olympian Noah Lyles, a 23-year-old who just missed making the team for Rio. He'll only be running the 200 meters, having missed making the 100 meters, but he's favored to nab the gold in the final on Aug. 4 at 8:55 a.m.

Finally, be sure to catch the exciting final moments of the marathon; the women will run on Aug. 7, and the men the next day, with both races starting at 6 p.m. The beloved world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya is the man to beat, while The Washington Post lists Kenya's Brigid Kosgei, Israel's Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, and Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich as hopefuls on the women's side.

Catch it again: Track and field events range from being over in less than 10 seconds to lasting over two hours. While there will certainly be coverage of classic events during primetime, you can catch your favorites in replays posted here.

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