A full year later than planned, the sports world gathers in Tokyo, with a hesitant host nation welcoming the best athletes on the planet for the Summer Olympics.

Organizers began planning the Tokyo Olympics more than a decade ago, when they started drawing up a bid they hoped would showcase a vibrant city and cement Japan’s standing on the global stage. But just four months before the curtain was set to be raised on their grand show, the fast-spreading coronavirus changed everything.

Here’s what to know about the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When do the Tokyo Olympics begin and what is the schedule?
  • How can I watch the Tokyo Games?
  • What are the most popular sports?
  • What are the new Olympic sports?
  • How will they keep athletes safe during the Olympics?
  • Will the Olympics look different?

When do the Tokyo Olympics begin and what is the schedule?

Postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Olympics began officially July 23 with the Opening Ceremonies. The Games will end Aug. 8 with the Closing Ceremonies. Some events, such as the softball and the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments, began July 21, before the official start of the Games.

The first medals will be handed out July 24, followed by more than two weeks of dizzying action. Swimming and gymnastics probably will take center stage in the opening week. Swimming competition runs July 24-Aug. 1, and gymnastics is July 23-Aug. 3.

Track and field events begin July 30 and conclude with the men’s marathon Aug. 8, the final day of the Olympics.

Many Olympic tournaments run nearly the duration of the Games, including basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, water polo, soccer and beach volleyball, and don’t award medals until the final days.

How can I watch the Tokyo Games?

NBC again will be providing extensive coverage of the Olympics, broadcasting events across several channels, including NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and USA Network. Cord-cutters will be able to stream Olympics coverage on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, and Spanish-language coverage will be available across all of Telemundo platforms.

While many events will air live, given the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the United States’ Eastern time zone, many others will be broadcast on tape delay.

The Opening Ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. in Tokyo, and NBC will broadcast the event live, which means it will air at 7 a.m. Eastern time in the United States.

We break down the most cost-effective way to get your Tokyo Olympics fix — from Peacock and social media, to borrowing a streaming password here in our Olympics how to watch guide.

What are the most popular sports?

With nearly 1,000 competitors from 170 or so nations, swimming will be among the most-watched sports in the opening days of the Tokyo Olympics.

Gymnastics, similarly, is a favorite of fans and television network executives alike. Every four years the sport seems to crown Olympic royalty and generate some of the biggest story lines of the summer.

No sport at the Olympics is as ubiquitous and universal as track and field. Some 200 countries and more than 2,000 athletes will compete in Tokyo, vying for medals in 47 events, the most of any Olympic sport.

The men’s and women’s Olympic basketball tournaments are always one of the hottest tickets of every Summer Games, especially since professionals began competing in 1992. Both the U.S. men and women have medaled at every Olympics — except the 1980 Moscow Games, which the United States boycotted. The men’s team has won gold at the past three Summer Games, while the women’s squad has won the past six Olympic titles.

The men’s soccer tournament is limited to players age 23 and younger, so it generally highlights up-and-coming talent. The United States hasn’t medaled since 1904 and failed to qualify for Tokyo. The women’s tournament, on the other hand, has no age restrictions, and especially in the United States, it has become appointment television for many fans. The women’s tournament was first held at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and the Americans have won four of the six gold medal matches since. The U.S. squad failed to advance past the quarterfinal round four years ago.

What are the new Olympic sports?

After a push that began a half-century ago, karate was formally added to the Olympic program in 2016. It will consist of two medal events: kumite, a tournament that features three weight classes for each gender, and kata, in which athletes are judged performing maneuvers and techniques.

As the IOC eagerly seeks out a younger audience, it added skateboarding to these Olympics, thrusting the popular street sport onto the sporting world’s biggest stage. There will be two disciplines on display: street, an obstacle course of sorts that features rails, stairs and ramps, and park, a giant bowl that skateboarders use to perform a variety of tricks.

There’s a new cycling discipline called BMX freestyle. It will feature daredevil cyclists performing tricks and jumps in a park loaded with ramps and obstacles.

Sport climbing also will make its Olympic debut, but it will be a format that’s still relatively new to most competitors. The Olympic competition for both genders includes three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. Competitors earn points in each discipline, and athletes with the highest overall scores reach the podium.

Like skateboarding, surfing promises to introduce both a distinct culture and a youth-oriented competition to the Olympic platform. Both men and women will perform before judges, showcasing their speed, power and flow on the waves.

While basketball has been a staple of the Olympic program since 1936 — it was a demonstration sport as early as 1904 — these Tokyo Games will introduce a new version of the familiar game: three-on-three basketball, long popular in playgrounds and gymnasiums. The half-court contest will look and feel much like the standard five-on-five game, with several rule variations. Baskets are worth one and two points, for example, and the team with the highest score after a single 10-minute period or the first to 21 wins.

How will they keep athletes safe during the Olympics?

Athletes, along with all other attendees and participants, will be required to follow strict guidelines aimed at minimizing risk and limiting exposure to the virus.

Athletes will not be allowed to stay in the Olympic Village for the duration of the Games and must depart after their respective competitions conclude. Each athlete will be given a “playbook” that outlines protocols and restrictions. Athletes will be barred from using public transportation or visiting non-Olympic sites, including bars, restaurants, shops and tourist destinations.

They were required to submit two negative coronavirus tests before boarding a plane and to take a third test upon landing in Tokyo. Athletes then were required to remain in their rooms for three days. They could leave the Olympic Village to train or do Olympic-related activities as long as they tested negative each day.

Athletes will be urged to maintain good hygiene and practice social distancing. They won’t be allowed to enter any venue if their temperature reads 99.5 degrees or higher. They will be tested for the coronavirus daily and will have to log daily health updates into a smartphone app.

Will the Olympics look different?

Anyone watching on television might not notice much out of the ordinary. Masks will be worn around all competitions. The stands will be empty, a familiar site from many sporting events last year. And post-competition interviews will be conducted from a safe distance.

But most importantly, the Olympics will include all the familiar action with a full slate of sports, featuring more than 11,000 athletes from 200 countries.

What about on the ground?

There will be guidelines in place to encourage social distancing, restrict movement and limit face-to-face interaction, and some of the pageantry will be toned down. Details for the Opening Ceremonies have been held closely under wraps, and it’s not clear how athletes will be featured in the Night 1 extravaganza.

Locals might feel an unusual disconnect from the Games. Not only are they barred from attending any of the competitions, there will be no public viewing areas, and people in town for the Olympics can’t co-mingle with local residents.

Will the Games be safe?

Organizers have said for months that an Olympics can be safely staged this summer, even as public sentiment in Japan has wavered and health experts have highlighted some of the dangers. Major sporting events around the world — including many test events in Japan — have gone off without a hitch, and a recent plunge in coronavirus case numbers quieted some of the dissent.

The Japanese government partially lifted a state of emergency over Tokyo last month, leaving in place what it called a “quasi-state of emergency.” But case numbers in Tokyo began to creep back up in late June, prompting officials to declare a new state of emergency on July 8, which will remain in effect through the end of the Olympics. While Tokyo’s busy streets and most businesses will largely continue normal operations during the day, bars and restaurants cannot serve alcohol during that period.

Many health officials fear an outbreak would overwhelm the country’s hospital system, and Japan’s failure to quickly vaccinate its population has only heightened fears. Around 20 percent of the population has been vaccinated, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the country won’t be fully vaccinated until November.

Can athletes meet and socialize with athletes from other teams and countries?

The athlete experience surely will be different from other Olympics. Usually, mingling and meeting in the Olympic Village — where most athletes stay — is encouraged. Indeed, it’s a defining part of the Olympics for lots of participants.

This year, athletes in the Olympic Village are encouraged to follow strict safety protocols. Athletes are wearing masks and are encouraged to physically distance and wash their hands. And they’re supposed to stay only with the group with which they came. This is being described as a “bubble,” but in reality it’s nothing like other bubbles, such as the NBA bubble in Orlando last summer, which allowed no one in or out. But it’s also nothing that resembles normal Olympic behavior.

Will there be spectators at Olympic events?

Organizers announced July 8 that spectators will be barred from all Olympic events held in and around Tokyo, which accounts for the vast majority of them.

Previously, Tokyo 2020 officials decided in March that only Japanese spectators would be allowed to attend these Olympics. The decision was made to limit the number of foreigners coming into the country as organizers sought to keep both the local population and the Olympic proceedings as safe as possible.

In June, Tokyo officials said they would cap attendance at 50 percent of a venue’s capacity and no more than 10,000 fans would be allowed to attend any Olympic event. Ultimately, though, they adopted an even stricter policy.

Will vaccines be required of athletes or other attendees to the Tokyo Games?

IOC officials call vaccines “one of many tools available in the toolbox,” and they are urging athletes to get shots if they can. But vaccines will not be a requirement to compete at these Olympics. Olympians will face the same guidelines and protocols whether they have been vaccinated or not.

Organizers estimate that at least 80 percent of residents of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.

“We do feel pretty confident the vast majority of our delegation — not just athletes but coaches, service providers, et cetera — will be vaccinated and are continuing to encourage vaccinations,” Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said in June. “It is something we have strongly encouraged, we continue to encourage — we continue to provide resources to athletes who have questions about vaccinations.”

Will athletes compete in masks?

Athletes will not be required to wear masks during competition, but they will be expected to at just about all other times — “except when training, competing, eating or sleeping, or if you are outside and able to keep two meters apart from others,” according to the athletes’ playbook.

How will coronavirus testing work?

Athletes can expect to be tested daily. There will be a dedicated space in the Olympic Village for the athletes to undergo their tests. The initial tests will be a saliva antigen test. If the results are positive or not conclusive, the sample will undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Results are expected within 12 hours.

What happens if there is a positive test?

Any athlete who tests positive will not be allowed to compete. They immediately must begin isolation or hospitalization, if necessary. Health officials will review all of their interactions from the two days that preceded the test (or onset of symptoms) and will begin contact tracing.

Close contacts will be required to test immediately, and their participation also could be jeopardized. Olympic officials are defining a close contact as anyone who has had contact for at least 15 minutes within one meter and without a mask with a person who has tested positive. Decisions on participation will be made on a case-by-case basis.

How widespread is the coronavirus in Japan?

As of early this week, Japan had seen more than 842,000 coronavirus cases and more than 14,900 deaths, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University — a small fraction of the caseload experienced in the United States, which had more than 609,000 covid-related deaths in the same time period.

Japan saw a surge in infections in the spring, with daily new cases reaching nearly 8,000 at one point in late April. That number fell, and the country’s seven-day average dropped below 1,500 by mid-June, though it started slowly creeping up again by early July.

How are Olympic teams impacted by the restrictions?

Tokyo 2020 has limited the number of people each country’s Olympic committee can bring. That means scaled-back resources and fewer support members in each delegation.

“We have done everything we can to balance the need for providing all the tools and resources that athletes are expecting and accustomed to — medical services, all of those services, along with their coaches and those critical roles,” said the USOPC’s Hirshland, “while at the same time being very respectful of the request from the Japanese government and [organizing committee] for essential personnel only to be traveling to Tokyo.”

Does Japan even want to host these Olympics still?

Certainly government officials are heavily invested, but public support waned in the months leading into the Games. Polling in early 2021, conducted while the country was experiencing a surge in cases, cast an especially bad light on public opinion there. More than 80 percent of respondents to a Kyodo News poll in January said they thought the Olympics should be canceled or rescheduled.

As the Games drew closer and the country saw its number of cases climb, Japanese citizens rallied against the Olympics. In a May poll, 83 percent opposed holding the Games, and that same month, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s most influential newspapers and a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, published an editorial headlined, “Prime Minister Suga, please call off the Olympics this summer.”

But in June, as Tokyo’s daily case count fell and the country’s vaccine numbers began to slowly climb, opposition to the Olympics softened. In a poll conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, 50 percent of Japanese people said they were in favor of holding the Games, compared with 48 percent who said the Olympics should be canceled.

Has Japan ever staged an Olympics before?

These Games mark the second time Tokyo has hosted a Summer Olympics. The 1964 Games also were held there, while the 1972 Winter Games were held in Sapporo and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Most of this summer’s events will be staged throughout the Japanese capital. Several sports will be held in other Japanese cities and towns, however. Road cycling, for example, will take place in the foothills of Mount Fuji; surfing will be held 40 minutes outside of Tokyo on the country’s eastern coast; and the men’s and women’s marathons, as well as the race walking events, will take place in Sapporo, which is located 500 miles north of Tokyo. The soccer matches will be played in six cities, and baseball and softball games will be held in Fukushima and Yokohama.

What do we call the Tokyo Olympics?

These Games mark the first time an Olympics has been postponed. Even though the Tokyo Games are taking place in the summer of 2021, they still will be referred to as the 2020 Olympics. The IOC and the Tokyo organizers agreed that the Games would retain all of the 2020 branding, which means all signage, television graphics, souvenirs, apparel — even the medals won by the athletes — will say “Tokyo 2020.”

What are the Olympic venues?

More than half of the 43 Olympic venues predate Tokyo being awarded the Summer Games, which means organizers have been able to focus on renovations more than new construction. Tokyo’s National Stadium was the centerpiece of the 1964 Games and has undergone a complete overhaul for this summer. The 68,000-seat stadium will host the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as track and field and the women’s gold medal soccer game. Initial designs for the stadium were scrapped in 2015 when costs ballooned to $2 billion and organizers settled on a more modest renovation.

Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium is also a holdover from the 1964 Games, when it was used for gymnastics and water polo. This time around, the 7,000-seat arena will host table tennis.

Just 11 new venues were constructed for the Tokyo Games, including the 15,000-seat Tokyo Aquatics Center, home of the swimming events; the 12,000-seat Ariake Arena, which will host volleyball matches; and the 15,000-seat Oi Hockey Stadium, site of the field hockey tournament.

Is Russia competing in Tokyo?

Russia won’t formally be competing in Tokyo, but plenty of Russians will be. Still dogged by a lingering doping controversy, the country was issued a four-year ban from international sporting events in 2019, which was reduced in December to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The punishment still means Russia will have no official presence — no flag, no anthem — at the Tokyo Games.

Many of its athletes will be eligible to compete, as long as they haven’t been implicated in the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme. They will be branded formally as “ROC” athletes — an acronym for Russian Olympic Committee — and will be allowed to wear Russia’s colors. Their flag will include the ROC’s logo: a white, blue and red-striped flame above the five Olympic rings.

What are the concerns with the heat?

With an anticipated average temperature of nearly 90 degrees and humidity topping 75 percent, the Tokyo Games will be on par with some of the hottest athletic events ever staged, and many are anticipating these to be a historically hot Olympics.

When the 1964 Games were held in Tokyo, organizers shifted the competition calendar to October to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Tokyo 2020 and the IOC opted to stick with the traditional schedule, which could pose additional challenges for many athletes.

The temperatures will especially impact endurance athletes and those who compete outdoors. The IOC formed a committee to focus on heat-related issues in Tokyo, and both Olympic organizers and many competing countries have been preparing for these conditions for years.

Who are some of the familiar faces on Team USA?

Swimmer Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, qualified for her third Olympics, while Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel will swim at their second. Gymnast Simone Biles will lead a talented U.S. squad into Tokyo, looking to further her legacy and defend her Olympic title.

A nine-time Olympic medalist, Allyson Felix continues to be one of the faces of U.S. track and field and will run at her fifth Summer Games, qualifying in the 400 meters. Long-distance runner Galen Rupp will be competing in his fourth Olympics, having won bronze in the 2016 Olympic marathon and silver in the 10,000-meter race at the 2012 Games. And long jumper Brittney Reese, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, also will be competing in a fourth Summer Games.

Softball star Cat Osterman made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Games in Athens, where the U.S. squad won gold, and was also on the 2008 team that took silver. And fencer Mariel Zagunis will be competing at her fifth Olympics. Zagunis, 36, has won two gold and two bronze medals and served as the U.S. flag bearer at the 2012 Opening Ceremonies in London.

Wrestlers Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis will be looking to defend their Olympic titles.

Who are the up-and-comers?

Sprinter Noah Lyles just turned 24, and after just missing the 2016 team, he will compete in the 200-meter race, where he will face stiff competition from Erriyon Knighton, a 17-year-old fellow American.

Five years ago, 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin was the youngest track athlete to make the U.S. team in more than a quarter-century. In Tokyo, she is a favorite for the medal podium in the 400-meter hurdles after setting the world record at the U.S. trials last month. Athing Mu, 19, posted the year’s fastest 800-meter time at the trials.

Swimmer Regan Smith, 19, is the world record holder in the 200-meter backstroke. And 18-year-old Torri Huske has posted two of the three fastest 100-meter butterfly times this year.

Skateboarding will feature a ton of young talent, including Brighton Zeuner, who turns 17 not long before the Olympic park event begins.

Which athletes won’t be in Tokyo?

Some familiar faces failed to qualify. Sprinter Justin Gatlin’s bid for a fourth Games came up short. Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings was trying for her sixth Olympics, but she and her teammate, Brooke Sweat, failed to qualify. Wrestler Jordan Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic champion, was trying for his third Summer Games but lost to Kyle Dake at the U.S. trials.

Gymnast Laurie Hernandez, among the breakout stars from the 2016 Games, saw her comeback bid fall short after a knee injury forced her to withdraw from nationals. And diver David Boudia missed out on his fourth Games.

Tennis star Serena Williams won’t compete in the Olympics, and golfer Dustin Johnson and tennis player John Isner are also passing on Tokyo. Similarly, basketball players LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis decided to stay away.

Sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson made the U.S. team in the women’s 100 meters, but she later tested positive for marijuana and received a 30-day suspension. With her trials results nullified, she won’t be able to race her signature event in Tokyo, and she wasn’t selected for the 4x100 relay team.

The United States also failed to qualify teams for the Olympic tournaments in some sports, including field hockey, men’s soccer, men’s three-on-three basketball and handball.