We have finally arrived at the series finale in our quest to answer the question “What is the Most Difficult Sport?”. After five weeks of painstaking research and deliberating, we are closing it out by talking about the Summer Olympics.
Like the Winter Games, the Summer Games take place every four years. However, the Summer version of the Olympics does predate the Winter Olympics. In a fitting display, the first of the new games paid tribute to the origin by being held in Athens, Greece.
We have no shortage of sports to discuss here, though we’ve previously covered some in other sections of the series. You won’t see combat sports or stick-and-ball sports make appearances here, nor action sports, but that still leaves us plenty of options.
It’s somewhat surprising that swimming – which humans have been doing since prehistoric times – took so long to become a sport. It emerged as a competitive sport in the early 1800s in England. From there, the sport began a rapid evolution with new methods of swimming creating different strokes.
Four strokes make up the current Olympic Games – freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Swimming in any capacity is a difficult task but the demand placed on the body during butterfly is particularly immense.
Like swimming, diving has been around since antiquity. Also like swimming, diving didn’t come into its own as a sport until the 1800s. The sport made its Olympic debut in 1904.
Diving in the modern Olympics showcases acrobatic ability and precision on the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter diving platform. The height alone on the 10-meter would be enough to give me pause but the level of difficulty added with both the aerial maneuvers and the fact that divers are attempting to make as little splash as possible is downright intimidating.
When mankind learned to tame the waves of the open sea it was only a matter of time before races began. Sailing was the preeminent form of ocean transportation until the invention of the steam engine but is now mostly seen in competition or leisure form. Originally slated to appear at the first Olympics in Athens in 1896, severe weather had other plans for the event.
Watching modern Olympic Sailing is captivating. The way the athletes lean out over the water while maneuvering their watercraft is absolutely wild to see. I’m not going to pretend I know the first thing about sailing but I have to imagine between the physical handling of these boats and the potential weather impacts that sailing is a worthy nomination for “What is the Most Difficult Sport?”
We’re sticking with boats as we move from the wind as a form of propulsion to rowing. Used for water transportation throughout much of the world until sails came along – the first rowing competitions were likely in England between Oxford and Cambridge. Like sailing, it was slated for competition in the first Olympics in 1896 but was canceled due to weather.
Rowing and canoeing both take a sizable amount of effort from participants. Not only does it require some impressive strength from the athletes but it also requires teams to be synced up. The closest I’ve gotten to rowing is going whitewater rafting with my family in Colorado in the Summer of 2022 but that was enough for me to know I don’t belong anywhere near an oar.
Any sport that combines multiple sports into one competition is going to be inherently difficult. In the triathlon, athletes will swim, run, and cycle over long distances. The triathlon was originally invented in the early 1970s as an alternative to track workouts but it soon stood on its own as a sport.
Debuting at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the Triathlon features a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride, and 10km run. Any one of those events is enough to present a difficult challenge. To combine all three into a single competition? You just know these competitors have that dawg in them.
Another sport with roots dating back to Ancient Greece, it should come as no surprise that Gymnastics has been at every Summer Olympics since the inception of the games in 1896. Gymnastics has had an incredible evolution. It didn’t always include the acrobatic feats of the modern sport.
Balance, strength, explosiveness, fearlessness, creativity, artisanship, timing – is there any sport that combines all of these in a thrilling way quite like gymnastics? Grace and power in equal measure blow me away each time I tune into a gymnastics competition. I don’t think there can be any debate that Gymnastics is definitely a worthy inclusion on the “What is the Most Difficult Sport?” list.
Track and Field
Foot racing or throwing objects for distance are the simplest form of sports and as such have been around since before humans had the ability to record winners. Appearing from the first Olympics onward, track and field encompasses a wide variety of events and competitions. We could spend all day breaking down the difficulty of various events but for the sake of brevity I’ve lumped them all together.
Every event has its own difficulty. The pure speed of the 100m dash. The endurance of distance runners. The explosiveness of jumpers and the strength of throwers. The hardest of the bunch is likely the decathlon – combining ten events into one competition. As mentioned above, by being forced to practice multiple disciplines, the difficulty is raised immensely. The title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” bestowed upon the winner of the Decathlon just confirms the impressive feat.
When breaking down the list of events at the Summer Olympics and trying to decide which event would be the most difficult I narrowed it down to three choices. The endurance strain combined with the different disciplines made the triathlon a no-brainer. Sailing was one I hadn’t particularly considered going in but the mental aspect of the sport combined with what appears to be a very strenuous activity made me add it to the list.
At the end of the day though, I think gymnastics is the clear winner for the most difficult sport. I am blown away every time no matter what the event is. Floor, vault, beam, bars – whatever surface the athletes are competing on the mix of art and athletics is incredible to witness. I would be petrified to be flying through the air twisting and flipping. The incredible gymnasts of the Olympics are doing so with an incredible amount of precision to stick landings and impress the judges.
This doesn’t even take into account the strength and explosiveness needed to grip the bars or launch themselves off the vault. If you tell me your mind isn’t blown by what these athletes are able to do, I don’t believe you. And that is why I’ve chosen gymnastics as the most difficult sport of the Summer Olympics.