If you’re a runner, you are probably already aware that the Olympic track and field events begin on Aug. 12 and continue until the final day of the Games, concluding with the men’s marathon just before the closing ceremonies on Aug. 21. But there’s plenty of other inspiration to be had, and it goes well beyond making left turns on an oval.
It’s easy to make comparisons between running and any other racing sport—they are all essentially the same on some level. You have a start line and a finish line. Somebody says “Go!” and soon enough it’s all over but the crying. The concept is beautifully simple, and thankfully there are no subjectively decided points awarded for “artistic style” or “dance interpretation.”
Nonetheless, our list of non-running sports for runners to watch goes beyond race-based competitions.
Mountain biking (Aug. 20-21)
Just another repetitive motion endurance sport, right? Wrong! Unlike road cycling, which is tactically more complex than running but similar in its underlying physical demands, mountain biking adds welcome doses of excitement as the racers navigate jumps, rollers and banked turns at high speeds. Think of it as the steeplechase of cycling, with all the attendant uncertainty and the likelihood of crash-and-burn disasters.
Rowing (Aug. 6-13)
Rowers are incredibly fit—along with cyclists, Nordic skiers and runners, rowers tend to post the highest VO2 Max scores of all the Olympic athletes. But unlike other racing events, rowing is mostly done in team boats (the exception being the individual single scull event). Perfect synchronization is required, along with formidable power and endurance. The races are held on an open water racecourse; the men’s eight-man crew will cover the 2,000-meter distance in close to five minutes, or nearly the velocity of an elite runner.
Rugby Sevens (Aug. 6-11)
Making its Olympic debut, rugby sevens requires players to rack up big mileage on the pitch. (Or field—whatever they call it.) Runners will rejoice in the entertainment value of full-contact play. Unlike soccer players, who also run a lot but roll dramatically across the grass after incidental contact, expect these athletes to collide, throw a few elbows and keep right on running. If you thought that the starting line of your local turkey trot was a little chippy just watch a few minutes of this action.
Swimming (Aug. 6-16)
A few runners, and a slightly larger number of triathletes, are decent swimmers. The rest of us are terrible in the water, but we still hit the pool because it’s such a wonderfully demanding sport, requiring fitness, technique and an elusive “feel for the water.” There are many similarities to track races—the events range from sprints to middle and long-distance formats, plus relays. There’s even a 10K open water marathon event at the end of the swimming competition, though you would have to be a diehard fan to watch it uninterrupted.
Women’s Beach Volleyball (Aug. 6-21)
Why is this the only sport on our list with a gender-specific recommendation? Nope, it’s not the skimpy swimwear. The men’s game is great, but the monster hits inflicted by the dudes are so heavy that there’s not much volleying to be enjoyed. The women tend to have better exchanges, where they leap and dive across the sand for minutes at a time. It’s an incredible display of athleticism, so don’t miss a point.