Bummed the Olympics Aren’t Happening This Summer? Here’s How to Have Your Own Around Chicago

No one knows when the next official Olympic games will take place. Originally scheduled to get underway in Tokyo, Japan this July, the absence of the competition this summer means it’s time to get creative.

As various facilities, businesses, and programs find their footing and re-open alongside government guidance, things will, by necessity, be notably different. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still safe yet fun ways to get in on the action.

Yes, many places are still closed for now, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s yellow tape stretched over the imaginations of Chicagoans. Perhaps it will have to be a game of H.O.R.S.E. instead of a five-on-five contest, but basketball will endure regardless. Indeed, beating the odds and willing your way to triumph has always been part of the Olympic spirit. Now it will simply take the form of how to stay  fit while remaining responsible this summer.

Thus, if you’re looking to bring a little Olympic magic into your life in the coming months, here are some ideas to help you carry the torch (in a socially-distant manner).

Archery

Debuting in 1900, archery endured a half-century hiatus from the summer Olympics between 1920 and 1972 but is now once more a medal event. For those who’d like to try their hand with a bow and arrow, Chicago Archery is currently open for pick-up and drop-off service as well as order fulfillment.  If you do get a bow and arrow of your own, be sure not live out any William Tell fantasies without proper protection and precautions.

Baseball and Softball

Photo courtesy of Josh Howard / Unsplash

Despite the popularity of seeing minor-league MLB talents and international studs slug it out on the diamond, both baseball and softball were removed as Olympic sports following the 2008 games in Beijing. While fans are looking forward to the return of both sports whenever the rescheduled 2020 Olympics eventually do take place, we’ll need to make do by practicing grounders, perfecting pitches, or perhaps just playing some good old-fashioned toss and catch. With Chicago’s lakefront and adjacent parks re-opening, socially-distanced visits to a local public park for baseball practice will be a viable option this summer!

Basketball

Photo courtesy of Jay Mullings / Unsplash

Professional basketball has arguably never been popular, with superstars like Lebron James and Stephen Curry delivering international viewership whenever they hit the court. Alas, there will be no hoops in Tokyo this summer, but it doesn’t take a squad of all-stars to make the most of your moment on the blacktop. If ESPN’s recent Michael Jordan miniseries “The Last Dance” has you eager to ball out, safe options for now include working on your free throws or starting a remote game of H-O-R-S-E with a friend. Tip: try conducting the competition via videos sent back and forth!

Boxing

In the annals of iconic Olympic moments, boxing has delivered some absolute knockouts. In Rome in 1960, an 18-year-old Cassius Clay won a gold medal in the “Light Heavyweight” division. When it comes to training your own knuckles, it remains to be seen when neighborhood boxing gyms will be allowed to re-open. In the interim, all you really need are a pair of boxing gloves and something to punch. If a gym-quality bag isn’t in the budget, stream a training video online and perfect your air jabs. Many Chicago boxing gyms are offering virtual classes. When doors do reopen, we recommend checking out Marvelous Fight Studio. *On Friday, June 26, many gyms and fitness centers may open under Phase 4 safety regulations.

Cycling (Track, Mountain, BMX)

Photo courtesy of Robert Ruggiero / Unsplash

For as long as the modern Olympic games have existed, cycling has been part of the offerings. However, it wasn’t until the 1996 Atlanta games that mountain biking for men and women came along. With perhaps not a ton else to do, biking is very much having a moment. If you need a tune-up or a fresh set of wheels, visit the website for local cycle shops like J.C. Lind Bike Co., Wheel & Sprocket, and Village Cycle Center. All remain open in modified form as bike shops and repair are considered essential services.

Golf

Despite golf’s popularity as a leisure activity for everyday Americans, the sport was only featured in the Olympics twice — in 1900 and 1902 — before getting cut. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro reintroduced golf to the fold. Presently, golf courses are also legally open across Illinois, although the city of Chicago is opening a bit more slowly. The situation is poised to change soon, with most of Chicago’s suburban golf courses already open. Once golf courses in Chicago do reopen, the timing will be ideal to sharpen your swing or perfect your putt. Those eager to book tee times (once available) should keep an eye on public courses like the Glen Club and the Preserve at Oak Meadows.

Skateboarding

Skateboarding was scheduled to make its first Olympic appearance in Tokyo this summer, with men and women separately competing for medals in park and street course events. That won’t be happening, but the moment is ripe for Chicago’s skaters to shred. Chicago parks are beginning to open! All public parks west of Lake Shore Drive are now open and continued updates can be found the Chicago Park District’s Skate Parks page. Meanwhile, shops like Uprise and Wilson Yards are continuing to operate on a modified basis for all your grip tape and bearings needs.

Sports Climbing

Sports climbing was another new addition intended for the summer games in 2020. Anyone ready to climb up a wall of their own right now will need to remain patient given indoor climbing gyms remain closed. However, Chicago’s First Ascent is currently offering virtual classes to help keep your appetite for ascension well-fed. Outdoor climbing should only be attempted by trained professionals, but qualified individuals can grab supplies via curbside pickup, now available at many spots including REI’s Lincoln Park location.

Surfing

Gnarly! Waves were set to be conquered in Tokyo this summer with surfing becoming an Olympic sport for the very first time. While some brave souls do indeed surf Lake Michigan from time to time, that moment is not now (both because the season for it is winter and because the lakefront area remains closed for now). If you’re frothing at the mouth to hit the water, consider streaming some of the best documentaries on the sport: 1965’s Endless Summer or 2004’s Riding Giants. Tip: set up your viewing party outside and use a hose to simulate some tasty waves!

Swimming

For some, swimming is the staple of the summer Olympics. From legends like Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps to the rise of UC Berkeley swimming stud Missy Franklin, the sport has never failed to deliver new stars since it first took place at the Olympics back in 1896. As a result, today there are many different aquatic opportunities for those looking to make a splash. While all public pools remain closed, there are many updates to come as the summer progresses.

Here are a few more Olympic activities, many considered low-risk for contracting COVID-19:

  • Badminton
  • Canoeing
  • Diving
  • Equestrian sports
  • Handball
  • Rowing
  • Sailing
  • Table Tennis
  • Tennis
  • Trampoline

Make a Difference

Want to make a difference for our Chicago youth?  Complete and post up to 3 #2020ChicagoOlympics activities and tag us at @betterchicago on Instagram, and Better will donate $50 each to Girls in the Game and By the Hand Club for Kids, up to $5000 total. Ends July 31, 2020.

Girls in the Game enables every girl to find her voice, discover her strength, and lead with confidence through fun and active sports, health and leadership activities.
By the Hand Club for Kids is an after-school program that takes children who live in under-resourced neighborhoods by the hand and walks with them from kindergarten through college, loving and nurturing them—mind, body and soul—to be the solution and help them rise above violence and poverty.


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Zack Ruskin writes on music, cannabis, and culture. His bylines include Vanity FairBillboardEntertainment WeeklyVarietyMerry Jane, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Danielle, and their cat, McCovey.