13 things to help you host the ultimate backyard Olympics
Experience those epic highs and lows, in your home or backyard.
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Last year, the Olympic games were rescheduled for obvious, global pandemic-related reasons. But this year, it looks like many of the the elite Olympic athletes we all know and love are heading to Tokyo to give it their all (and heed many safety precautions). And with all the high-stakes athletic feats set to occur overseas, why not plan out some of your own—at home?
Whether you’re a track and field, gymnastics, or opening and closing ceremony enthusiast, we have ideas for the whole family to recreate the excitement of the Summer Olympics in your own backyard.
1. Apparel worthy of an elite athlete
Like many great athletes before you, you can be on Team USA—apparel-wise, that is. A simple tee bearing the Team USA logo plus that of the classic interlocking rings is well suited for any endeavor, whether it’s participating in your household’s games or staying inside and watching TV.
If you’re heading outside and want all to revel in your patriotic pride, don’t forget to add on some necessary protection. A Team USA baseball cap can help shield you from some of the sun’s rays—just make sure to supplement with sunscreen, too.
- Get the Nike Performance Team USA T-shirt from Fanatics for $27.99
- Get the Team USA Baseball Cap from Fanatics for $27.99.
2. All the fixings for an at-home Olympic ceremony
The greatest spectacle for many (non-sports-obsessed) viewers of the Olympics is the opening ceremony. There’s the music, the parade, the international dress—and, of course, the passing and final lighting of the torch.
If you're one who's moved by the creativity of it all, why not mock up your own opening ceremony? An actual torch—or any kind of open flame, for that matter—may not be the best idea, though. This battery-powered torch, however, with its small light bulb, cloth “flames,” and a fan that makes them look like they’re flickering, is a great replacement. It gives you a realistic look with no risk of setting off smoke alarms. For extra inspiration, have this year's opening ceremony playing in the background whenever it becomes available on the Olympics' YouTube channel, or go with the one from Rio 2016 in the background.
3. A Team USA swimsuit to splash around in style
Whether you have an in-ground pool, above-ground pool, a sprinkler, or just a garden hose and the will to cool off, the right gear can make any of it feel like an Olympian-worthy water event.
Consider some red, white, and blue suits from Speedo, the designer of most suits worn by Team USA. And when you’re ready to call it a day, dry off with a Team USA beach towel. We didn’t get to try it in our test of beach towels, but it looks so cool that we’ll give it the thumbs-up anyway.
- Get the Launch Splice Cross Back Suit from Speedo for $71.10
- Get the Launch Splice Jammer from Speedo for $54
- Get the Team USA Beach Towel from Fanatics for $24.99
4. Batons for a relay race
Relay races are a staple of elementary school field days and the Summer Olympics alike. So why not set up a relay race of your own, suitable for kids and nostalgic adults alike?
You don’t need much to make one happen—just some space, which can be in a backyard, a public park, an empty high school track, or a quiet neighborhood street, and something to pass between racers. But you can make it look and feel more official with some batons. This one, from Cannon sports, is made of a lightweight aluminum and comes in a wide range of fun colors including blue, gold, red, and purple, so both kids and adults will be happy to pick them up and pass them around.
5. Sporty video games to embody your favorite athletes from your couch
If you aren't much for sweating it out on the court or field, you may want to turn to athletic-focused video games. Start your Summer Games collection with video games centered around Olympic favorites, including baseball (MLB The Show 20) and soccer (FIFA 20). Or go for a specifically Olympics-themed option, such as the official Tokyo 2020 game or one where Mario and Sonic take on Tokyo.
- Get MLB The Show 20 from Best Buy for $39.99
- Get FIFA 20 from Best Buy for $39.99
- Get Mario and Sonic at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games for $39.99
- Get Tokyo 2020 Olympics for Nintendo Switch from Best Buy for $39.99
6. A table tennis set to work on that hand-eye coordination
Ping pong is a great game for people of all ages—but table tennis reaches a whole other level of competitiveness at the Olympics.
Recruit your family for a friendly game—or start your training for 2024—with this Prince table tennis set. It has a storage area on the leg so you can stash the paddles and balls neatly, and one side of the surface folds up 90 degrees, so you can bat the balls around on your own if no one else is on your level.
- Get the Prince Tournament Table Tennis Table from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $399
- Get the Prince Classic 4-Player Racket Set from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $14.99
7. A skateboard for some hot wheeling in the driveway
Skateboarding is making its Olympic debut this year. If you didn't qualify, you can work on your wheelies and ollies to gear up for the next Olympics.
One good beginner option is this Meketec penny board. It’s small and compact for portability, but has a sturdy deck and smooth, ball-bearing-equipped wheels to keep you rolling around with ease.
8. Movies and books to get the behind-the-scenes story
For some, the main draw of the Olympics is not just the feats of endurance put forth by the athletes—it's how they got there in the first place. Luckily, there are many books and movies centered around the Olympics, for your heart-string-tugging pleasure.
Some are books and movies: Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction account of former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was a prisoner of war in World War II, was adapted to the big screen in 2014 and is available to rent on Amazon Prime. Foxcatcher, the story of two elite wrestling brothers taken in by a bizarre, murderous multi-millionaire was made into a movie in 2014, too.
For the ultimate story of triumph over adversity, the movie Chariots of Fire—a story about two athletes at the 1924 Olympics who bridge their differences through running that won Best Picture at the 1982 Academy Awards—is a must-see. (It doesn’t hurt that it features that iconic score).
Another popular Summer Olympic-themed nonfiction read is The Boys in the Boat, about a scrappy crew team made up of loggers, fishermen, and farmers, who exceeded all expectations by winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
- Get Unbroken from Amazon for $10.58
- Rent or buy Unbroken on Amazon starting at $3.99
- Get Foxcatcher from Amazon for $15.36
- Rent or buy Foxcatcher from Amazon starting at $3.99
- Rent or buy Chariots of Fire from Amazon starting at $2.99
- Get The Boys In The Boat from Amazon for $12.98
9. A two-in-one set to appeal to the multi-sport athlete
The summer games feature two much-beloved net-centric games that lend easily to a backyard: volleyball and badminton—and you can practice both with this Baden set. It includes a net, a volleyball, four badminton paddles, and three shuttlecocks, so you can switch up the game depending on your mood (and the state of your wrists).
The set is easy to assemble according to reviewers, and comes with a carrying case so you can bring it with you on a vacation or to a public park if you don’t have the yard space.
10. A ribbon for your own take on rhythmic gymnastics
Rhythmic gymnastics is a form of the sport in which athletes perform on the floor with a kind of instrument—usually a ribbon, but sometimes a ball, hoop, or rope. This gives it a stunning visual effect that seems closer to dance than other types of gymnastics.
You can practice this fluid form of movement on your own (or with a "team" of your family or friends) with some rhythmic dance ribbons. This set comes in a pack of 12 with colors including pink, green, orange, and rainbow. No matter what your skill level is, they’ll be fun to swish around as you move.
11. A flying disc to get your Ultimate on
Ultimate Frisbee isn’t an Olympic sport—yet. But there is a movement to officially add it to the summer games (just ask your friend who played Ultimate in college, and see what they have to say about it).
Prepare for this by getting a Discraft Ultra-Star 175 Gram Disc, which is the official disc of the USA Ultimate Championship Series and has a sturdy feel that makes it easier to pass and catch. If you want something with a bit more pizzazz, go with the Night Ize frisbee, which has a lights that flash different colors with the push of a button, for playing from day into night.
You can simply toss it back and forth or, if you have enough room and people, play Ultimate Frisbee yourself. The game involves two teams, an offense and defense team, aiming to complete or prevent passes in the opposite team’s zone.
And if the sport doesn’t end up making the official cut? Well, this is your Olympics, so you get to make the rules.
- Get the Discraft Ultra-Star 175 Gram Disc from Dick's Sporting Goods for $9.99
- Get the Nite Ize Flashlight Light Up Flying Disc from REI for $25
12. A cornhole set for a more laid-back competition
Prefer sports you can play with a beer in one hand? If so, you may wish to add a few rounds of cornhole to your summer games. Before you ask: Yes, cornhole is officially a pro sport, and yes, there are those who dream of bringing it to the Olympics one day.
We’re big fans of the game, which is easy to play while maintaining more than six feet between your opponent, making it a low-pressure social distancing activity. As far as cornhole sets go, we’re especially fond of the GoSports Solid Wood cornhole set. It’s made of the sturdy, solid wood that the pros recommend, and is available in both regulation (4 feet by 2 feet) and tailgate (3 feet by 2 feet) sizes. The set comes with bags, so you don’t have to get your own—but if you really want to play like a pro, you’ll want to upgrade to double-sided bags, with a “stick” and “slide” side, so you can switch up your tossing technique.
- Get the GoSports Solid Wood Cornhole Set from Amazon for $99.99 or $127.67
- Get the Tailor Spot Pro Dual Sided Bags from Amazon for $21.99
13. Medals to reward everyone for their hard work
No matter what you and your team accomplished throughout your Olympic journey—be it an energetic outdoor relay race or sedentary indoor movie marathon—you all deserve some medals. This 12-pack, which includes four gold, silver, and bronze medals each, will be a pleasure to dole out among the friends and family you competed with.
Really sell the import of the medals with a closing ceremony: set up some podiums with stools and shoe boxes, play your national anthem, and let everyone know how much you appreciate their effort.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.