The Most Badass Olympic Sports, According to Men’s Fitness Readers

Clockwise from top left: Perrry Baker (rugby), Michael Phelps (swimming), Jake Dalton (gymnastics), Ashton Eaton (decathlon)

Whenever the Olympics come around, there’s always a lot of talk about how the great games bring people from all nations together as the shining examples of our best virtues. And they have a point: The U.S. men’s gymnastics team is pretty freaking ripped.

But let’s be honest: At their core, the Summer Games are all about pitting the best of the best against each other, no holds barred, and seeing who comes out on top. The winners get gold. The others… don’t. (Side note: This happens to coincide with the once-every-four-years ritual of grown-ass men in sports bars arguing with complete strangers over women’s gymnastics.)

And because it’s not enough to simply compete within Olympic sports, we’re asking: Which is really the most badass Olympic sport? Not most demanding, necessarily, or the most physical, or even the most weapons-intensive (we see you, modern pentathlon). So we decided to settle the argument the old-fashioned way: a traditional knockout bracket.

First up was the group stage: 32 Olympic sports, seeded alphabetically into eight groups, from Group A to Group H. From there, we pitted the eight winners against each other in two semifinal rounds of four sports each. Those winners then went head-to-head in the final to determine the ultimate champion.

We did, unfortunately, have to exclude one sport to keep the rankings at an even 32 sports: equestrian. We acknowledge that this is probably unfair to the world’s equestrian aficionados. (But to be perfectly honest, equestrians, if you really wanted to kick up the badass factor a notch, your could pick up lances. Or at least not compete in sport coats.)

Here goes:


The Group Stages

Group A


Group B


Group C


Group D


Group E


Group F


Group G


Group H


Next up: Group stage results, and on to the semifinals!

The Semifinals

There were a few surprises in the group stage. Basketball and archery, which were our bets to win Group A, both lost out to the sweat-glazed splendor of beach volleyball. Fencing—a sport that is literally contested with swords—was out-muscled by gymnastics. Taekwondo bested both track & field and triathlon (apparently lung capacity isn’t as badass as we thought). A few favorites did break through, though: weightlifting, swimming, rugby sevens, judo, and boxing all dominated the competition.

But things really got ugly in the semifinals:

Semifinal I


Semifinal II


The big takeaway from the semifinal rounds: The TV favorites—namely swimming and gymnastics—couldn’t quite hold up against the more physical sports, as rugby sevens and boxing advanced to the final round.

Also worth mentioning: A few vocal fans continued arguing that wrestling should be the most badass sport, even after it was soundly defeated by weightlifting in the group stage. Sorry, dudes: The people have spoken.

Next up: It’s the final poll. Who claims gold?

The Final Poll

And the winner is…


This wasn’t even close. By a commanding margin, rugby sevens trucks past boxing to claim the official (but mostly unofficial) title of Most Badass Sport in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And since rugby sevens is so indisputably badass, here’s some more exclusive interviews with the stars of the Team USA Eagles squad, who will be looking to return the U.S. to its gold medal glory days of 1924, when the game was contested in its 15-player form.

Making America’s Gladiators: Carlin Isles >>>

How Carlin Isles, the “Fastest Man in Rugby,” Is Training for the Rio Olympics >>>

USA Captain Madison Hughes on Why Rugby Will Go Mainstream in Rio >>>

How Rugby Star Perry Baker Trains for Rio >>>

NFL Players Make History: The Patriots’ Nate Ebner Suits up for USA Rugby Sevens >>>

The Newest Sports to Watch During the 2016 Rio Games >>>

And here’s the schedule for men’s rugby sevens at the Rio Olympics: (get all the details at

Tuesday, August 9: Group Stages
Early: France v Australia, South Africa v Spain, Great Britain v Kenya, New Zealand v Japan, USA v Argentina, Fiji v Brazil
Later: Australia v Spain, South Africa v France, Great Britain v Japan, New Zealand v Kenya, USA v Brazil, Fiji v Argentina

Wednesday, August 10: Group Stages and Quarterfinals
Early: France v Spain, South Africa v Australia, Kenya v Japan, New Zealand v Great Britain, Argentina v Brazil, Fiji v USA
Later: Top eight teams compete in Quarterfinals 1–4

Thursday, August 11:
Four winners of Quarterfinals compete in Semifinals 1–2
Consolation Rounds: Placing 5–8, Placing 9–12

Friday, August 12:
11th place match @ 10:30 a.m. ET
9th place match @ 11 a.m. ET
7th place match @ 3:30 p.m. ET
5th place match @ 4 p.m. ET
Bronze medal match: Semifinal 1 loser v Semifinal 2 loser @ 4:30 p.m. ET
Gold medal match: Semifinal 1 winner vs Semifinal 2 winner @ 5 p.m. ET

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