Should You Go Fin-to-Fin in the Summer 2023 Betta Olympics?

Whether you want to enter, observe or simply acknowledge the existence of the Betta Olympics, betta fish are smarter and more entertaining pets than they get credit for.


Photo of Phantom the betta by Sarah Kueking

Sarah Kueking, Managing Editor

When I was fourteen, every day after coming home from school, I would visit the wrought-iron baker’s rack next to the doorway. There, all eight of my bettas awaited me in their eight separate one-gallon fish tanks. I would spend several minutes saying hello to each of them, but my personal favorite, Phantom, demanded the majority of my attention. 

He would use his silvery-red fins to propel his large, black body to the front of the tank as soon as I wiggled my fingers at him. I soon discovered that if I waved at him again, he would mimic the movement as if he were dancing. Sometimes, he would get so excited that he would swim a lap around the silky white plant in his tank before returning front and center to dance again.

Granted, all my bettas would swim up to me; Phantom was merely the most enthusiastic about it. His brother, (purchased at the same store on the same day) Firework, was also enthusiastic, but not in the same way. Firework’s tank happened to be in the middle of two others, and he spent his days and nights swimming back and forth, terrorizing his neighbors by flaunting his royal blue and red fins at them. He knew they were no real threat to him, so he could taunt them all he wanted. 

Anyone who doesn’t own at least one betta fish is truly missing out.

Bettas need at least a two-and-a-half gallon tank with a heater and a filter – quite an upgrade from the tiny cup they are sold in or even the one-gallon tanks Pet Supplies Plus sold me way back when I had Phantom. If you want a king betta, you would need at least a five-gallon tank. 

Photo of Koi the betta by Sarah Kueking.

Although buying a tank, heater and filter can cost around $80 total compared to $20 for a cheap one-gallon tank, the benefits far outweigh the initial financial drawbacks. I currently have three two-and-a-half gallon tanks, two five-gallon tanks and one six-gallon tank occupied, and like the Petco employee promised, I only have to clean their tanks every two weeks to once a month. 

As for feeding, I feed the standard bettas four pellets every other day and the king bettas five pellets every other day. This is better for their health than overfeeding because bettas are prone to overeating, which can lead to swim bladder, a virtually incurable disease that can cause months of discomfort and, eventually, death. This means that, yes, you can go out of town on a Friday and come back on a Sunday without having to worry about your fish starving to death.

Cleaning a tank once a month and feeding every other day is extremely low maintenance compared to other pets. 

Another big reason I always loved keeping bettas is because they all have their own one-of-a-kind personalities. I have six now, and I could say something unique about every one of them. Even if you only keep one at a time, you never know what to expect. A betta I had recently, Koi, ignored me for almost a week after I put him in his tank. One of my current bettas, Splatterpaint, likes to stop swimming just to stare at you, not stopping even if you notice.

Photo of Splatterpaint the betta by Sarah Kueking.

On top of that, these fish really do grow to love you as much as you love them. I’ve kept dozens of bettas, so, inevitably, I’ve had dozens of them die. The ones I bonded with most always passed on when I wasn’t around to witness it, as if they knew it would break my heart. Phantom passed away without even giving me any indication that he was sick. He danced one day and was gone by the next morning.

Phantom’s performances and Firework’s shows of aggression were my first indications that bettas were smart. Now, the knowledge seems to be much more widespread. 

So much so that there is even a Betta Olympics competition on Instagram, where betta owners and their pets from all over the world can go head-to-head (and fin-to-fin) twice a year. The public votes, and the top three Olympians win gold, silver and bronze. The first-place winner also gets to be the co-host of the next Olympics, and the victorious betta is featured on the Olympics’ webpage. 

“The ultimate goals [of the Betta Olympics] are to unite and celebrate talented bettas across the world, educate others on how to interact with their pet betta as well as cultivating engagement within the Instagram aquatic community and beyond,” the website says.

The tricks that bettas can learn include coming on command (like Phantom), jumping or swimming through hoops, navigating an obstacle course, pushing a ball, or flaring on command. The founder of the Betta Olympics even teaches her bettas to do what she calls a “betta cuddle,” where she curls her hand in the water and the betta sits on her hand. 

The Winter 2023 Betta Olympics ended Jan. 31, and results are not yet announced on the website. 

Want to join the Summer 2023 Betta Olympics? Follow the Betta Olympics founder, Louisa, at on Instagram to be notified of when they take place. 

From my days of wiggling my fingers at Phantom up to now, I have learned that bettas can be some of the most rewarding pets you can have. They’re low maintenance, yet they’re intelligent, trainable and one-of-a-kind. As a college student who owns six bettas, I can assure you that taking care of one will not take up too much of your time, and you’ll have a new family member (maybe even an Olympian) in exchange.