Tokyo 2020: 10 to watch as Olympic Games begin

Swimmers, runners, gymnasts, surfers, pole-vaulters and skateboarders

Carissa Moore of Team United States during a practice session at Tsurigaskai Surfing Beach on Thursday, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Carissa Moore of Team United States during a practice session at Tsurigaskai Surfing Beach on Thursday, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

 

CARISSA MOORE
Age:
28
Event: Surfing
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 0

Surfing is among the four sports making their Olympic debuts in Tokyo – karate, skateboarding and sport climbing are the others – and it’s four-time world champion Carissa Moore who carries the burden of being favourite to become its first gold medal winner in the women’s event.

There’s a bit of the Simone Biles about Moore thanks to her fondness for performing manoeuvres rarely – if ever – executed in competition before, like the lofty air-reverse she managed back in April (like we know what that means).

January 4th is already “Carissa Moore Day” in her native Hawaii, an honour bestowed on her by the Mayor of Honolulu for her achievements in surfing thus far. If she wins gold in Tokyo, they’ll probably rename the island after her.

Sweden’s Armand Duplantis competes in the men’s final pole vault event during the Diamond League Track and Field meeting in Stockholm on July 4th. Photograph: Christine Olsson/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images
Sweden’s Armand Duplantis competes in the men’s final pole vault event during the Diamond League Track and Field meeting in Stockholm on July 4th. Photograph: Christine Olsson/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

ARMAND DUPLANTIS
Age:
21
Event: Pole Vault
Country: Sweden
Olympic Medals: 0

The betting folk are labelling this fella one of the most unbackable competitors in these Olympic Games, so certain are they that no one can touch him in the pole vault event. That’s a whole lot of pressure on the Louisiana-born son of a Swedish mother, whose country he represents. But “Mondo”, as he’s known, has hardly helped relieve that pressure by first setting a new indoor world record last year and then breaking the outdoor record, set in July 1994, of the legend that is Sergey Bubka, taking the mark to 6.15m.

His father was also a pole vaulter, and his mother a talented volleyball player and heptathlete, so he came by his athletic prowess honestly. This is his first Olympic Games, and if the betting folk are right, it should be a memorable one.

Sky Brown of Great Britain practices for the Women’s Skateboard Park at the X Games Minneapolis 2019 in Minnesota in August 2019. Photograph: Sean M Haffey/Getty Images
Sky Brown of Great Britain practices for the Women’s Skateboard Park at the X Games Minneapolis 2019 in Minnesota in August 2019. Photograph: Sean M Haffey/Getty Images

SKY BROWN
Age:
13
Event: Skateboarding
Country: Britain
Olympic Medals: 0

At 13, Brown will become Britain’s youngest-ever Olympian when she competes in the park skateboarding event in Tokyo in what will be the sport’s Olympic debut. The daughter of an English father and Japanese mother, she turned professional when she was just 10, and since then has earned herself a lucrative contract with Nike and even had, of all things, a Barbie doll made her in her honour.

Ranked third in the world, Brown would most likely have missed the Olympics if they had taken place last year after she fractured her skull and broke her left hand when she fell from a ramp during training. She was, though, back in action just two months later. However she fares in Tokyo, she’ll be a thrilling watch.

Caeleb Dressel of the United States reacts after setting an American record in the Men’s 50m freestyle final during the 2021 US Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images
Caeleb Dressel of the United States reacts after setting an American record in the Men’s 50m freestyle final during the 2021 US Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June. Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

CAELEB DRESSEL
Age:
24
Event: Swimming
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 2 (gold for the 100m freestyle and medley relays at Rio 2016)

Whatever you do if you bump in to the fella some day, don’t ask him if he’s the new Michael Phelps. The query has been put to him so often, it most probably brings tears to his eyes. But with the possibility of him winning seven medals in Tokyo, the comparisons are probably inevitable.

His form over the last four years has been outstanding, the Floridian winning a total of 13 gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships, as well as breaking three world records, including Phelps’s decade-old mark in the 100m butterfly. Little wonder expectations are high. Sports Illustrated’s headline this week? “Caeleb Dressel is the heir to Michael Phelps.” Dressel? Weeping.

Hend Zaza, the 12-year-old table tennis prodigy from Syria, who is the youngest athlete to compete in this year’s Games
Hend Zaza, the 12-year-old table tennis prodigy from Syria, who is the youngest athlete to compete in this year’s Games

HEND ZAZA
Age:
12
Event: Table Tennis
Country: Syria
Olympic Medals: 0

She’s highly unlikely to medal in Tokyo, and may even fall at the first hurdle in her competition, but the 12-year-old will garner plenty of attention because of her remarkable story. At just 11 she beat a 42-year-old opponent in the final of the West Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan to seal her place in Tokyo. But because of the war in her country, that was one of the few occasions she has been able to travel to an international event.

Barring any other late, late call-ups, Zaza will be the youngest competitor in these Games, and the fifth-youngest of all time. She’s targeting a medal in Paris 2024; Tokyo, she hopes, is just the beginning of her Olympic journey.

Trayvon Bromell reacts after winning the Men’s 100m final of the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon in June. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Trayvon Bromell reacts after winning the Men’s 100m final of the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon in June. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

TRAYVON BROMELL
Age:
26
Event: Athletics (100m)
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 0

Few – if any – Olympic events will have as high a television audience as the men’s 100m final, and, barring any catastrophes en route, it’s Trayvon Bromell who will carry the heaviest weight of expectation going in to the race due to him running 2021’s fastest time. That was 9.77 seconds in Florida in June, the seventh fastest 100m of all time.

Usain Bolt, who shares the same agent (Donegal man Ricky Simms) as Bromell, has tipped him to succeed him as the Olympic 100m champion. Should he do so, it would be some turnaround after an injury-ravaged few years, Bromell’s potential well and truly stymied having become the youngest man in history, at 18, to break 10 seconds.

US gymnast Simone Biles practices on the vault during a training session at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on Thursday, on the eve of the start of the 2020 Olympic Games. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images
US gymnast Simone Biles practices on the vault during a training session at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on Thursday, on the eve of the start of the 2020 Olympic Games. Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

SIMONE BILES
Age:
24
Event: Gymnastics
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 5 (Four gold for team, all-around, vault and floor exercise, and one bronze for balance beam, all from Rio 2016)

Remarkably, the glittering star of Rio hasn’t been beaten in an all-around competition since her senior debut in 2013, during which time she won 19 world championship gold medals. She is expected to excel once more in Tokyo, perhaps even topping her haul of four gold medals in Rio. If she makes it five this time around, she’ll match Larisa Latynina’s all-time gymnastics record of nine, a tally the Soviet woman reached at the 1964 Olympics.

The Texan talked ahead of these Games about wanting to try the “unimaginable” in her sport, so she may well add to the four unique gymnastics elements already named after her. Sit and marvel – she’ll be unmissable.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge runs in the elite men’s race of the 2020 London Marathon on October 4th, 2020. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge runs in the elite men’s race of the 2020 London Marathon on October 4th, 2020. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

ELIUD KIPCHOGE
Age:
36
Event: Marathon
Country: Kenya
Olympic Medals: 3 (bronze in the 5000m in 2004, silver in the 5000m in 2008, and gold in the marathon in 2016).

Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila did it in 1960 and 1964, East Germany’s Waldemar Cierpinski achieved the feat in 1976 and 1980, and now Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will try to add his name to that exalted roll of honour – ie win the men’s marathon in successive Olympic Games.

His eighth-place finish in last October’s London Marathon was only the second time since 2013 that he was beaten at the distance – proving that he was mortal after all. But the world record holder, his 2:01:39 mark set in Berlin in 2018, is still strongly fancied to retain his Olympic title. He’s unlikely, though, to break that two-hour barrier, as he very famously (unofficially) did in Vienna two years ago.

Allyson Felix competes in the Women’s 200m semi-finals during the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon in June. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Allyson Felix competes in the Women’s 200m semi-finals during the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon in June. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

ALLYSON FELIX
Age:
35
Event: Athletics
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 9

The Californian proved to be as formidable off the track as on it over the last few years, not least when she publicly shamed Nike for threatening to cut her pay when she became pregnant with her daughter, forcing the company to back down and change its maternity policy.

It was a notable triumph for Felix, but she has become accustomed to succeeding. She has already won more Olympic medals than any female United States athlete, and if she can add two more to her collection in Tokyo – she’ll run in the 400m and possibly the 400m women’s and mixed-gender relays – she’ll overtake Carl Lewis as the most successful American athlete in the history of the Olympic Games.

US skateboarder Nyjah Huston competes during the Street World Championships 2021 street skateboarding event in Rome in June. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images
US skateboarder Nyjah Huston competes during the Street World Championships 2021 street skateboarding event in Rome in June. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

NYJAH HUSTON
Age:
26
Event: Skateboarding
Country: United States
Olympic Medals: 0

The Californian is the world’s highest-paid skateboarder, with over 20 major sponsors to his name, including Nike and Doritos, and is the most successful “street” skater in the sport’s history – and now he’s the favourite to win the event in its first appearance at the Olympics.

While an eyebrow or two was raised when skateboarding made it in to the Olympic programme, not least from some of its own adherents who didn’t want to see it go down the sporting “establishment” route, Huston is embracing the challenge. True, he has complained about the “cardboard” beds in the Olympic village, but he also noted that he and his fellow skaters “are not worried about hooking up with chicks – we’re at the f***ing Olympics to focus and beast up”. Skate-speak, that.

Tokyo 2020

Full coverage of the Olympic Games in Japan READ MORE
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