Olympics: Top 10 athletes to look out for in Tokyo

The Olympics is a different beast altogether. While some athletes succumb to the pressure and demands of the showpiece event, others rise to the occasion. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, we look at 10 global athletes who could make a splash at the Games.

Simone Biles is her biggest competition. The reigning world and Olympic champion rewrote history in May when she became the first woman ever to complete the Yurchenko double pike.   -  AP

The Olympics is a different beast altogether. While some athletes succumb to the pressure and demands of the showpiece event, others rise to the occasion. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, we look at 10 global athletes who could make a splash at the Games.

Simone Biles

USA, Gymnastics

At 24 years of age, Biles is already regarded as the greatest female gymnast of all time. She’s the definition of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), if I may. With a combined total of a whopping 30 Olympic and world championships medals, there’s little she has not achieved. Biles won a stunning four gold medals at the Rio Games and undoubtedly will be the favourite for the yellow metal at Tokyo as well. She will be aiming to defend her all-around title – the most coveted prize in her sport.

She is her biggest competition. The reigning world and Olympic champion rewrote history in May when she became the first woman ever to complete the Yurchenko double pike. She was competing at the US Classic, her first competition in over 18 months. No points for guessing she cruised to victory. Biles then defended her all-around title at the US national championships and qualified for the Olympic trials, where she sealed her berth for Tokyo. A true sporting icon and inspiration for generations to come, she will look to build on her legacy at the Games.

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Naomi Osaka

Japan, Tennis

Osaka will be among Japan’s top medal prospects at the Games. The 23-year-old’s campaign will be followed with great interest because she had in fact surrendered her US citizenship in October 2019 to be able to represent Japan at the Olympics.

Osaka’s mother is Japanese, while her father is Haitian. She was born in Japan, but her family moved to the US when she was three. As per Japan’s Nationality Act, those who hold dual citizenship will have to choose to represent either nation before they turn 22. Osaka made the decision a week before she turned 22.

Naomi Osaka's campaign will be followed with great interest because she had in fact surrendered her US citizenship in October 2019 to be able to represent Japan at the Olympics.   -  Getty Images

 

There will be an elevated sense of interest in Osaka’s campaign owing to her decision to withdraw from the French Open and skip Wimbledon. Osaka had pulled out of the former citing mental health issues after winning the first-round match – she had maintained she did not want to attend press conferences because it took a toll on her mental health. Her bold decision attracted a hefty fine and the risk of expulsion, and she chose to withdraw from the event.

Osaka, ranked second in the world, will be gunning for her maiden Olympic medal on her home turf.

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Caeleb Dressel

USA, Swimming

Dressel has been labelled the biggest name in swimming since Michael Phelps’ retirement – and rightly so. The 23-year-old has decimated records aplenty and broke Phelps’ 100m butterfly mark en route to a whopping eight-medal haul at the 2019 world championships.

Known as the fastest swimmer in the world, the muscular American also holds the world record in the 50m freestyle and will look to win his first individual medal at the Tokyo Games; he won gold medals in the 4x100 freestyle and 4x100 medley at Rio.

Known as the fastest swimmer in the world, Caeleb Dressel holds the world record in the 50m freestyle.   -  AFP

 

Dressel is expected to compete in seven events in Tokyo. While he will not be able to match Phelps’ phenomenal eight gold-medal streak at the 2008 Games, a staggering seven would do his reputation as the world’s best men’s swimmer no harm.

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Kento Momota

Japan, Badminton

The Tokyo Olympics will be a shot at redemption for Momota. The top-ranked shuttler was banned from Japan’s 2016 Olympic team for illegal gambling and was nearly forced into retirement after being involved in a fatal car crash in 2020. The accident occurred hours after he had won the Malaysia Masters and claimed the driver’s life. Momota did not suffer any life-threatening injuries but had to undergo surgery for a fractured eye socket.

The incident came at a time when Momota was at the peak of his prowess, having won a stunning 11 titles in 2019. This included victories at the world championships, Asia championships and the All England Open, and earned him the Guinness record for the most men’s badminton singles titles in a season.

Having overcome so many challenges, Kento Momota will surely back himself to bag a maiden Olympic medal.   -  Getty Images

 

The accident shook him up and Momota said he considered quitting the sport altogether, but he held on and worked on his recovery. He returned to the competition fold in March when he reached the quarterfinals of the All England Open.

Ranked No. 1 in the world, Momota will face strong competition from the likes of Viktor Axelsen, Chou Tien-chen and defending champion Chen Long. Having overcome so many challenges, Momota will surely back himself to bag a maiden Olympic medal.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Jamaica, Athletics

Fraser-Pryce is by far among the most accomplished sprinters in the world. The Jamaican, who now calls herself the “Mommy Rocket,” is in contention to shatter a host of records at the Tokyo Games. The 34-year-old six-time Olympic medallist has a chance to become the oldest person to win an individual Olympic sprint and could also become the first woman to win three 100m gold medals at the Olympics.

A compatriot of Usain Bolt, she has made the 100m podium at each edition of the Games since 2008.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who now calls herself the “Mommy Rocket,” is in contention to shatter a host of records at the Tokyo Games.   -  Getty Images

 

Fraser-Pryce goes into the Olympics in raging form as she ran a 10.63 on June 5 to become the second-fastest woman in history in the 100m. The fastest timing of all time – 10.49 seconds – was set by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988.

The likes of defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and Dina Asher-Smith will put up a tough fight, but on current form, Fraser-Pryce has a strong chance of clinching her third 100m Olympic title and also add to her 2012 Olympic silver medal in the 200m event.

Abdulrashid Sadulaev

Russia, Wrestling

Sadulaev can simply be referred to as the golden boy of wrestling – the Russian has won a mind-boggling 22 gold medals in international competitions, including a gold at the 2016 Olympics, and just one silver in his career. Such is his dominance of the sport that he has lost only two times since making his debut at the cadet world championships in 2012.

Abdulrashid Sadulaev won gold at Rio in the 86kg category in remarkable fashion as he conceded only one point while scoring 28 of his own.   -  Getty Images

 

Sadulaev won gold at Rio in the 86kg category in remarkable fashion as he conceded only one point while scoring 28 of his own. The 25-year-old has since moved to 97kg, where he faces a strong challenge from the USA’s Kyle Snyder. Sadulaev, nicknamed the Russian Tank, lost to Snyder in the final of the 2017 world championships but exacted revenge the next year. The two have not faced off since then, and Sadulaev is widely touted to snatch the 97kg throne from the American.

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Katie Ledecky

USA, Swimming

Ledecky is one of the most decorated female swimmers of all time. She has five Olympic gold medals (and a silver) to her name along with 15 world championships titles. The 24-year-old also holds the record for the fastest timing in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle. The latter event will make its debut at the Tokyo Games and Ledecky is the obvious favourite.

Katie Ledecky will compete in four individual events at Tokyo – the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle, and will also be a part of the 4x200m freestyle team.   -  AFP

 

The American swimmer will compete in four individual events at Tokyo – the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle, and will also be a part of the 4x200m freestyle team. She will be defending her title in four out of the five events she will swim in.

Ledecky could also become the most successful female Olympian of all time if she were to win gold in all five events. The current record is held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won nine gold between 1956 and 1964.

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Johannes Vetter

Germany, Javelin throw

This German superstar is all but assured of a gold medal at the Games. Vetter registered the second-farthest throw in the history of the sport when he unleashed a monstrous 97.76m throw at the Kamila Skolimowska Memorial, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting in Poland last year.

The 28-year-old’s main competition in Tokyo was to be his compatriot Thomas Rohler, but the Rio gold medallist pulled out of the Games due to injury.

Johannes Vetter, the 2017 world champion, has been in sublime form this year, having secured a massive 96.29m throw at the European Team Championships in May.   -  Getty Images

 

Vetter, the 2017 world champion, has been in sublime form this year, having secured a massive 96.29m throw at the European Team Championships in May. Built like a tank, he has beefed up and enjoyed regular competitions this year, with the Diamond League event in Gateshead serving as a final test ahead of the Olympics.

Vetter had finished fourth at the Rio Games with a best throw of 85.32m, but come Tokyo, he truly looks invincible.

Armand Duplantis

Sweden, Pole vault

Duplantis and the pole vault are a match made in the skies. This American-born Swedish pole vaulter has gone about shattering records for fun. He set the world record of 6.18m at an indoor meeting in Glasgow last year and then followed it up by bettering Sergey Bubka’s 26-year-old outdoor world record in September 2020.

Armand Duplantis won gold at the European Indoor Championships in March and attempted to break the world record with a 6.19m jump but missed.   -  Getty Images

 

Bubka’s outdoor record of 6.14m has been widely referred to as the ultimate test – one that Duplantis passed with flying colours. The 23-year-old won gold at the European Indoor Championships in March and attempted to break the world record with a 6.19m jump but missed. While he will face stiff competition from the likes of Sam Kendricks, his other main competitor Renaud Lavillenie injured his ankle, suffering a blow to his chances. Regardless of the competition, Duplantis is primed to shine in his maiden appearance at the Games and maybe even break a record on his way to the podium.

Sky Brown

Great Britain, Skateboarding

Skateboarding will make its debut at the Olympic Games this year and so will little Sky Brown. The young skateboarder, who became a teenager only on July 12, will become Britain’s youngest-ever competitor at the Summer Games.

Ranked third in the world, Sky Brown made an astonishing comeback to her sport after sustaining life-threatening injuries during a training session in California last year.   -  Reuters

 

Ranked third in the world, Brown made an astonishing comeback to her sport after sustaining life-threatening injuries during a training session in California last year. She suffered multiple fractures of her skull and also broke her wrist and arm. She was reportedly unresponsive when admitted to hospital and recovered after intensive care. Her father said she is “lucky to be alive.” In a video from the hospital bed, Brown said she will come back stronger and push for the gold at the Olympics.

Brown made a speedy recovery and was back on the skateboard soon enough and was named in Britain’s contingent for the Games. She won bronze at the 2019 World Skateboarding Championships and could very well spring up a surprise in Tokyo.

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