Tokyo Olympics: Here are 10 athletes who could make you jump on your sofa
Express News Service
The Olympics, it’s often said, is a celebration. It’s a chance to see a whole city welcome all of sport’s greatest stars. It’s a chance to hear, feel and see how a city cheers for its favourite sons and daughters. It gives a rare peek into the culture of a country.
In Rio de Janeiro, you heard tens of thousands of Brazilians separated by colour, football fandom, gender and political ideology scream their vocal chords off as Thiago Braz set a new Olympic record in the men’s pole vault. That really is what makes the Olympics unbridled theatre.
You will not have any of these sights and sounds in Tokyo. The city, under a state of emergency because of another wave of the coronavirus, will be quiet even as sport’s best and greatest gather for the 32nd Olympics. But there is a compelling reason to watch these Games. It’s a chance to celebrate the athletes who will be relied upon to make these Games memorable. From that aspect, Swaroop Swaminathan takes a look at 10 athletes who could make you jump on your sofa and take notice.
Simone Biles, USA Artistic Gymnastics
Nothing in life is a certainty but Biles, already one of the greatest gymnasts ever, winning a truckload of medals, has the air of certainty. She is already a four-time champion and is playing a different sport when compared to her competitors. While others are still perfecting moves, Biles is so ahead she has at least four moves named after her. It’s possible that this could be her last Olympics so time to watch her all the more.
Katie Ledecky, USA Swimming
Another athlete who is firmly in the Biles bracket in that her legacy is already secure irrespective of whatever happens in the pool in Tokyo. She is a heavy favourite to win both 800m and the 1500m frees. What makes this an interesting Olympics for the five-time champion is that she finally has a contender: Australia’s Ariarna Titmus. If all goes well for Ledecky, she could pick five gold.
Allyson Felix, USA Athletics
As far as narratives go, you will go a long way in finding out one better than this. Her last five years has been surreal pre-eclampsia, calling out Nike for their inhumane treatment, beginning her own shoe brand and joining hands with her sponsor to raise money for childcare for athlete moms. Already one of the most decorated athletes in history, one more medal will see her becoming the winningest women athlete ever.
Naomi Osaka, Japan Tennis
The sport has been hit by a spate of pullouts in recent weeks but one of its biggest stars will use the occasion to comeback after a taking a little break. When she was last playing the sport, an unfortunate misunderstanding resulted in her walking out. With no fans permitted, the pressure perhaps will be lesser than what will be expected. A potential final against Ash Barty could be match-up for the ages.
Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya Marathon
Devoid of big established Olympic performers, the men’s athletics programme looks a bit weak. However, there will be eyeballs to see if Kipchoge can go where no human has previously ventured in an official race: finishing the marathon under two hours. With advanced super spikes for added comfort, the three-time Olympic medallist could just find that extra gear within himself to breach that mark.
Laurel Hubbard, New Zealand Weightlifting
Despite all the criticism of it being unfair to biological female participants, the Kiwi lifter will become the first openly transgender to compete in the history of the Games. The 87kg contestant has previously taken part at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The IOC has said it will review the rules but it’s important to state that Hubbard has gone through the entire process legally before competing.
Sky Brown, Great Britain Skateboarding
The hype around this 13-year-old kid is unreal. Among all new sports, her event, park skateboarding, is must watch just because of the spectacle it promises to be. Think of the event as unreal mid-air maneuvers and physics-defying moves you thought were only reserved for Hollywood flicks. The Team GB sensation, ranked third in this discipline, won a Worlds bronze in 2019. Time to upgrade that?
Adam Ondra, Czech Republic Sport climbing
Probably the greatest climber of all time when you discount Tom Cruise in the MI franchise. Ondra isn’t about speed but where he truly excels in is lead and bouldering. The athlete that does best across all three categories will win gold. Chances are this Czech will be on top of the leaderboard when the awards are handed out in this discipline. Ondra is exactly the kind of figure the next generation will love to adopt a new sport.
Ma Long, China Table tennis
The Roger Federer of the sport, no questions asked. His very aggressive style of play, thanks to that whiplash of a forehand of his, has earned him a lot of fans, both in China and abroad. Having continued China’s domination in the sport this decade, he truly has the opportunity to leave his mark. Win both gold medals on offer and he can walk away having won the most gold in the sport in the history of the Olympics.
Kento Momota, Japan Badminton
In a parallel universe, this would have been an event where ticket prices would have gone through the roof in the black market. Coming off a horrific accident, it’s unsafe to make a prediction but if anybody can he can. There’s really no peers for him at the moment, such is his command of the court. Can he defeat history? No Japanese men’s player has ever medalled. Easier said than done but don’t bet against him.
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