The world’s greatest athletes grab the spotlight for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

By Liam Isola | Posted 2 years ago

The Tokyo 2020 Games Opening Ceremonies are Friday…  but the Summer Olympics action is already underway. 

Olympic drama didn’t take long to rear its head. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team was left shell-shocked by Sweden in an opening 3-0 defeat on Wednesday. 

Sweden also knocked out the U.S. in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics and has a great chance to win a gold medal.

Despite the loss, the USWNT has a good chance to make a deep run. Megan Rapinoe won the 2019 Ballon D’Or as the world’s best women’s player. Players like Lindsay Horan, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd are also world class. 

Life under new coach Vlatko Andonovski got off to a good start as the Macedonia native went 22-0-1 in his first 23 games. However, the USWNT’s 44-game unbeaten streak abruptly came to a halt in convincing fashion for Sweden.

That comes amidst the U.S. Men’s Basketball team’s struggles. The US dropped pre-tournament exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia and its pre-tournament odds to win gold fell from -1000 to -350 as a result.

The U.S. is in danger of repeating the failures of the infamous 2004 team that lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina. Australia, an experienced Spain team and a Luka Doncic-led Slovenia could all pose challenges for gold.

It’s interesting that these struggles are happening as our domestic leagues continue to become more global. Just this week, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the fourth foreign-born player, after Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tony Parker, to win an NBA Finals MVP. The Greek Freak led the Bucks to their first NBA title in 50 years. 

Nikola Jokic, the regular season NBA MVP, also hails from Serbia but will not be in Tokyo. Plus, the MLB’s dual threat extraordinaire and AL MVP favorite, Shohei Ohtani, is from Oshu, Japan. 

The NFL has regularly played games in London and had plans to play in Mexico City, which were later scrapped due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Every four years the Olympics expands our horizons further and allows us to watch some of the world’s best athletes. Just this time, we waited five years. The Olympic Games were postponed last year for the first time in the modern era due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the pandemic still raging on and many international travel restrictions in place, it’s surprising the games are happening. Since the modern inception of the Olympics in 1896, the 1916, 1940 and 1944 games were canceled on account of World Wars I and II, but a postponement is unprecedented.

Already, athletes, like tennis player Coco Gauff, have pulled out of the Olympics due to positive COVID tests. Tokyo has also declared its fourth state of emergency since the pandemic started. These games are already teetering on the brink of disaster before they get going. 

The restrictions have led to a ban on fans, which will undoubtedly change the dynamic of some Olympic sports and perhaps leave Japanese athletes at a disadvantage in their competitions.

If Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka were to win gold in her home country, she’ll be deprived of a special experience in front of a crowd. It’s tough to forget the scenes at London 2012 as Andy Murray became the first British Olympic tennis singles champion in over 100 years.

Assuming the Olympics are able to go on without major issues, and that’s a big if, there’s still a lot to be excited about. Tokyo 2020 will have a record number of sports as karate, surfing, skateboarding and sports climbing make their debuts.

It’s intriguing watching 50-foot walls being scaled in mere seconds. Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra is the Michael Jordan of sport climbing, with 12 gold medals in previous world competitions. Slovenian Janja Garnbret is the closest thing to Ondra on the women’s side.

There will also be a couple of new mixed-gender events, which should generate a ton of buzz. In swimming, there will be a 4x100 meter medley with two men and two women on each team. There’ll also be a mixed 4x400 meters relay in track and field, which will be must-watch TV.

While track and field, swimming and gymnastics are rarely nationally televised in the U.S., these sports grab the spotlight at the Olympics, if only for a short time.  

Before a marijuana suspension kept her out of the Olympics, American Sha’Carri Richardson was one of the favorites to win the 100-meter sprint. Now, it’s all about Jamaica.

Watch out for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She could become the first woman to win three 100-meter Olympic gold medals. Her compatriot Elaine Thompson-Herah is the defending champion, though, and in 2016 she became the first woman since FloJo to accomplish the 100-meter and 200-meter sweep. Shericka Jackson is excellent in the 100, 200, and 400 and could contend as well.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith won gold in the 200 and 100-meter silver at the 2019 World Championships. 

In the Men’s 100m, American Trayvon Bromell is looking like the favorite. He has run times of 9.77 and 9.8 seconds this year but will face stiff competition from fellow American Fred Kerley and Canadian Andre de Grasse. 

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge is the world record holder in the marathon with a time of 2:01:39. Kipchoge will look to defend his Rio 2016 title and break more world records. 

American Katie Ledecky was dominant at Rio 2016 at 20 years old. Ledecky won four gold medals, in the 200, 400, 800 and 4x200 meter freestyle. However, the US 4x100 meter freestyle team finished second to Australia for Ledecky’s only silver medal of the games.

Ledecky is a surprising underdog to win the 400m freestyle. Australian Ariarne Titmus, aptly nicknamed the Terminator, has posted faster times than Ledecky this year and could threaten her dominance.

American Simone Manuel won 100m gold at Rio 2016 and at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships as well. After being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, Manuel missed out on qualification for the 100 meters but will take part in the 50-meter freestyle. 

Australians Cate Campbell and Emma McKeon are the 100-meter freestyle favorites. Another Australian, Kaylee McKeown, is the world record holder in the 100m backstroke.

On the men’s side, defending 200-meter freestyle champion Sun Yang is out for the Olympics and beyond. The 29-year-old Chinese star was handed a four-year doping ban earlier this year. Look for Japanese standout Katsuhiro Matsumoto to contend for the title in Yang’s absence.

In the Olympic debut of the 800-meter freestyle, look for Italian Gabriele Detti to shine in the Men’s race. 

Simone Biles is an unbelievable athlete and the undisputed best artistic gymnast in the world. Biles won four gold medals at Rio 2016 and headlines a U.S. team with five Olympic newcomers.

The U.S. team will face stiff competition from Russia and China. Russia’s Angelina Melnikova and China’s Tang Xijing finished second and third, respectively at the 2019 World Championships in the all-around. 

Russia and China, along with Great Britain, could also give the US a run for its money on the medals table.

The biggest win of all would be the continued health of the participating athletes, with no COVID outbreaks in the most prominent global event since the pandemic started.

Get updates on the launch of OSDB Plus and sign up for the OSDB Newsletter.