Ones to Watch: Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Skateboarding girl against a background of palm trees

As we approach the Olympics season, we have compiled a list of the up and comers, wildcards and medal hopefuls to watch out for at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We’ve chosen athletes who inspire us, like Sky Brown, the 13-year-old girl competing for Great Britain in Skateboarding, smashing goals and expectations, and aspirational athletes like the record-breaking talent of US Gymnast Simone Biles.

Female surfer Sally Fitzgibbons surfing on a wave

Rivalry: Stephanie Gilmore (Australia) and Carissa Moore (USA).
Outsider: Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia)

While Gilmore, 33, and Moore, 28, are separated by only five years, Moore has long been considered the future of surfing. Moore, who was born in Hawaii, won her first World Surf League title in 2011, interrupting Gilmore’s four-year streak as world champion. The two have traded positions at the top of the sport since: Gilmore took the crown in 2012, 2014 and 2018, and Moore in 2013, 2015 and 2019. The rivalry is sure to play out in the waves off Chiba, Japan, as surfing makes its Olympic debut.

Sally: Current world No.3 has been in superb form lately and looking to be peaking at the right time for Japan. Sally has finished in the top 5 of five of the six events she’s competed in this year and winning the Rottnest event. She is fit and ready to challenge.

Athletics (marathon)
Eliud Kipchoge (men’s) (Kenya)

Kipchoge is the best marathoner ever, the only man to run a marathon in under two hours. He is also the defending champion in the Olympic marathon, proving that he can win on courses that place a premium on racing rather than speed.

Athletics (200m sprint)
Noah Lyles (men’s) (USA)

After winning the 200-meter final at the US Trials with a world-leading time of 19.74 seconds, 23-year-old Noah Lyles secured himself a spot on the US Olympic track team. Lyles specializes in sprinting, holding a personal best of 9.86 seconds for the 100m. In 2019, Lyles was named the fourth fastest man ever when he ran the 200m in 19.50 seconds at the Lausanne Diamond League meeting, with only Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Michael Johnson ever running faster.

Sport Climbing
Adam Ondra (men’s) (Czech Republic)
Janja Garnbret (women’s) (Slovenia)

Adam: The world’s best rock climbers generally agree that Ondra is the best of them all. Ondra splits his time between the fake-wall competition circuit, where he has won many world championships and the real-rock big walls that make him legendary among outdoor climbers. He may be handicapped by the odd format of climbing’s Olympic debut. With only one Olympic medal for men and one for women, scores from three different events — boulder, lead and speed — will be combined.

Janja: She is the best women’s competitive climber globally, winning all of the major contests the past few years in the boulder and lead disciplines. But the three-discipline format might reward an all-around climber, not a dominant one.

Nyjah Huston (men’s) (USA)
Yuto Horigome (men’s) (Japan)
Sky Brown (women’s) (Great Britain)

Nyjah: The most decorated competitive street skater in the world, Huston will be competing in his first-ever Olympic Games this year (the same year skateboarding makes its Olympic debut). Huston secured a Tokyo bid upon finishing in second place at the 2021 World Street Championships in June. Before qualifying, Huston won three consecutive World Street Championships and stood as the highest-paid skateboarder in the world.

Yuto: Horigome, 22, is ranked second in the world and won three out of four Street League Skateboarding (SLS) contests in 2018. Horigome grew up in Tokyo but moved to California in 2016.

Most recently, Horigome narrowly defeated Nyjah Huston at the 2021 Street Skateboarding World Championship held in Rome in June.

Sky: At the age of 13 years and 11 days, teenager Sky Brown will break a 93-year-old record and becomes the youngest ever Team GB summer Olympian at Tokyo 2020.

Brown is one of two Team GB athletes who will compete in Tokyo’s inaugural Olympic Skateboarding event. She is ranked No.3 in the world in female park skateboarding.

Simone Biles (USA)

Having won 7 national championships, 19 world titles, and 5 Olympic medals, Simone Biles has already established herself as the greatest gymnast of all time. She has not lost a single all-around national, world, or Olympic competition since 2013 and is likely to maintain that momentum in Tokyo. Although she endured an uncharacteristic fall off the balance beam on Day 2 of the Trials, Biles cruised her way to her second Olympic Games with the rest of her physics-defying performances, where she will defend her four Golds from the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Sanita Puspure (women’s) (Ireland)

There is no more revered figure than the single sculler, who takes on exhausting races with no teammates to help. Right now, the world’s best is Puspure, who has won the last two world championships. Latvian born, she races for Ireland. She was eliminated in the Olympic quarterfinals in 2012 and 2016.

Table Tennis
Tomokazu Harimoto (Japan)
Hend Zaza (Syria)

Harimoto: In 2017, the youngest winner of an International Table Tennis Federation World Tour men’s singles title. A year and a half later, at 15, he became the youngest player to win the World Tour Grand Finals. Harimoto is the son of two former table tennis pros from China, who moved to Japan before he was born. Could the prodigy puncture that runs of dominance from the Chinese?

Zaza: Had the Tokyo 2020 Olympics taken place in 2020, this 12-year-old Syrian table tennis star would have been the youngest Olympian in more than a half-century.

Wilfredo Leon (men’s) (Poland)
Zhu Ting (women’s)(China)

Wilfred: Poland has never been volleyball royalty, but it has never had a player like Wilfred Leon. Born in Cuba, Leon is known as the “Cristiano Ronaldo of volleyball”. When he rises for a spike, his knees appear even with the bottom of the net. His decision to immigrate to Poland has turned its national team into one of the world’s best.

Zhu: She has racked up 500 points at the last four major volleyball tournaments and could lead China’s women’s volleyball team to a record-tying fourth gold medal.

Ariarne Titmus (women’s) (Australia)

The 20-year-old has set her sights on perhaps the most challenging challenge any athlete will face in Tokyo: beat Katie Ledecky in an Olympic distance freestyle race. So far, nobody has accomplished that feat, though Titmus boasts the next-best thing. She chased down and out-touched Ledecky in the 400m freestyle final of the 2019 World Swimming Championships. Titmus threw down the gauntlet at Australia Olympic Trials in June when she swam the second-fastest times ever in both the 200m and 400m free. She now holds the world lead in both events and will be a threat for gold in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Titmus will also race the 800m there.

Teddy Riner (men’s) (France)

A 10-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Teddy Riner is widely considered one of the best judo athletes on the planet, if not the best. He was unbeaten for nearly 10 full years before his 154-match winning streak ended in February 2020. Despite the loss, Riner is still in amazing shape at 32 years old and has hopes of winning his third straight judo gold medal in Tokyo — something no one other than legendary judoka Tadahiro Nomura has ever accomplished. However, he’ll have his work cut out as Japanese judoka Harasawa Hisayoshi, who lost to Riner in the gold medal bout in Rio, looks to capture the gold in his home country.


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