Olympics 2021: 20 athletes to watch at the Tokyo Games

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Trayvon Bromell, Ariarne Titmus and Simone Biles, pictured here ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Trayvon Bromell, Ariarne Titmus and Simone Biles. Image: Getty

There’s no more Usain Bolt, no more Michael Phelps, and we’re a year late.

But the Tokyo Olympics will still be packed with amazing stories and athletes, young and old, famous and not-so-famous.

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Here are 20 names to look out for over the next fortnight.

Sky Brown (Great Britain) - Skateboarding

What were you doing when you turned 13? It almost certainly wasn’t preparing to compete at the Olympics. 

One of the sports making its Games debut, skateboarding will feature Great Britain’s youngest-ever Olympian

Brown only turned 13 last week and she is truly Gen Next, having learned her trade by watching YouTube videos. She’s ranked fourth in the world and is in with a chance.

Hend Zaza (Syria) - Table Tennis

Brown won’t be the youngest competitor in Tokyo - that honour goes to 11-year-old Zaza, who will become the fifth-youngest Olympian ever. 

She might be ranked 155th in the world but she earned her place by winning four of five matches in a qualifying event in Jordan in February.

Hiroshi Hoketsu (Japan) - Equestrian

At the other end of the spectrum, 79-year-old Hoketsu will be the oldest competitor at his home Games. 

He made his Olympic debut way back in 1964, also in Tokyo. 

It’ll be his fourth Olympics, having also competed in 2008 and 2012, while he missed out in 1988 and 2016 because of illness or quarantine issues with his horse.

Cate Campbell (Australia) - Swimming

Will the heartbreak of Rio drive the 29-year-old back to the top? 

Campbell finished sixth in her pet event of the 100m freestyle in Brazil, after setting Olympic records in both the heats and semi-finals.

She’s had an extra year to think about making amends. She finished second to Emma McKeon in the Olympic trials to book her shot at redemption.

Stephanie Gilmore, pictured here in action at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search.
Stephanie Gilmore in action at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search. (Photo by Cait Miers/World Surf League via Getty Images)

Steph Gilmore (Australia) - Surfing

The seven-time world champion can add to her legend status by taking out gold in the first-ever surfing event at the Olympics. 

It’s fair to say our top-line surfers have embraced the sport’s entry into the Games, adopting the team name 'The Irukandjis' - an Indigenous word for box jellyfish, which can be ‘deadly in the water’.

Gilmore will have a battle on her hands against compatriot Sally Fitzgibbons.

Caeleb Dressel (USA) - Swimming

The heir apparent to Michael Phelps, the pressure and expectation on Dressel to deliver a swag of gold medals for Team USA is e-bloody-normous. 

He can’t match Phelps’ eight gold from Beijing but he could get seven. 

His battle with Aussie Kyle Chalmers in the 100m freestyle will be one of the unmissable events of the Games.

Trayvon Bromell (USA) - Athletics

If Dressel is the man tipped to take Phelps’ place in the pool, then Bromell is favourite to claim the 100m title left vacant by Usain Bolt’s retirement on the track. 

The fastest man in the world this year, Bromell clocked 9.77sec in June. 

An inspiring story about succeeding against the odds, Bromell - who grew up amid violence and poverty in south Florida - has also overcome serious injuries in recent years.

Rohan Browning (Australia) - Athletics

No Australian man has made the 100m sprint final since Hector Hogan in Melbourne in 1956, so it’s no surprise there is a keen anticipation about what 23-year-old Browning could achieve in Tokyo. 

He became the first Aussie male to even qualify for the blue riband event since Josh Ross in 2004. 

His time of 10.05sec in March is the 36th fastest time recorded this year.

Laurel Hubbard (New Zealand) - Weightlifting

All eyes will be on the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics

Despite being 43, making her the fourth-oldest weightlifter at an Olympics, Hubbard is considered a genuine medal chance in the super heavyweight 87kg-plus category.

Laurel Hubbard, pictured here in action at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Laurel Hubbard in action at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Dorian Keletela (EOT) - Athletics 

What or where is EOT, you might be asking? It’s the code given to Équipe Olympique des Réfugiés or the Refugee Olympic Team.

100m sprinter Keletela will be one of 29 athletes from 12 sports and 18 countries to compete in Tokyo as independent athletes. 

Keletela, from the Republic of the Congo, spent a year in a refugee centre in Portugal after losing both his parents to conflict.

Ariarne Titmus (Australia) - Swimming

She’s been the wunderkind of Australian swimming since causing a major boilover at the 2019 world championships when she stole American legend Katie Ledecky’s 400m freestyle crown from her grasp. 

Their return bout in Tokyo will be something to savour.

Patty Mills (Australia) - Basketball

Not just the first Indigenous flagbearer ever, but he’s captain of a Boomers team that is still searching for that ever-elusive first medal at a major international tournament. 

There might be no Ben Simmons in the team, but now is the time for the Aussie men. 

A shock win over the Kevin Durant-led USA in a warm-up game last week was a good start.

Simone Biles (USA), Gymnastics

Already a legend at 24, and possibly at her last Olympics, Biles is one of the headline acts in Tokyo.

She became the first female US gymnast to win four gold medals at an Olympics when she dominated in Rio. 

Can she repeat her historic achievements?

Tom O’Halloran (Australia) - Sport Climbing

Who says reality TV stars never amount to anything? 

O’Halloran will put his experience from two seasons on Australian Ninja Warrior to good use when he and Oceania Mackenzie become Australia’s first-ever competitors in the new Olympic event of Sport Climbing.

Logan Martin (Australia), BMX

Nicole Kidman might have put BMX riding on the map decades ago, but Martin could take it to another level in Tokyo. 

He’s one of our best gold medal hopes in the inaugural BMX Freestyle Park competition, having just won a world title in June.

Wilfredo León (Poland) - Volleyball

They call him the Cristiano Ronaldo of volleyball. 

After leading Cuba to a silver medal at the 2010 world championships, Leon left his homeland in 2013 and became a Polish citizen in 2015, becoming eligible for the national team five years later. 

Known for his monster vertical jump, this one-of-a-kind player could almost single-handedly make Poland a gold medal contender.

Laura Kenny (Great Britain) - Cycling

Already Britain’s most successful female Olympian with four gold medals from four attempts, she could surpass the two greatest ever – husband Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy - who have six golds each. 

She’ll compete in three events, and is among the athletes thankful for the year’s postponement of these Games. 

In January last year she crashed at the Track World Cup, breaking her shoulder, and crashed again a month later at the Track World Championships.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica) - Athletics

One of the greatest sprinters of all time, can Fraser-Pryce reclaim the 100m crown she won in Beijing and London? 

She took bronze in Rio and then won the 2019 world title on her return from having a baby. 

She lit up the track at the Jamaican trials in both the 100m and 200m in June. 

She has the fastest 100m time (which was also the second fastest ever) and the second fastest 200m time this year. 

At 34, and with retirement coming after next year’s world championships, this could be some farewell.

Matt Wearn (Australia) - Sailing

A big shot at gold for Australia in the Laser class, Wearn has been building an impressive CV in recent years. 

Bronze in the 2017 world championships was followed by silver the next year and the title of Sailing Australia’s male sailor of the year. 

In 2019 he took out the Laser European Championship and won silver at the world titles.

Ash Barty (Australia) - Tennis 

We couldn’t go without mentioning the biggest star of Australian sport at the moment. 

Fresh off her Wimbledon triumph, the women’s World No.1 will lead the Aussie charge in the tennis, which has been dealt a blow in the men’s draw with the withdrawals of Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur. 

Barty will no doubt face a huge challenge to win gold from Naomi Osaka, who is competing at a home Olympics.

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