Some of the world's very best sports stars
This year’s delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo will feature 11,000 athletes from all over the world competing across 33 sports, including the five new additions of surfing, skateboarding, karate, sport climbing and baseball/softball.
New names will be made and reputations enhanced for those already on the big stage. We take a look at 20 individuals already at the peak of their game and expected to challenge for top honours in Tokyo.
Best athletes in the world
Simone Biles: Gymnastics (USA)
Gymnastics' current superstar
Biles, the reigning world and all-around Olympic champion, has continuously stretched the limits of her sport with her explosiveness, power and creativity.
The 24-year-old American, who has won 30 Olympic and world championship medals, claimed four golds at the 2016 Rio Games in one of the most remarkable performances in Olympic history.
Although initially planning to retire after Tokyo, Biles, who has numerous moves named after her, said she might consider competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics as an event specialist.
Joshua Cheptegei: Athletics (Uganda)
The Ugandan is going for an Olympic double
The 24-year-old is bidding for the 5,000 and 10,000m double in Tokyo. Cheptegei broke the 10,000m world record in Valencia in October, two months after smashing the 5,000m mark, which had been in place for 16 years.
Cheptegei knows he faces a huge task to become the eighth man to achieve the Olympic double. "It would be a mountain to climb," he said.
Novak Djokovic: Tennis (Serbia)
The world's leading men's tennis player
With the likes of Rafael Nadal pulling out of Tokyo, Djokovic’s chances have grown – not that he needs any extra help. The Serbian world number one has enjoyed a superb run of recent form, winning Wimbledon, the French Open and Australian Open already this year.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion claimed bronze at Beijing 2008, fourth at London 2012, and fell in the first round to eventual silver medallist Juan Martin del Potro at Rio 2016. But he is a whole different beast nowadays and as well as adding to his career repertoire, he would travel to Tokyo with a Calendar Golden Slam on the cards, winning all four Grand Slams and Olympic gold in the same year.
Caeleb Dressel: Swimming (USA)
Sprint specialist Caeleb Dressel
Credit: USA TODAT
A double Olympic relay gold medallist in 2016 and winner of 13 world championship golds, the 24-year-old sprint specialist is another US medal machine.
In 2019 Dressel became the first swimmer to win eight medals at a single world championships and also took Olympic great Michael Phelps’s 10-year-old 100m butterfly world record for good measure.
He will be favourite in the 50 and 100m free and the 100m butterfly. Throw in the relays and he could be targeting seven golds.
Armand Duplantis: Athletics (Sweden)
Pole vault extraordinaire
Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis has broken the world record and is a world silver medallist. Duplantis has also won the 2020 Diamond League and the 2021 European Indoor Championships, setting Championship Bests at both. Heading to Tokyo, the 21-year old, who cleared up at junior level, will vie for the medal he has always wanted to win. "Since I was a kid I wanted to win an Olympic gold, to be the best pole vaulter in the world," he said in December.
Chloe Dygert: Track cycling (USA)
Pretty in pink
The American speedster is already a world champion on the track and road and will have gold-medal ambitions on both in Tokyo. The Indiana native, known for her pink socks and wheels, was in a class of her own at the 2020 world track championships, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
She powered the American trio to a crushing victory over Britain in the team pursuit in Berlin and smashed the world record twice on her way to gold in the individual TT. A year before, she blazed to road TT gold at the world championships in Yorkshire — leaving the formidable Dutch armada in her wake.
A horrible crash last year at the world road TT in Imola in which she suffered a deep laceration to her leg, requiring surgery, halted her in her tracks but if she is fully recovered she could light up the Olympics.
Brady Ellison: Archery (USA)
Credit: USA TODAY
Currently number one in the world, and a three-time Olympic archery medallist, Ellison is enjoying the best time of his long international career.
The 32-year-old set a new world record in 2019 and is taking momentum into Tokyo as he targets his first Olympic gold.
Ellison overcame complications from Perthes Disease, a condition affecting the hip joint in children, and put off surgery for nine months so that he could compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His wife is also an archer from Slovenia.
Nyjah Huston: Skateboarding (USA)
A man with a large profile
Huston, 26, is a four-time world champion and has accrued more prize money than any other skateboarder in the sport’s history having maximised his fan base and social following to build his brand. Skateboarding is in Huston’s blood. In 2006, he was the youngest contestant to compete in the X Games at just 11 years old.
Of his many tattoos which adorn his entire body, he says he was initially hesitant to get one before following his friend at a contest when he was 18. "It slowly became an addiction. My mom wasn’t that down for it at first, but she’s gotten used to it now."
Jade Jones: Taekwondo (Great Britain)
Don't mess with the Headhunter
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The Welsh superstar was the first British athlete to become an Olympic taekwondo champion when she took gold at London 2012 at the age of 19 – a performance which earned her an MBE. Four years later, she successfully defended her title at the Rio 2016 Games when she defeated Spain’s Eva Calvo in the final. She has since gone on to secure gold at the 2019 World Championships and even managed to take the European crown for a third time in 2021. If she wins in Tokyo, she will become the first British female to win golds at three consecutive Olympics.
Laura Kenny: Track cycling (Great Britain)
Kenny has only won gold at her two Olympics
One half of British cycling’s golden couple, Kenny and her husband Jason will be aiming to add to their heaving trophy cabinets on the Izu velodrome boards.
Endurance specialist Kenny won team pursuit and omnium gold as Britain dominated at London 2012 and repeated in Rio four years later to become her country’s most decorated female Olympian, although she is two behind Jason’s six.
The 29-year-old boasts a huge engine to drive the team pursuit squad and a shrewd tactical brain in the bunched omnium events and the year delay will have helped the young mum get back to peak fitness after suffering some heavy crashes.
Katie Ledecky: Swimming (USA)
Chasing a place in the history books
Credit: USA TODAY
Ledecky has five golds from the past two Games and needs three more to equal retired compatriot Jenny Thompson’s record eight for a female swimmer (1992-2000).
At Rio 2016 she won four golds and a silver and was the most decorated female athlete along with US gymnast Simone Biles. In Tokyo she can win the 800m free for the third Games in a row, having first won it in London as a 15-year-old.
Ledecky, 24, also has 15 world championship golds and holds the world records for 400, 800 and 1,500m freestyle.
Noah Lyles: Athletics (USA)
Picking up the baton from Usain Bolt
The reigning world 200m champion, Noah Lyles is favourite for gold in Tokyo. Lyles, who overcame severe asthma as a child, ran a blistering 19.90 to win the 200m at the Golden Games meet in May, about a tenth of a second slower than eight-times Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt’s performance at the 2016 Rio Games.
Carissa Moore: Surfing (USA)
Carissa Moore will be among the surfing debutants
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Carissa Moore became the first American female to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut while clinching her fourth surfing world title in Hawaii. The 28-year-old from Honolulu is ranked number one in the world.
Carissa has leveraged her fame to a number of good causes over the years. In 2010, after winning her first CT event in New Zealand, she donated her entire prize money cheque to the local boardriders club in recognition of their hospitality. Expect a battle royale with Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore in Tokyo.
Naomi Osaka: Tennis (Japan)
Osaka will be playing in front of her home fans
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The Japanese star is expected to be one of the faces of the Tokyo Olympics, where she will be targeting a gold medal for the hosts. Osaka is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in women’s tennis in recent years, and had already won four grand slam titles – the 2018 and 2020 US Opens and the 2019 and 2021 Australian Opens.
She withdrew mid-way through the French Open and then ahead of the Wimbledon championships because of mental health struggles but is expected to play at the Olympics.
Mariana Pajon: BMX (Colombia)
Will a third gold be on the cards in Tokyo?
The queen of BMX racing, Pajon is Colombia’s most successful Olympian having won the gold medal at London and Rio.
She stands only 5-feet 2-inches but stick her on a BMX bike and she turns into a pocket rocket over the jumps.
A huge name in Colombia, Pajon will be tough nut to crack for anyone trying to ride off with her title.
"When I put my helmet on, it’s like I am going to battle, I am a warrior," she said. "I won’t stop even if it hurts."
Adam Peaty: Swimming (Great Britain)
Will anyone get close to Peaty in the pool?
As close to a gold medal banker as you can get, the Rio 2016 champion looks untouchable in the 100m breaststroke after his performances at the British swimming Olympic trials led to him filling the 20 best ever times in the discipline, with his world record sitting at 57.39 seconds.
No other British Olympian is dominating a sport in quite the same way that Peaty is. The eight-time world champion Peaty became a father in September 2020 and credits his son with giving him a new motivation.
Jon Rahm: Golf (Spain)
A man in form
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World No 1 and new US Open champion Jon Rahm will be the star attraction in the men’s golf field in Tokyo as he looks to add a gold medal for Spain to his maiden major title. His victory at Torrey Pines cane just 15 days after he was forced to withdraw after the third round of the Memorial Tournament with a six-shot lead after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sandra Sánchez: Karate (Spain)
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One of the favourites for a gold medal when karate makes its Olympic debut, Sanchez won her sixth consecutive European gold in June. She started practicing karate at the age of four but did not earn a place in Spain’s team until she was 32.
Sanchez then won 35 consecutive medals between January 2014 and February 2020, and gained recognition by Guinness World Records for winning the most medals in the Karate 1-Premier League. World champion is widely regarded as the greatest of all time in female karate.
Oh Sang-uk: Fencing (South Korea)
Don't mess with this man
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South Korea’s Oh is a five-time world champion in sabre fencing and a favourite for gold in Tokyo. The 24-year-old is nicknamed the "monster" as he towers over other athletes, standing 1.92m tall. Oh tested positive for Covid-19 after winning the championship at the Sabre World Cup in Budapest in March. He was hospitalised with mild symptoms for a month before being released in April.
Teddy Riner: Judo (France)
Teddy Riner is judo royalty
The 32-year-old Frenchman heads into the men’s +100kg judo event as the double defending champion. Riner has won 10 world titles in the course of his illustrious career and was unbeaten for the best part of a decade until February 2020. His potential final battle with Japan’s Harasawa Hisayoshi could prove one of the moments of the Games.