After a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Olympics are finally getting underway in Tokyo, albeit in completely different circumstances then were expected when Japan was declared as the hosts of the Games in 2013.
Debate in the build-up to the competition has largely been focused away from sport, as a surge in Covid-19 cases in the host city has led many to question whether the Olympics and Paralympics should go ahead at all, before it was eventually determined that they will take place almost completely behind closed doors.
However, although the absence of the usual roaring crowds will be significant for the athletes, as the Games finally get underway, discussion can finally focus on sport, and the furore that usually focuses around the Olympics can finally get underway.
There is a lot to be excited about from a Team GB perspective when it comes to this year’s Olympics, with a number of star athletes and interesting stories to follow as the Games progress.
Team GB has managed to break into the top five of the medal table in each of the last two iterations of the Olympics, finishing third with a commendable 65 medals in 2012, before improving on that record by finishing second with 67 medals in 2016.
Having finished 36th in the medal table at the Atlanta ’96 Games, Great Britain’s fortunes have improved dramatically, with a decision taken in the early 2000s to streamline funding into areas where they thought they had the best chances of winning medals. In some respects, this was a brutal policy, removing funding from athletes in some of the lesser-renowned sports but, in terms of the Team’s improvement in the medal table, it has certainly bourn fruit, producing athletes with the calibre of Adam Peaty, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Dina Asher-Smith.
Peaty is perhaps Team GB’s most well-renowned and dominant athlete as things stand, and looks set to sweep the swimming medals in the shorter-course breaststroke again this time around. He has revolutionised the technique of the stroke, going for power over style, and consequently at times seems to be in a race against himself, consistently breaking his own world records on the path to becoming one of the most decorated Olympians of all time.
What is for sure is that it is set to be an outstanding summer of sport
Asher-Smith could also be set for her biggest Games yet, having improved steadily from her debut appearance in 2016. Following an individual bronze in the 200m in Rio, she will be aiming to go one better this time around with a gold in that event, while possibly holding out hope for a medal in the 100m. She faces tough competition in the form of Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce but, in the absence of no outright favourite this year, there is every chance Dina Asher-Smith could be one of Great Britain’s first sprinting successes.
A number of other well known British athletes will be going for medals once again, from Katarina Johnson-Thompson to Tom Daley, while there is sure to be a break-out story and another British hero to emerge, as the Team goes in search of another record breaking Olympics. A name to certainly look out for is that of Sky Brown, Britain’s youngest ever Olympian at 13, who will be looking for a medal in the skate-boarding.
Away from the British team, there are a number of stories that are set to light up this year’s Olympics. The absence of Usain Bolt, while disappointing in terms of the entertainment Bolt provided, will open up the field in the men’s 100m. The USA, as usual with the Olympics in general, boast a number of runners who should be in the medals, with favourite Trayvon Brommel competing with compatriots Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley for the gold. Canadian Andre De Grasse and South African Akani Simbine should also be in with a shout for a medal.
There are also new sports to look out for, with skateboarding, competitive climbing, surfing and karate all taking place in the Olympics for the first time, all of which should produce moments of interest and intrigue in the month ahead.
What is for sure, however, is that it is set to be an outstanding summer of sport. Although crowds may be absent, something that has reduced the hype that usually surrounds the Games slightly, the prospect of sport consistently being on the TV once again is an exciting one, as the world’s biggest and most watched sporting competition gets started.