When the flame finally lights up at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, a new era of athletes has the opportunity to make history if there is no set of established stars.
So much has changed in the Olympic landscape in the five years since the Rio Games – triple double sprint champion Usain Bolt is now making music and building a family in Jamaica, while 28-time medalist Michael Phelps has retired from the pool.
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In Tokyo, Caeleb Dressel is Phelps’ most likely successor in medal-winning betting.
The 24-year-old American aims to become only the fourth swimmer in history to win seven medals in a single Game. Dressel is not a beginner, having already won two gold relays at the 2016 Rio Games, but now his focus is firmly on individual glory.
Bolt left an empty hole in the world of sports when he retired in 2017, but a new generation of stars is emerging.
Charismatic Norwegian 400m hurdle Karsten Warholm broke one of the longest men’s world records this month, and Sydney McLaughlin broke the women’s record in the same event in the US test.
Athletes-spectators looking for a gold medal sprint for the future will be watching 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton closely.
The American with a fleet broke the world record of 200 meters set by Bolt this year, running a dazzling 19.84sec in the US tests to secure his place in the Olympics.
In the field, the Swede Armand Duplantis is the undisputed young king of the treasury at just 21 years old.
Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey’s fight with Dutch runner Sifan Hassan is also highly anticipated as everyone broke the 10,000m world record in two days. Gidey, 23, keeps the marks at this distance and 5,000m.
Sky Brown will be just 13 years and 11 days old when the British-born Briton competes in skateboarding in Tokyo. A powerful performance by the teenager who gained fame in the US in 2018 by winning the TV show “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” would be the perfect way to start skateboarding in his Olympic debut.
American golfer Collin Morikawa could win a few weeks by winning an Olympic gold medal to add to the 24-year-old British Open title he won last weekend. Victor Howland, the Norwegian who is a year younger, could also be with a scream.
While the new names will shine, Simone Biles will be one of the few superstars to return from Rio, leading a team much younger than the 24-year-old. Bales, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, has a good chance of equaling the Larissa Latina record for nine Olympic gold medals.
In fact, the biggest controversy for Biles is the same, as it has not lost a general competition since 2013, redefining its sport along the way. Disappointingly for any young challenger, Biles suggested she could be persuaded to continue until the 2024 Olympics in Paris.