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Tokyo Olympics One Year Out: What to Watch for in Summer 2021

“A Beacon of Hope”

When the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers believed that the Olympics would become a symbol of resilience and a festival of unity in 2021.

“Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic Flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel,” the IOC and Olympic organizing committee said in a joint statement on March 24.

The modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896, have never been comprehensively postponed. Only World War I (1916) and World War II (1940 and 1944) ever stopped the Games from happening completely.

Organizers are preparing different scenarios for the Games, trying to plan for uncertainty.

“We have established one principle at the very beginning of all this discussion, way before the postponement [was announced], and this is that the Games must be organized offering a safe environment for all the participants,” IOC President Thomas Bach told NBC Olympics primetime host Mike Tirico in May. “At this moment, nobody can give you a reliable answer to the question of how the world will look like in in one year.”

Simone Biles’ Farewell

It’s a second and almost definitely final Olympics for Biles, considered by many the greatest gymnast in history. She earned four golds in Rio and could bag medals in all six events in Tokyo, leading another dominant U.S. women’s team.

If the previous Olympics were about Biles’ breakthrough, this cycle has been about her evolution to become a leading voice in sports. Biles has repeatedly called for (and often brought about) change in gymnastics since returning from a one-year break in 2017.

She also upped her domination, introducing new skills and winning by greater margins than in 2016. In Tokyo, Biles can become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles since 1968. She can become the first U.S. woman in any sport to win five golds at a single Games. She can end her career without an all-around defeat in eight years.

U.S. Swimmers Look Lethal Without Phelps

Michael Phelps‘ retirement doesn’t change this: the U.S. still rules the pool. Caeleb Dressel, who earned two relay golds in Rio, is now the world’s top male swimmer and expected to go for seven golds in Tokyo, one shy of Phelps’ record from Beijing.

Simone Manuel, who in Rio became the first Black female swimmer to win an Olympic title for the U.S., has a chance at six golds in Tokyo. Katie Ledecky, with the addition of the women’s 1500m freestyle to the Olympic program, can go from four golds in 2016 to five in 2021.

The U.S. has more returning gold medalists, including breaststroker Lilly King and backstroker Ryan Murphy, plus rising stars like 18-year-old Regan Smith, who broke three world records between two races at the 2019 World Championships. Don’t forget about 35-year-old Ryan Lochte, who at trials will bid to become the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic swim team.

Usain Bolt’s Successor? Look to the USA

Two U.S. sprinters emerged the last four years to take the mantle from the retired Usain Bolt as the world’s fastest man.

Christian Coleman, a relay-only runner in Rio, was the world’s fastest 100m sprinter in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and entered 2020 as the clear Olympic favorite. But Coleman’s status for the Tokyo Games is in doubt for missing drug tests. Coleman, though he has never failed a test or been linked to banned substances, could be suspended up to two years in an ongoing case.

Noah Lyles, who missed the Rio Olympic team by one spot out of high school, is now the Alpha at 200m. Lyles is the reigning world champion and last year became the fourth-fastest man in history at the distance, clocking 19.50 seconds, .31 off Bolt’s world record. Lyles, like Coleman, harbors hopes of gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in Tokyo.

In other track events, Allyson Felix bids for her fifth Olympic team and first as a mom. With nine medals, she is one medal shy of Carl Lewis’ record for a U.S. track and field athlete.

Team USA: Ladies First

The U.S. is again expected to top the medal standings with most of its medals coming from women. Biles, Manuel and Ledecky should be the biggest contributors.

Then there are the team sports. The women’s soccer team, potentially led by Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, looks to rebound from a quarterfinal loss in Rio. The women’s basketball team hasn’t lost at the Olympics since 1992 and wants to send Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi off with a fifth gold each. Kerri Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion, could become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player ever, but April Ross and Alix Klineman are the U.S. medal favorites.

In tennis, it could be the last Olympics for Venus and Serena Williams, who each own four gold medals, and the first for 16-year-old sensation Coco Gauff.

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Olympics, 2020 Summer Olympics NBC Sports