With over 11,000 athletes expected to take part in the Tokyo Olympics, there are bound to be quite a few that turn in star performances. Below we've highlighted a few athletes from around the globe and across various sports that deserve to be on your radar during the upcoming Games.
Track & Field: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica
A six-time Olympic medalist and nine-time world champion, Fraser-Pryce is one of the greatest sprinters of all time. Together with fellow Jamaican Usain Bolt she made the 100m podium at three straight Olympics from 2008-2016, winning twice. After reclaiming the world title in the event in 2019 at age 32 – the oldest female sprinter to do so – she now has a great chance to best her compatriot in Tokyo with a potential fourth straight podium finish. These Olympics will be different for Fraser-Pryce: A year after Rio, she relinquished defense of her world title and became a mom to Zyon. In addition to the 100m, where she’ll face off against teammate and defending Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah — they’re tied at 10.71 for the best 100m times run worldwide since Rio — look for Fraser-Pryce in the 200m and the 4x100m relay.
Swimming: Ariarne Titmus, Australia
The 20-year-old from Tasmania has her sights on perhaps the most difficult challenge any athlete will face in Tokyo: beat Katie Ledecky in an Olympic distance freestyle race. So far, nobody has accomplished that feat, though Titmus boasts the next-best thing. She chased down and out-touched an ailing Ledecky in the 400m freestyle final of the 2019 World Swimming Championships. Titmus also represents a threat in the 200m freestyle, an event in which she is the defending Australian national champion.
Gymnastics: Nikita Nagornyy, ROC
The Russian Olympic Committee’s men’s gymnastics hopes are pinned on Rio silver medalist Nikita Nagornyy, the world all-around champion in 2019. Nagornyy, along with compatriot Artur Dalaloyan, has dominated men’s gymnastics since Rio and is eyeing his nation’s first team medal since 1996 – but Dalaloyan recently tore his Achilles tendon, leaving his status for Tokyo in question. At the European Championships in April, Nagornyy took things to a historic level, becoming the first man to perform a triple back pike somersault on the floor exercise in competition.
Diving: Tom Daley, Great Britain
Will this be the Olympics where Tom Daley finally puts it all together? The former child diving prodigy competed in his first Olympics as a 14-year-old in Beijing in 2008. He was among the most anticipated British performers at the London Olympics but could only manage a bronze medal in the 10m platform. Still just 27 (when the Olympics start), Daley is back amongst the medal contenders for Tokyo after winning platform gold at the 2017 World Diving Championships. In addition to the individual competition, Daley is also a medal threat in the synchronized platform event with partner Matty Lee.
Tennis: Novak Djokovic, Serbia
Eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic is in the hunt for his second Olympic medal, and first gold, in his fourth appearance at the Games. Currently ranked No. 1 in the world in men's tennis, he'll be hoping that this is the year he finally claims that elusive gold medal. The Serbian star recently said that if he could change one match in his career, it would be one of his Olympic losses. Off the court, Djokovic stirred up some controversy in early 2020 when he and Canadian Vasek Pospisil proposed a new breakaway men's players union that was not supported by many of the sport’s other big names.
Basketball: Rudy Gobert, France
The Utah Jazz currently have one of the best records in the NBA, and star center Rudy Gobert is a key reason why. Averaging over 14 points and 13 rebounds per game to go along with nearly 3 blocks, the two-time All-Star has been a dominant defensive force down low. The Olympic basketball rosters are always dominated by talk of Team USA’s superstar squad, but Gobert should be one of the biggest names on international rosters, provided he competes in Tokyo. A deep playoff run from the Jazz could complicate things, but the eight-year NBA veteran stated in December that his goal is to play in the Olympics even if his team makes it to the NBA Finals. France, which won bronze at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, will be a medal contender in Tokyo but will first have to emerge from a group that also includes the United States.
Golf: Rory McIlroy, Ireland
Often regarded as one of the top golfers on the planet, Rory McIlroy is expected to make his Olympic debut in Tokyo while representing Ireland. The Northern Irishman has been one of the most successful golfers on the PGA Tour over the last decade, winning the PGA Championship (twice), the U.S. Open and the British Open while also being named PGA Player of the Year twice and winning the Vardon Trophy (PGA leader in scoring average) and Byron Nelson Award (lowest adjusted scoring average) three times each. The Masters Tournament is the only major that McIlroy has yet to win, though he did come in fourth place in 2015. McIlroy intended to make his Olympic debut at the Rio Games in 2016, but dropped out of the event due to fears over the Zika virus.
Soccer: Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands
An unstoppable goalscoring force at striker for the Netherlands national team, 24-year-old Miedema has in recent years cemented herself as one of the world's very best in the women’s game. The reigning Football Writers’ Association Women’s Player of the Year was instrumental to the Dutch charge to the final of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She has amassed a staggering 71 goals in 95 career appearances for the Dutch national team and is only just now entering her prime. Since signing with Arsenal in 2017, Miedema has also been a prolific scorer at the club level, netting 60 goals in her first 66 appearances in the Women's Super League, the top tier of of women's soccer in England, and becoming the league's all-time top scorer in the process.
Skateboard Park: Sky Brown, Great Britain
Sky Brown is one of skateboarding’s up-and-coming stars. She’s the first female skater to land a frontside 540 at X Games, she’s been able to skate with and learn from Tony Hawk, and she’s survived a harrowing 15-foot fall off the side of a vert ramp, but she won’t even turn 13 until just a few weeks before the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games. Although Brown was born in Japan, she settled on competing for Great Britain (where her dad was born) after being sold on its low-pressure attitude toward competition. Having taken bronze at the 2019 World Championships, one of the youngest Olympians in Tokyo will be one of the biggest medal threats in skateboard park.
Skateboard Street: Leticia Bufoni, Brazil
This 28-year-old Brazilian shredder has been breaking boundaries and pushing women’s skateboarding into the limelight for years. After earning an invite to X Games in 2007, Bufoni traveled to Los Angeles to compete and then decided to move there permanently. (She just became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April but will still be competing for Brazil at the Olympics.) Bufoni has won four X Games gold medals in women’s street (tied for the record) during her contest career, and she became the first woman to win a world title in the discipline in 2015. She’s also been a playable character in the “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” video game series, had her own television show in Brazil, posed for an ESPN “Body Issue” photo shoot, and amassed nearly 3 million followers on Instagram. All in all, it’s made Bufoni one of the most popular skateboarders in the world. In a testament to her unique style, she is often seen sporting pink hair.
Wrestling: Abdulrashid Sadulaev, ROC
The “Russian Tank” has been in the discussion around world’s best pound-for-pound wrestler for a number of years now. During the 2016 Olympics, he conceded just one point (while scoring 28 of his own) in his four matches en route to winning the 86kg freestyle gold medal. But since the last Olympics, he has moved up to the 97kg weight class, putting him in direct competition with Team USA’s reigning Olympic champion Kyle Snyder. Snyder beat Sadulaev for a world title in 2017, then Sadulaev returned the favor a year later. The two wrestlers didn’t face off at 2019 Worlds, but Sadulaev emerged with his second straight title and Snyder ended up with bronze. A Sadulaev vs. Snyder final could produce wrestling’s most thrilling match in Tokyo.
Judo: Teddy Riner, France
A 10-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Teddy Riner is widely considered one of the best judokas on the planet, if not the best. He was unbeaten for nearly 10 full years before his 154-match winning streak was ended in February 2020. Despite the loss, Riner is still in Herculean shape at 32 years old and has hopes of winning his third straight judo gold medal in Tokyo — something no one other than legendary judoka Tadahiro Nomura has ever accomplished. However, he’ll have his work cut out as Japanese judoka Harasawa Hisayoshi, who lost to Riner in the gold medal bout in Rio, looks to capture the gold in his home country.
Sport Climbing: Janja Garnbret, Slovenia
At times, it can appear as if Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret is immune to the laws of gravity. At just 22 years old, Garnbret has already established herself as one of the greatest climbers in the history of the sport, having won six world titles across bouldering, lead climbing and the combined format that'll be used at the Olympics. In 2019, she became the first man or woman to sweep every stop on the multi-stage Bouldering World Cup. Anything less than gold for Garnbret in Tokyo would be a shock.
Canoe Sprint: Danuta Kozak, Hungary
Hungary has won seven of the 44 women’s sprint canoe races held thus far in Olympic history, and five of those included Danuta Kozak. The 34-year-old is a 14-time world champion and won gold in the K-1 500m and K-4 500m at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games, gold in the K-2 500m in Rio, and silver in the K-4 500m at the 2008 Beijing Games. Kozak took bronze in the K-1 500m at the most recent worlds, losing to Belarusian Volha Khudzenka and Rio bronze medalist Lisa Carrington of New Zealand, with whom she’s expected to battle in Tokyo.
Mountain Biking: Nino Schurter, Switzerland
Domination is an understatement when it comes to cross-country mountain bike cycling and Schurter, who prior to the 2020 World Championships – which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic – had won the last five world titles in his event dating back to 2015 and Olympic gold in 2016. Additionally, Schurter is a seven-time World Cup winner and took silver in London (2012) and bronze in Beijing (2008). Despite the 34-year-old's disappointing ninth-place finish at 2020 Worlds, he remains the favorite to defend his Olympic gold and increase his global title count to 13.
Zhu Ting, Volleyball, China
China has won gold at three of the last four major volleyball tournaments (2015 and 2019 World Cups, 2016 Olympic Games) thanks to Zhu Ting. She totaled nearly 500 points at those three tournaments and was named the MVP for all three. Zhu is one of the best indoor players of her time, and the 26-year-old will try and help China win a record-tying fourth Olympic gold.
Handball: Mikkel Hansen, Denmark
The Danish men’s national team has won three of the last four major handball tournaments — the 2019 and 2021 World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games — thanks in large part to left back Mikkel Hansen, the MVP of all three competitions and winner of a record-tying three IHF World Player of the Year honors (2011, 2015, 2018). The 33-year-old totaled 174 goals over those three tournaments and has scored more than 1,000 in his career.
Athletes to watch from other countries
The United States Olympic team is expected to include over 500 athletes for the Tokyo Olympics. Here we've highlighted some of the Americans who you'll want to have on your radar during this Olympic season.
During every Olympics, the host nation always garners extra attention, and that will certainly be the case again this year with Japan, a country that has global stars, Olympic legends and exciting youngsters among its ranks. Here we've highlighted some of the top Japanese athletes expected to compete at the Tokyo Games.