Tokyo Olympics: Ten global stars to watch out for at the Games

Tokyo Olympic medal
The Tokyo Olympics will feature 33 sports and 339 medal events held at 42 venues across Japan
Hosts: Tokyo, Japan Dates: 23 July-8 August Time in Tokyo: BST +8
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and online; Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live, Sports Extra and BBC Sounds; Live text, video clips & highlights on BBC Sport website and app.

After a year’s delay the Tokyo Olympics will finally get under way next Saturday with just over 11,000 athletes from all around the world looking to make their mark.

BBC Sport will look at the big stars from Team GB and Japan in the days ahead, but first we pick out 10 international athletes to look out for in Tokyo.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles
Simone dazzled spectators at Rio 2016 with ‘The Biles’ – her signature move – during her stunning floor routine

Since a 16-year-old Simone Biles first appeared on the world gymnastics scene, she has gone from ‘talented American gymnast’, to ‘2016 Rio royalty’ to ‘the greatest of all time’.

But along the way she has had to face adversities including abuse, exhaustion, lockdowns and the inevitability of getting older. At 24, in gymnastics terms she is a veteran.

Biles recently told Sports Illustrated her athleticism is not what it was five years ago and there was even a point during the first lockdown where she almost gave up.

Putting her body through the rigours of Olympic training for a further year seemed too much for the Texan.

But instead Biles came back stronger, armed with a new skill that no gymnast had ever attempted in competition. It became the fourth skill named after her.

No Olympic gymnast has managed to retain the prestigious all-around title twice since 1968.

USA team-mate Sunisa Lee will give it a good go but judging by Biles’ form and the level of difficulty in her routines, it will need something truly special to beat her.

The women’s gymnastics competition starts on Sunday, 25 July.

Caeleb Dressel

An American swimmer aiming for multiple Olympic golds – sound familiar?

But Caeleb Dressel is determined to ignore the comparisons with the most decorated Olympian of all time – Michael Phelps and his 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes.

“You got people comparing Michael Jordan and LeBron James,” Dressel explained to GQ Magazine in June.

“Look, I’m going to turn on the TV to watch LeBron. I don’t care if he’s better than Jordan. He’s amazing at what he does. Why does it matter if he’s better than MJ or not?”

Besides, Dressel says he is not aiming to beat anyone other than yesterday’s version of himself.

And, with “just” the two Olympic golds so far, he has a long way to go before he matches Phelps but the 24-year-old is favourite to win up to six gold medals in Tokyo.

He is competing in three individual events – the 50m & 100m freestyle, plus the 100m fly – and will feature in three, possibly four, relays.

The 100m freestyle starts on Tuesday, 27 July.

Jessica Springsteen

Jessica Springsteen
Born to run? Springsteen’s parents will not be able to watch her compete in Tokyo because of restrictions on overseas spectators

Before you ask, yes Jessica Springsteen is indeed related to “The Boss”, also known as American rock legend Bruce Springsteen.

She is his daughter and has been riding since the age of five – the family own and live on a ranch in New Jersey, hence her show jumping pedigree.

At the age of 29, this will be Springsteen’s first competitive Olympic Games after she was an alternate rider in London and missed out on the team in 2016.

But Jessie, as she is known, is not just in the team for the star-spangled surname. The rider is ranked 14th in the world and has picked up wins at prestigious events around the world.

She will ride 12-year-old stallion Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, with whom she finished 18th at Windsor in early July.

The individual jumping starts on Tuesday, 3 August.

Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard
Laurel Hubbard competed in men’s events before coming out as transgender in 2013

Arguably one of the most anticipated performances of these Games will come from 43-year-old transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.

New Zealand’s Hubbard, who broke male national records as a junior, will compete in the women’s 87kg weightlifting category and is one of the favourites to win a medal.

Hubbard’s inclusion is seen as a milestone for trans equality and many have praised the International Olympic Committee’s inclusive policies and the New Zealand organising committee for her selection.

Hubbard will be the first trans athlete to compete at the Olympics in an individual event – and is unlikely to be the last.

The women’s weightlifting 87kg starts on Monday, 2 August.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Six-time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is back for what could be her final stab at the gold.

At the age of 34, Fraser-Pryce comes into these Games in superb form, having run the second fastest 100m of all time – 10.63 seconds – in June.

Fraser-Pryce is one of only three women in history to successfully defend their Olympic 100m title (2008 and 2012) – and no-one has ever won the title three times.

The nine-time world champion will face tough competition from compatriots Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, as well as the Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith.

The women’s 100m heats get under way on Friday, 30 July.

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic
Djokovic won Wimbledon for the sixth time in July

Fresh from securing his 20th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic will be seeking to claim the fourth part of the so-called ‘Golden Slam’ of tennis.

Germany’s Steffi Graf is the only player to complete the set of Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, Olympic gold and US Open in a calendar year, which she achieved in 1988.

Djokovic has won the first three tournaments but needs to strike gold in Tokyo and then claim the US Open in September.

The Serb was 50-50 about going to Tokyo after it was announced fans would not be allowed to attend but has now confirmed his participation.

Djokovic will be the clear favourite in Japan with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal absent, and reigning champion Andy Murray only an outside hope after more than his fair share of injuries.

The Olympic tennis competition will get under way on Saturday, 24 July.

Wayde van Niekerk

Wayde van Niekerk
Van Niekerk has battled injuries since lighting up the track at Rio 2016

South African Wayde van Niekerk was the breakout athletics star of the Rio Games five years ago, but it has not been an easy ride since.

Van Niekerk, who smashed Michael Johnson’s 400m world record in 2016 (43.03 seconds), was injured in a charity touch rugby match soon after the last Olympics and has struggled to find form since.

The 29-year-old had been focusing on the 200m in the build-up to the Games but failed to reach the qualifying time.

He returned to his speciality distance – the 400m – and just managed to qualify in June, much to the relief of his home fans in South Africa.

Not only is it a big summer for his career, he has also just announced he is to become a father later this year. No doubt it will be an emotional return to the Olympic track for Van Niekerk.

The men’s 400m heats start on Sunday, 1 August.

Teddy Riner

Teddy Riner
Riner won his fourth world title in Tokyo in 2010

Winning one Olympic gold in judo is a huge achievement. Winning three would be unprecedented.

But French judoka Teddy Riner may become the first person to do just that.

The 10-time world champion, who also won bronze at his first Olympics in 2008, is still going strong at 32, winning +100kg gold at the World Judo Masters event at the start of the year.

France’s flagbearer in Rio, ‘Teddy Bear’ as he is often known, is one of the most decorated athletes at the Games, and standing at 6ft 8in, is one of the most imposing too.

The first round of Riner’s +100kg category starts on Thursday, 29 July.

The USA women’s soccer team

The USA women's soccer team
The United States won their fourth World Cup at the 2019 tournament in France

Why pick one player when the whole team form one fierce force of global superstars?

The four-time world champions are going for their fifth Olympic gold (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012) and will be seeking redemption after they were knocked out of 2016’s tournament at the quarter-final stage via a penalty shootout.

Their opening group game in Tokyo is against Sweden, the winners of that shootout.

With a staggering unbeaten streak of 44 games and their star players in top form who would bet against them this time?

Nine of their squad have earned over 100 caps, including the ever-present Carli Lloyd, who has more than 300, and is five appearances from matching Christie Pearce (formally Rampone) for second on the all-time list with 311.

The iconic Megan Rapinoe is also three assists off of Abby Wambach’s 73, which would take the striker to third on that all-time table.

USA face Sweden on Wednesday, 21 July.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant
Durant is looking to win his third Olympic gold

Among the 12 NBA superstars heading to Tokyo is Brooklyn Nets small forward Kevin Durant.

The two-time Olympian will not want to break the tradition of Team USA bringing home the gold, but it has not been an easy build-up with two defeats in a warm-up competition in Las Vegas.

Durant (or simply KD as he is known) was the US team’s leading scorer at the past two Olympics.

USA men’s opening match will be on Sunday, 25 July against France.

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