A look at the top storylines, athletes to watch and important dates on the road to Tokyo, six months from the Opening Ceremony on July 24 …
Who will be the Face of the Tokyo Olympics?
Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt retired since Rio, creating an opening for new alpha athletes at the Games. Successors emerged at recent world championships.
Simone Biles is a familiar name, having earned four gold medals in Rio. After a one-year break, she returned even more dominant than before. She could earn five golds in Tokyo, and perhaps medals in all six events.
In swimming, Caeleb Dressel could try for seven gold medals and Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky for six each. They won’t approach the Phelpsian feat of eight golds, but the addition of a mixed-gender relay and the women’s 1500m freestyle will make the U.S.’ best even busier than in Rio.
Bolt’s world records don’t look under threat, but the U.S. is set to retake the throne of men’s sprinting. Christian Coleman is the reigning world 100m champion, Noah Lyles the reigning world 200m champion and Michael Norman the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year. Coleman and Lyles are each expected to attempt the Bolt triple of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.
Final Olympics for legends
Biles has said she’s 99 percent sure the Tokyo Olympics will be her final competition at age 23. She’s not the only megastar bidding for a farewell this summer.
No more evident than in tennis. Come 2024, Venus Williams will be 44; Roger Federer and Serena Williams 42 and Rafael Nadal 38. It’s possible if not likely that they all retire at some point in the next Olympic cycle. Federer, Serena and Nadal are all but assured to qualify for Tokyo. Venus might need a doubles invitation.
Tiger Woods, if he was from any other nation, would be a near-lock to qualify. But he’s currently outside the cutoff for the U.S., by far the deepest golf nation. Woods must be ranked among the top four Americans after the U.S. Open to make it to Tokyo at age 44.
LeBron James, 35, has not publicly committed to playing, but he has massive respect for new U.S. coach Gregg Popovich. And everyone within USA Basketball has to be motivated after a seventh-place finish at last year’s FIBA World Cup without the NBA’s best stars. Two of the greatest female players in history, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, are back for their fifth Olympics.
Allyson Felix eyes her fifth and likely last Olympics, too, and her first as a mom. She owns six gold medals so far. Two more would tie swimmer Jenny Thompson‘s record for an American woman. But can she qualify for the U.S. individually by placing top three at the trials in June? She was sixth in the 400m in her comeback meet at nationals last year, eight months after childbirth.
Another mom, Kerri Walsh Jennings, is making her sixth and final Olympic push. This time with another new partner, Brooke Sweat. They’re in position to make it as the second and final U.S. team, though they’re not assured with five months left in qualifying. Walsh Jennings, 41, is older than any previous Olympic beach volleyball player.
Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe will lead the U.S. women’s soccer team in qualifying later this month. Even FIFA World Cup star Kylian Mbappe expressed interest in playing in the men’s tournament, which is mostly comprised of players 23 and under. But he may be back in four years when Paris hosts as an over-age exception.
What’s new for 2020?
Five sports were added to the Olympic program for Tokyo — karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing for the first time — and the return of baseball and softball for the first time since 2008.
The U.S. has reigning world champions in skateboarding and surfing, the latter with a team so deep that the world’s third-best woman didn’t qualify. Neither did 47-year-old Kelly Slater, ranked eighth in the world. The U.S. softball team had no problem qualifying as world champion, but baseball will come down to qualifiers in two months.
What about Russia?
Russia’s doping issues haven’t gone away since PyeongChang, when sanctions included having their team name changed to “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Though December headlines labeled Russia as being banned from the Olympics for four years, in reality it might not be much different than in South Korea in 2018. Its athletes are still in line compete, even if they must be cleared by anti-doping authorities. But perhaps without the Russian flag or anthem (as it was in PyeongChang). Perhaps the word “Russia” will be removed entirely from the Games, but nothing goes into effect until after an appeals process plays out.
Who qualifies for Team USA?
That’s the primary question from now until Olympic competition starts July 22. So far, these 31 athletes are on Team USA. By July, it will be more than 500. Key events this spring:
April 4-5: Wrestling trials
June 14-21: Diving trials
June 19-28: Track and field trials
June 21-28: Swimming trials
June 25-28: Gymnastics trials
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MORE: 20 Olympic sports events to watch in 2020 (before the Tokyo Games)