12 Storylines We’ll Definitely Be Watching at the Tokyo Olympics

After being postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Games are back on the schedule this summer. From July 23 through August 8, the best athletes from around the world will meet face-to-face for highly anticipated matchups sports fans have been waiting five years to see.

With 33 sports on the schedule making up 339 medal events, the Tokyo Olympics will provide ample opportunity for athletes across the globe to make sports history. In fact, the 2020 Games is slated to be the biggest Olympics yet. That means there’s a lot to watch, especially when looking at the packed schedule over the 16-day period.

So while you could simply tune into whatever event’s on tap for the day—here’s exactly how to watch the Olympic events—there are some moments you won’t want to miss. And we have you covered there: With athletes seeking redemption, the debut of new sports, and projected world-record-breaking performances, there will be no shortage of dramatic events.

And then, of course, there’s an obvious wild card: COVID-19. Just how many athletes and teams will be affected by positive COVID-19 tests, news of which is already starting to trickle out in the lead-up to the Games? While that’s a storyline we wish weren’t a part of these Games, the pandemic has already irrevocably altered athletes’ plans and shifted the way the world will be watching.

Here’s a breakdown of 12 sports-related Olympics storylines worth keeping an eye on.

1. USA women’s gymnastics goes for third straight team gold.

Team USA in Tokyo has the potential to outmedal 2016’s Final Five and secure team gold for the third straight time. Led by the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles—who won the women’s all-around at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials with a two-day total of 118.098 points—the team also includes first-time Olympians Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, Jade Carey, and MyKayla Skinner (an alternate for Team USA in 2016).

Five years after Biles solidified herself as the GOAT in Rio with gold medals in the team event, all-around, on floor, and on vault, the 24-year-old is maintaining her status as the favorite heading into Tokyo. This time around, she is expected to win gold again in the all-around, on floor and vault, according to Yahoo Sports. Her teammates are also projected to be breakout stars, especially Lee, 18, who is a gold-medal contender on bars, and could help complete a Team USA sweep of women’s gymnastics. However, the team was not without COVID complications, as alternate Kara Eaker tested positive for the virus on July 19.

Watch Team USA take on the world starting with the qualification round on July 25. The women’s team final is scheduled for July 27, the all-around final will be on July 29, and individual events will be contested from August 1 through August 3.

2. The U.S. women’s soccer team is out for redemption.

After suffering a shocking loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the U.S. women’s soccer team is returning to the Games with some extra fire. The team won the World Cup in 2019 and is bringing 17 of the squad’s 18 members—including Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan—who contributed to the program’s fourth World Cup title two years ago.

In addition to battling for wins on the soccer field, the women’s national team is leading an ongoing fight for equal pay, a struggle that was chronicled in the new documentary LFG.

However, an early loss in the group match opener on July 21 at Tokyo—again to Sweden—made Team USA’s pursuit of a historic double (holding Olympics and World Cup titles at the same time) look a little more hazy, according to NBC News. This makes their next game, on July 24 against New Zealand, even more of a must-see.

3. Sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda are going for golf gold.

After a 112-year absence, golf returned to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where Inbee Park of South Korea, Lydia Ko of New Zealand, and Shanshan Feng of China earned podium finishes. This summer the U.S. is coming back to the Games with first-time Olympian Nelly Korda as a gold-medal contender.

Korda, 22, is the current top-ranked women’s golfer in the world after winning her first LPGA major victory on June 27. The Bradenton, Florida, native won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, becoming the first American to win a major since 2018, and the first U.S. player to win the Women’s PGA in four years. With her victory, Korda secured a spot on Team USA heading for Tokyo, where she is currently first in the Olympic Golf Rankings. Korda’s sister Jessica, Danielle Kang, and returning Olympian Lexi Thompson will also represent the U.S. this summer.

Watch the Kordas and the rest of Team USA compete for medals in the women’s golf tournament, which is scheduled to run from August 3 through August 6.

4. A boatload of records could fall on the track.

From June 18 through June 27, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials hosted thrilling matchups that included a handful of historic marks—and even a world record—in the process of selecting the athletes who will represent the U.S. in Tokyo.

Sydney McLaughlin’s world record in the women’s 400-meter hurdles highlighted the national championship, as she set the track ablaze with a winning time of 51.90 seconds to beat former world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad and make her second Olympic team. Heading into Tokyo, McLaughlin is the clear favorite to win her first Olympic medal. The question is, will she lower her own historic mark in the process?

In the women’s 200 meters, Gabby Thomas—who’s also studying for her master’s in epidemiology—became the second-fastest performer ever by winning the final in 21.61. World-record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner (21.34 and 21.56) is the only woman in history to run faster than Thomas. That means a possible world-record attempt might be in the cards at Tokyo.

Nineteen-year-old Texas A&M standout Athing Mu almost broke the American record in the women’s 800 meters, when she stormed the track to win her first national title in 1:56.07, just off the U.S. all-time best of 1:55.71, set by Ajeé Wilson. Mu, who broke the meet record, is now the world leader and gold-medal contender in her signature event. Her winning time in Eugene also puts her in the conversation to break the American record in Tokyo.

With track athletes already breaking records, Team USA fans can expect to see even more historic performances in Tokyo. Catch these runners in action for some must-see Olympics storylines during the track and field session, which begins on July 30 and goes through August 8.

5. Allyson Felix, the most decorated Olympic runner in U.S. history, will compete in her final Olympics.

After finishing second in an epic homestretch battle during the women’s 400-meter final at the Olympic Trials, Allyson Felix earned a spot on her fifth Olympic team. At 35, Felix has previously won six Olympic gold medals and three silvers in the 200 meters and 400 meters. She aims to add to her medal collection in the 400 meters and as a member of the U.S. relay team in Tokyo. During the Olympic Trials, Felix also announced the launch of her own shoe company two years after leaving longtime sponsor Nike.

Since giving birth to her daughter Camryn in 2019, Felix has become a vocal supporter of athlete mothers. After she shared her experience of losing pay from Nike during her pregnancy, the sportswear giant added more protections for pregnant athletes and new moms. Felix is the lone Olympic veteran representing Team USA in the women’s 400 meters. She will be joined by first-time Olympians Quanera Hayes (whose son Demetrius met Camryn after the Olympic Trials final), Wadeline Jonathas, and 4×400-meter-relay specialist Kendall Ellis.

Watch Felix compete in her last Olympic Games during the women’s 400 meters, which starts with the first round on August 3.

6. USA women’s volleyball aims for gold after third-place finish in 2016.

The U.S. women’s national team solidified its No. 1 world ranking with a hard-fought win at the Volleyball Nations League tournament on June 25 in Rimini, Italy. Brazil attempted to dethrone the Americans as defending champions with a win in the first set, but the U.S. prevailed with a 3-1 victory to earn three consecutive trophies at the tournament and solidify the team’s status as gold-medal favorites in Tokyo. If the Americans win, it will be the national team’s first ever gold medal at the Games.

This year the team aims to upgrade from bronze in Rio to gold in Tokyo with a mix of several strong returners and rising stars. Jordan Larson and Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson will both be making their third Olympic appearances, along with Kim Hill and Kelsey Robinson, who were also part of the team that earned bronze five years ago. Rounding out the squad are Olympic newcomers Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, Annie Drews, Jordan Thompson, Micha Hancock, Jordyn Poulter, Chiaka Ogbogu, Haleigh Washington, and Justine Wong Orantes.

Watch the U.S. women’s volleyball team battle for gold in the Olympic tournament, which begins July 24 and continues until August 8.

7. Surfing will make its Olympic debut with the U.S. as a gold-medal favorite.

For the first time ever, surfing will be contested at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and Team USA looks ready to top the podium. Representing the U.S. on the women’s side will be world champion Carissa Moore, along with Caroline Marks, the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s championship tour. Moore, 28, is currently ranked No. 1 in the 2021 Women’s Championship Tour, and Marks, 19, is ranked sixth overall.

Heading into Tokyo, Moore looks ready to pull off the feat of earning Team USA’s first ever women’s surfing gold medal, which would add to her collection of four world championship titles.

Catch the event’s Olympic debut at Tsurigasaki Beach from June 25 through August 1. Exact timing, of course, will depend on weather and wave conditions.

8. Swimming teammates Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel aim for more gold.

Days after revealing that she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, Simone Manuel gave a stirring performance by winning the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on June 20. The Olympic qualification comes five years after Manuel made history as the first Black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the Rio Games.

Manuel’s Stanford teammate Katie Ledecky is also chasing more gold in Tokyo after winning four events in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. Ledecky cemented her prodigy status at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she upset defending champion Rebecca Adlington of Britain to claim her first gold medal at 15 years old. In the process of winning the 800-meter freestyle, she became the second-youngest American woman to win an individual gold medal.

In the 200-meter and 400-meter frees, the five-time Olympic gold medalist is ranked second in the world this year behind Australian rival Ariarne Titmus. She is ranked first in the 800 meters and 1500 meters—an event that is making its debut at the Tokyo Games, and one which Ledecky dominated at the trials with a world-leading time of 15:40:50. She is poised to win gold in both long-distance disciplines.

Manuel and Ledecky will be representing a U.S. team that includes 11 teenagers (the most teenagers on the team since 1996), in a move that reflects a generational shift as the national team adjusts to a Games without Michael Phelps—the first since 1996, The New York Times reports.

Watch Manuel, Ledecky, and the rest of Team USA compete during the Olympic swimming session from July 24 through August 1.

9. Softball returns to the Games with the U.S. on the hunt for gold.

After 13 years, softball is finally making its return to the Olympic program. The U.S. roster includes two veterans who contributed to the country’s podium finishes in 2004 and 2008. Cat Osterman, the 38-year-old left-hander who led Team USA to gold in 2004, is returning along with Monica Abbott, who competed on the 2008 team that lost to Japan in the gold-medal game. Before that matchup, the Americans outscored opponents 122-4 and won two gold medals during their 22-game Olympic winning streak that started in 2000.

Catch Team USA’s gold-medal pursuit, which starts during the six-nation group stage on July 21. The gold-medal game is scheduled for July 27.

10. The U.S. is looking for a cycling sweep.

Team USA has a lineup with the potential to win gold in all four women’s cycling disciplines: BMX, mountain, road, and track. In BMX, the U.S. is bringing contenders Hannah Roberts and Alise Willoughby. Kate Courtney will take on the mountain discipline, and Chloe Dygert will compete in road and track. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s title in BMX, mountain or track, but that could change this summer, according to NBC Sports.

Watch the Americans attempt to make history starting on July 25 with the road discipline. The mountain bike competition will begin on July 27, BMX is scheduled for July 28, and track begins on August 1.

11. Bird and Taurasi could make history with five Olympic gold medals.

Sue Bird, 40, and Diana Taurasi, 39, are leading U.S. women’s basketball into Tokyo, where the national team aims to win its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal. Both athletes represented the U.S. in 2000 at the Sydney Games and have starred on the court ever since. If Team USA wins this summer, Bird and Taurasi will become the first basketball players of any gender to win five Olympic gold medals.

Watch the veterans lead Team USA once again during the women’s basketball tournament, which begins on July 26.

12. Adeline Gray is out for redemption in Tokyo.

After having her two-year winning streak snapped in the quarterfinals of her Olympic debut in Rio, Adeline Gray, 30, has made an inspiring comeback to women’s wrestling after a tough year and a half.

In March 2020, the five-time world champion fractured her ribs at the Pan American Championships in Ottawa, which took place at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Olympic postponement gave the American-record holder more time to heal and recover from her injuries, just in time to make another Olympic team. At the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April, the veteran champion scored 20 points in less than three minutes to dominate the match against 17-year-old challenger Kylie Welker.

Watch Gray attempt to win her first ever Olympic medal during the women’s wrestling session, which starts on August 1.

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