2021 Olympic storylines to follow
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

2021 Olympic storylines to follow

The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, originally scheduled for last summer and postponed due to an international pandemic that is still going, are set to finally be held. From July 23-August 8, the finest athletes, mostly amateur, from around the world will compete in what's likely to be one of the more unique events in Olympic history.

While things obviously remain fluid with COVID-19 still an issue, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on at these Games. Here's a look.

 
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The games will go on

The games will go on
Yukihito Taguchi/USA TODAY Sports

It made sense to postpone these Summer Games in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic in full force throughout the world. And vaccines still not available. Fast forward to the present day, and while Japan saw a spike in cases during the Spring, things have reportedly calmed down enough -- according to the BBC, -- for the Olympics to be safely held. As of June 24, there were nearly 790,000 confirmed cases in the country with just over 14,500 deaths. However, a little more than 8 percent of the population (almost 126 million) have been fully vaccinated. 

 
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Change of plans

Change of plans
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

While no international spectators were ever going to be allowed at events during these Summer Games, the plan was to have fans living in Japan in attendance, but with no crowd exceeding 50 percent of a venue's capacity. However, the latter will also no longer be the case after the country declared a state of emergency (beginning July 12 and running through Aug. 22) as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Tokyo, and the rest of Japan. It also has not helped that only 15 percent of the country's population is fully vaccinated

 
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Will the athletes be safe?

Will the athletes be safe?
Yukihito Taguchi/USA TODAY Sports

That's obviously the No. 1 concern for all those involved. And, several nations and the World Players Association are asking the International Olympic Committee to guarantee the athletes can compete in the safest manner possible. While the athletes are not required to be vaccinated, international competitors will be tested before and after arriving in Japan. They must remain in cohorts -- or bubbles -- and not intermingle with local residents.

 
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Gone in a puff

Gone in a puff
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Sha'Carri Richardson turned heads with her stellar performance in winning the women's 100 meters at the U.S. track and field trials last month. Of course, the outgoing and styled Richardson won't be competing in the event after she received a one-month suspension from testing positive for marijuana (THC, a chemical in cannabis is a banned substance). Richardson's predicament has gone international, drawing most support for the budding star, but also criticism. Richardson, though, may still be part of the U.S. women's 4x100-meter relay team in Tokyo.

 
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Welcome back

Welcome back
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

OK, now that we know the Games will be held and precautions are in place, what about the competitions? First off, we should remind fans that baseball and softball will make their return to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008. Legends Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman are slated to take the softball field for the United States, which opens play against Italy on July 20. The American baseball squad , manager by former Los Angeles Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, will face Israel in its July 1 opener.

 
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Getting in on the fun

Getting in on the fun
Kenton Phillips, Florida Today via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

Baseball and softball aren't the only additions to the Olympic program. Karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing will debut at the next Summer Games -- in addition to 3-on-3 basketball. It will be interesting to see how they fare, though, one can assume skateboarding will be the biggest hit of the group. Unfortunately, for followers of the U.S. Olympic team, surf legend and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater  failed to qualify for the Games. As did three-time Olympic gold medal snowboarder Shaun White in skateboarding. 

 
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Youth gone wild

Youth gone wild
Brian Powers/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Speaking of skateboarding. Fans of the sport obviously have reason to follow that competition in Tokyo. However, the casual Olympic viewer might want to check in and catch Great Britain's Sky Brown and Japan's Kokona Hiraki -- both are 12 years old (though Brown will be 13 by the time the Games start). Brown is ranked third in the world -- Hiraki is sixth -- and her mother is Japanese. She's also lucky to be skating following a serious fall during training last Spring when she broke her wrist and suffered multiple skull fractures. 

 
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Go Grimes Go

Go Grimes Go
YouTube

Compared to Sky Brown and Kokona Hiraki, 15-year-old U.S. swimmer Katie Grimes seems like a senior citizen. Still, Grimes will be making her Olympic debut after she won the hearts of American swim fans with her second-place finish second in the 800 freestyle at the U.S. swimming trials. While Grimes' Olympic career is just getting started, and plenty of eyes will be on her at Tokyo, another Katie will look to continue her international dominance in the pool.

 
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Padding the Ledecky legacy

Padding the Ledecky legacy
Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

That other Katie? Yes, American Katie Ledecky, who finished ahead of Katie Grimes in the 800 at the U.S. trials. The five-time Olympic gold medalist and winningest female in the history of the U.S. swimming trials, the 24-year-old Ledecky could be in for another dominant Summer Games performance. In 2016 at Rio, Ledecky won four of those golds, with three coming in individual events. Can she top that performance?

 
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Simone's second act

Simone's second act
Grace Hollars/USA TODAY Sports

From the swimming pool to the gymnastics arena. The latter is where American fans are expecting more female individual dominance. The massively popular Simone Biles won four gold medals (including the all-around Olympic gymnastics crown) and a bronze in her Olympic debut at Rio in 2016. Biles is trying to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion in 50 years. She might not have had an overly stellar performance at the U.S. gymnastics trials, but is still expected to shine bright in Tokyo.

 
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Durant good to go for U.S.

Durant good to go for U.S.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Olympic men's basketball team received a major boost when NBA superstar Kevin Durant said he would play. Durant, who averaged 34.3 points and 9.3 assists during a stellar playoff performance for the Brooklyn Nets, joins the likes of fellow NBA stars Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, and Damian Lillard on the U.S. roster. With Durant officially in the mix, it would seem hard to believe that the Americans won't win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal. that quest begins against France on July 25.

 
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Tokyo no go for Williams sisters

Tokyo no go for Williams sisters
Susan Mullane/USA TODAY Sports

While Kevin Durant will be representing the U.S. in Tokyo, it does not appear the Williams sisters -- Venus and Serena -- won't be there. The pair has nine total Olympic medals between, eight of the gold variety. However, Venus said wile at Wimbledon that she'll probably sit out the Olympics for the first time since 1996. While Serena also planned to skip the Games, it became even more official after she suffered a hamstring injury during his first-round match at Wimbledon . In addition to the Williams' opting out, fellow tennis giant Rafael Nadal also will not be in Tokyo.

 
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Making a statement

Making a statement
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

U.S. hammer throw competitor Gwen Berry earned a spot on the U.S. track and field for the Tokyo Games after finishing third in the event at the country's national trials. However, she was the talk of the competition after appearing to turn away while on the podium during the playing of the "The Star-Spangled Banner." Berry has offered her side of the story and naturally drawn criticism from conservative lawmakers and pundits. Should Berry, a self-proclaimed "activist athlete," or any competitor looking to use the Olympics as a platform to send a message in these politically volatile times, especially in the U.S., be in that position? Things could get interesting. 

 
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The next Usain Bolt

The next Usain Bolt
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

OK, is there anybody on the planet capable of living up to the dominance that Bolt's had on the recent Olympic scene? Probably not, but there are some talented sprinters willing to try this summer in Tokyo. American Trayvon Bromell won the 100 meters at the national trials in 9.80 seconds. However, Canada's Andre De Grasse, who finished third in the 100 and second in the 200 at Rio, and South Africa's Akani Simbine might have something to say about who's the fastest man in the world. 

 
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The next Michael Phelps

The next Michael Phelps
Insidefoto/Imago/Icon Sportswire

If there's unlikely to be an immediate replacement to the level of Usain Bolt, then we might have to wait a long, long time to catch the next Michael Phelps in the pool . While American Caeleb Dressel  (two relay golds in Rio 2016) might be the next great American male swimmer, the best overall swimmer on the international stage is Great Britain's Adam Peaty. The reigning Olympic 100 breaststroke champion and a key figure on its 4x100 medley relay group that has its sights set on the Americans. Still, the great thing about Olympic competition is for stars to be born.

 
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Russians still "officially" banned

Russians still "officially" banned
Paul Kitagaki Jr./Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Back in 2015, a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of systematic, mass doping among Russian athletes. Thus, Russia was unable to officially field an Olympic team for the 2016 Summer Games and 2018 Winter Games. As was the case in the two previous Olympics, Russian athletes -- 335 in this case -- will compete on their own in Tokyo. But, as the ROC (Russian Olympic Committee).

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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