At this moment, the 2020(1) Summer Games appear set to go on as planned in Tokyo from July 23-Aug. 8. Of course, with the state of the coronavirus pandemic always fluid, and new variants popping up, another cancellation is something that has been rumored.
As we wait to see what actually will happen, there's never a wrong time to look ahead at some of the talking points, drama, and storylines surrounding what should be one of the most Olympics ever -- no matter when they're held.
That's the billion-dollar question. When the calendar flipped to 2021, there were already rumors within the host country that these Summer Games would be canceled again, and reportedly 80% of Japanese don't want them to be held this year. However, the International Olympic Committee denied such news, and the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee seems hell-bent on holding the games in 2021. The X-factor remains any surges in the coronavirus. Even though vaccines could be readily available to most of the world's population by July, the new variants of the virus are a concern.
As Tokyo continues to fine-tune and prepare to hold the games in a safe and satisfying manner, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has a new boss. Former Olympian cyclist and speedskater Seiko Hashimoto is the committee's new president, replacing former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to resign following some sexist comments he made. Will the promotion of the well-respected Hashimoto play a factor in getting the locals to better embrace the Games? We'll see. But, the fact she's holding this position is a major victory for gender equality within international athletics.
If Tokyo does not want to host the Games, but the IOC decides, with agreement from those countries willing to participate, then would moving the action to a new city be an option over an all-out cancellation? That might seem like a longshot, but one story that's surfaced along those lines is the state of Florida has offered to host the games if they're to leave Japan. Now, Florida seems to be in its own world when it comes to responsibly addressing COVID-19, and the United States' federal government likely would not be on board. Still, it's a story to keep an eye on.
Come summer, we can hope coronavirus vaccines will have been injected into a good portion of the world's arms. Sports officials throughout the world, meanwhile, are trying to get vaccines into the arms of their respective country's athletes. Each country has different phases and qualifications for the order of vaccination, so said athletes might have to wait until it's their turn. That said, there are already some Olympic hopefuls who chose not to be vaccinated, for various reasons. The latter will certainly be something to watch.
So, let's say it is deemed safe for the Summer Games to go ahead as planned. What next? Well, while we wait to see how the vaccines play into things, expect mandatory COVID-19 testing of the athletes and strict mitigation measures and regulations for the Olympic Village. There are also preliminary reports that suggest the schedule of various events will be shortened and sport-specific slates changed to avoid spreading the coronavirus. The next obvious question: What about the spectators?
The hope, and plan, is that spectators will be allowed to attend the Games. That said, it's a fluid situation, as everything else seems to be these days. If fans are allowed, expect plenty of rules -- especially for those coming from outside Japan. There could be limits on when, and to whom, public transportation will be available. Not to mention restrictions on bars, restaurants, and other social spots. There are sure to be capacity limits at events and testing will obviously be part of the process.
It was 2008, the last time baseball and softball were held at the Olympics. For at least one year, those sports will be back in the program (Paris 2024 does not plan to host those events and their status beyond that is uncertain). Six countries will compete in each sport. United States legends Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman are slated to take the softball field. However, don't expect any current major leaguers to be part of the U.S. national baseball squad, should it qualify for the Games.
So, we know baseball and softball are back in the mix for 2021. But, they 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.
Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic gold-medal gymnast, is reportedly training as if the Summer Games will be held in Tokyo in 2021. That's good news for fans of USA Gymnastics when one of the best ever is poised for even more greatness. Biles, who will be 24 if the Games are held this summer, won five overall medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. She admits it was rough to see these Games postponed last year, so it will be interesting to see if Biles is both physically and mentally ready should they be held this summer.
Simone Biles is not the only dominant U.S. athlete looking to add to her gold-medal total. Now, there's still qualification left to clear, but the six-time Olympic-medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky has her sights set on a third Olympic berth this summer and increasing her gold total from five. It's somewhat hard to believe Ledecky will only be 24 when the Games, hopefully, roll around this summer. Like Biles, Ledecky is dedicated to her training in and out of the pool, even during this time of COVID-19.
Katie Ledecky's Team USA and Stanford teammate Simone Manuel says she's not focused on making even more history at the next Summer Games. Yet, there will be plenty of eyes on Manuel, after she became the first African American woman to win an individual swimming Olympic gold medal by winning the 100-meter freestyle at Rio in 2016. It was one of her two golds at those Games and opened the door for even more success in Tokyo.
With Michael Phelps retired from Olympic competition, who will be left to rule the pool? American Caeleb Dressel could be the guy. He won two golds in Rio (4x100 meter freestyle, 4x100 meter medley) and is the current world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, 50- meter freestyle, and 100-meter individual medley. Dressel also seems more determined in 2021 in his preparation that he was in training for the Games in 2020. This summer could be quite special for Dressel.
Is it even fair to claim that anybody will be the next Usain Bolt? That's a pretty tall order, but many track and field experts and pundits think American Noah Lyles has the ability to at least challenge that thinking. It would be something, considering the 23-year-old Lyles has yet to be part of Olympic competition. However, he won the 2019 200-meter world championship, and is seriously ready to take on all challenges, as he did off the track while battling depression.
One of the most stunning moments of the 2016 Rio Games came when the U.S. women's soccer team was upset by Sweden in the quarterfinals. That still stings, somewhat mightily, for a program that has dominated the world over all competition. In 2021, the U.S. will again be favored and opponents are likely more than happy to clamp down defensively and take their chances from there. Expect the determination level to be high for the USWNT and the hunger for gold to be severe.
Speaking of unfinished business. American wrestler Jordan Burroughs still has his sights set on Tokyo after failing to win any medal at the 2016 Summer Games. At age 32, the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner won't have an easy take regaining Olympic glory. He recently lost to fellow American David Taylor in a much-anticipated match at 86 kg -- a class up from Burroughs' usual 74 kg. Burroughs, a four-time world champion, still feels there's more left in his tank. We'll see.
We're not sure what the U.S. Men's basketball roster for Tokyo will look like considering the NBA Finals will end shortly before the Summer Games start. Word is that LeBron James wants to play for the U.S. squad after not doing so in 2016 . With San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich in charge, the Americans are trying to win a fourth consecutive gold medal. The U.S. will open with France on July 25.
OK, we know LeBron wants to be part of the next Summer Olympics. What about Tiger Woods? Last year, the question was whether we would qualify for the U.S. team. Throw in the fact that Woods had to endure another back surgery in January, plus his most recent car accident and the chances of him representing the U.S. at the Olympics seems quite unlikely.
At 35-years old, Allyson Felix appears headed to her fifth Olympic Games. Six of the nine Olympic medals that the U.S. track star owns are gold, including the 200 meters in 2012. Even more impressive, Felix is poised for more success following the birth of her daughter, Camryn, in 2018. It hasn't been an easy road for Felix, on and off the track, since 2016, but there might not be a more determined Olympic athlete at the moment.
As it stands, South Africa's Caster Semenya does not appear to be in a position to win a third consecutive gold medal in the women's 800 meters. In September 2020, a Swiss court upheld an IAAF ruling that prevents her from competing in events from the 400 meters to the mile because of her high level of testosterone. In Semenya's case, it's natural and medication -- such as birth control -- can potentially decrease her levels. However, Semenya, one of her distances all-time greats, has had issues with using medicine as a solution. This is still a story to watch, even though, Semenya's Olympic career might be done.
Russia won't officially field a national team at the Tokyo Games even though its much-publicized doping ban was recently reduced. What that does mean is that Russian athletes still can compete independently this summer, as was the case for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. In fact, recent guidelines were released regarding those athletes who will compete at these Games -- under the moniker known as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).
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.