By Neil Leverett

  • After a 12-month delay Tokyo 2020 finally gets under way on Friday
  • XXXII Olympiad given go ahead without fans, with Tokyo in third State of Emergency since beginning of pandemic
  • Team GB aiming for between 45 and 70 medals; Usual suspects still strong favourites for Olympic Gold
TOKYO, JAPAN – As Tokyo 2020 prepares to get underway amid a wave of controversy, who are Team GB’s big hopes of triggering a Gold rush in the Far East?

 

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As we enter the final week before Tokyo 2020 begins on Friday at the Olympic Stadium, the XXXII Summer Olympiad will have a very different feel to them.

Given the go ahead due in large part to the huge financial losses a permanent cancelation of the Games would cost, Tokyo hosts the Greatest Show on Earth, despite the city having entered its third State of Emergency since the pandemic began only weeks ago.

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With 68 positive cases in the Olympic village before competition has begun, the possibility of a remarkable late call to firmly call off the event has not been ruled out.

Should they go ahead – and they in all likelihood will – they will sadly be one of necessity, rather than the peak of global sporting achievement.

Agree with the running of the Games or not, empty arenas and stadiums are set to be a narrative over the next fortnight, but from a Team GB perspective, hopes of another Olympic Gold rush are high.

With UK Sport and having set a target of 45-70 medals in Tokyo, British chances are still somewhat being played down in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, but the consensus is, 51 medals could easily be reached in Japan.

So who, as they stand, are the big hopes of British glory in Japan?

 

‘Re-Peat’ on for Adam

Undoubtedly one of the stars of the Olympics in recent years from a British point of view has been Adam Peaty, and Team GB’s poster boy is again expected to tear the record books to shreds in Tokyo’s Aquatics Centre.

Having dominated men’s breaststroke for the last six years, the Uttoxeter 26-year-old comes into the Games as defending 100m champion, and back in May defended his European titles at both 50 and 100m for a fourth successive time.

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Still with Mel Marshall at his side, Peaty holds the 20 fastest times in history and having surged under the 57 seconds mark, his biggest opponent in Tokyo is likely to be his familiar and defeated foe, the world record split.

Such is his monopoly over the distance, Peaty’s is not just one of Team GB’s biggest hopes for gold, but one of the biggest favourites across the board in Japan.

Having started the Team GB gold rush in Rio five years ago, there is every chance that the ‘Re-Peat’ will again be the first time God Save the Queen is blasted out in the Far East.

Only disqualification can deny Peaty becoming the most decorated British swimmer in Olympic history.

 

Asher-Smith eyes Olympic glory

For Dina Asher-Smith, Tokyo 2020 could finally be her crowing moment.

The most successful female sprinter in the annuls of British athletics, the Bromley Harrier comes into the Games as world champion at 200m, having also finished runner-up in Doha two years ago to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Asher-Smith’s perennial rival for some time, the Jamaican now appears to be the Briton’s biggest threat in the 100m, with American Sha’Carri Richardson absent from Tokyo due to her one-month suspension for testing positive for cannabis.

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In the 200m meanwhile, Shaunae Miller-Uibo may be hard to topple having now moved away from the 400m and the Bahamian is heavy favourite for the win.

Asher-Smith however, has already shown her ability in rising to the occasion.

Though perhaps not at her imperious best from before the pandemic took hold, the Orpington sprinter is looking stronger both physically and mentally.

That could yet see Dina climb to the top in the Land of the Rising Sun in both events.

 

Will the Kenny dynasty roll on?

Eleven Gold medals would probably suffice as the all-time Olympic tally for a small country. For Jason and Laura Kenny however, that is just their combined total since Beijing 2008 alone.

Competing at an Olympics for the first time as husband and wife duo at the Izu Velodrome this summer, both will be eyeing their own unique standard in Japan.

Taking part in his fourth Olympics, Jason Kenny already has the joint-highest number of individual gold medals for a British athlete and with a seventh in Tokyo, will go clear of the man who beat him in the individual sprint final in Beijing 2008, Sir Chris Hoy.

Currently boasting seven Olympic medals in total, Kenny is one short of Sir Bradley Wiggins‘ career tally of eight, and from another personal milestone, could win the team sprint title for an unlikely but what would be remarkable, fourth-straight Games.

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Laura Kenny (nee Trott) meanwhile, is looking to continue her reign as the most the most successful female track cyclist in Olympic history.

Having won back-t0-back double golds in the team pursuit and omnium at the last two Olympics, Kenny is also GB’s most successful female athlete across all sports.

Competing in the madison in Tokyo also this time around, the 29-year-old from Harlow has three separate opportunities to win gold at three successive Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 could see Laura Kenny cement her place as one of the true Olympic greats, male or female.

 

Glover, Dujardin and Jones also eye triple

Laura Kenny is one of four British women looking to win gold in three successive Games.

The other three in the form of Helen Glover, Jade Jones and Charlotte Dujardin, will also look to make history for Team GB in Tokyo.

Having began their golden journey during London 2012 and on through Rio five years ago, the trio have dominated their respective disciplines during the last decade.

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Enfield-born Dujardin goes for the Individual dressage crown for the third time, but she will attempt do so without the mighty Valegro, who was retired in December 2016.

Now riding Gio, winner of the Team dressage that glorious summer nine years ago at Horse Guards Parade on the The Mall, Dujardin could win at least a fourth Olympic title this summer.

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For Wales’ Jade Jones meanwhile, Tokyo will see the chance for an unprecedented third 57kg division crown in taekwondo.

Winner in both London and Rio, the 28-year-old won gold at the World’s in Manchester during 2019, and took the European crown in Sofia back in April.

The Headhunter, is close to red-hot favourite in Japan.

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For Glover however, Tokyo 2020 might seem a touch surreal.

Having only returned to rowing earlier this year since retiring shortly after Rio to start a family, the Cornwall native has wasted little time in a return to the top, with European gold in Italy this year.

Ranked the number one female rower since 2015 – despite her non participation for the best part of four seasons – Glover will this summer compete with Polly Swann, after her two-time winning partner Heather Stanning moved away from the sport some time ago.

The British boat in the women’s coxless pairs has not tasted defeat in the Olympics since Beijing, 13 years ago. Glover has every chance of keeping that impressive run in tact on the Sea Forest Waterway.

 

Golden hopes elsewhere…

The pool could have a golden shimmer elsewhere for GB, in the form of Duncan Scott.

Rising from relative obscurity in 2016 to finish fifth in the 100m freestyle, the big man from Glasgow has become a Team GB relay staple, but individually, won European silver earlier this year, and is currently ranked number one in the world at 200m.

Jack Laugher will carry the other big hope in the pool, as defending champion in the 3m synchro diving.

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Now partnered by Daniel Goodfellow after Chris Mears‘ retirement, the duo won gold in the FINA Diving World Cup held in Tokyo back in April, and they also took silver at the World’s in China in 2019.

In the Ariake Gymnastic Arena meanwhile, Max Whitlock will look for a third Olympic gold after securing an historic Pommel and Floor double in Rio last time out.

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A reigning Olympic, World and European champion on the Pommel, the 28-year-old from Hemel Hempstead is less likely to defend his crown on the Floor however, but as we saw how momentum carried Whitlock five years ago, stranger things have happened.

Boxing for Team GB has been a happy hunting ground in the past few Games, with five golds coming since Beijing 2008, notably producing current undisputed heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

The big hope this time around lies in Pat McCormack, who will start the Games as outstanding favourite for welterweight gold, having recently beat the man who denied him the world amateur title in 2019, Andrey Zamkovoy.

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Finally, over at Camp Asaka, Seonaid McIntosh will look to become the first British female to win an Olympic medal in shooting, and it too could be gold.

Coming from a family of medal-winners in the sport, the Edinburgh 25-year-old heads to Tokyo as the reigning world number one and 50m prone world champion, with a strong medal chance also in the women’s 50m 3 positions rifle event.

After the 46 shooting medals won previously by GB men during the history of the Games, the Scot could become another breakout female star for Team GB.

 

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad begin in Tokyo, Japan on Friday with the Opening Ceremony.

 

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