Herald Sun

THE WORLD'S BEST XXI

THESE ATHLETES WILL STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD —NO MEAN FEAT AT THE OLYMPICS,

- WRITES ROBERT CRADDOCK

NAOMI OSAKA

Japan, Ja tennis ten

Never mind that tennis has a contentiou­s presence at the Olympics — the fourtime grand slam winner is a poster girl of the Games.

Osaka opted to represent Japan, rather than the United States where she was raised, and is now one of its most popular athletes.

She was disappoint­ed when the Games were postponed a year but her desire to take part was undiminish­ed.

CAELEB DRESSEL

United States, swimming

The new Phelps? Perhaps not quite but Dressel is expected to carve a path of destructio­n to win freestyle and butterfly sprint events.

He was an Olympic triallist in 2012 at age 15, then picked up two Games gold in Rio in 2016.

But his seven gold medals at the 2017 world championsh­ips tagged him as a potential superstar of these Games.

KATIE LEDECKY

United States, swimming Ledecky was the pool queen of Rio with four gold medals and is equally ambitious again.

With the 1500m added to the women’s program, another gold chance beckons.

She has special relevance to Australia because Brisbane’s Tasmania-raised Ariarne Titmus dethroned her in the last world titles and they are expected to face off again in another unmissable 400m showdown.

Bring it on.

SIMONE BILES

USA, gymnastics

Became an instant national hero when she won four gold medals in seven days in Rio, part of a staggering haul of 30 Olympic and world championsh­ip medals.

Raised through foster care and then by her grandfathe­r, she home schooled from age 12 so she could train 32 hours a week. Not since Vera Caslavska took gold for the second time in 1968 has anyone defended the coveted allround title she won in Rio. If she does not beat herself, no one else will.

She will enter Tokyo as a huge favourite to become the oldest woman in more than five decades to win the Olympic all-around title and the first repeat champion since Vera Caslavska did it for the former Czechoslov­akia in 1968.

ROGER FEDERER

Switzerlan­d, tennis

Will he ever stop? op?

The Swiss master may turn 40 in August but after 13 months on the sidelines has returned with renewed zest to declare his intention to make Tokyo his fifth Olympics as he searches for an elusive singles gold.

Federer missed Rio with a knee injury, won gold with Stan Wawrinka at Beijing in 2008 and was beaten for gold by Andy Murray in London. “This is for me the big one,’’ he recently said.

ELIUD KIPCHOGE

Kenya, marathon

He used to run 3km to school but now runs much further and faster as arguably the greatest marathon runner of the modern era and the current Olympic champion.

Gained global fame when he broke the magical twominute mark (1:59:4) for a marathon in Austria in 2019 but it did not officially count due to the help of pacemakers and different rules regarding fluids.

He has won the London marathon four times and been incredibly consistent in this most brutal of events.

DINA ASHER-SMITH

Great Britain, athletics

Asher-Smith has become the fastest female British sprinter of all time and great expectatio­ns trail her to Tokyo.

Even before she lands at the Games her profile has skyrockete­d in England to the point where she is ranked one of the nation’s most influentia­l personalit­ies of AfricanCar­ibbean descent.

The 200m world champion will be considered a strong chance in that race and the 100m. The 4x100m relay will also be on the cards.

PV SINDHU

India, badminton

Talk about pressure. A billion adoring eyes will be on India’s world champion when she steps out in Tokyo.

Sindhu became the first Indian to win an Olympic silver medal at Rio in 2016 but has lost the element of surprise amid growing expectatio­ns. Has been floating around the world’s top 20 for a decade and has twice made the Forbes rich list for earning above $7 million a year.

TEDDY RINER

France, judo

Judo will have a special prominence at the Games given its popularity in Japan but it may be a French “teddy bear’’ who steals the limelight.

Once unbeaten for nearly a decade, Teddy “Bear’’ Riner is an athlete of rare size (130kg) and skill and the Frenchman will attempt to add to the heavyweigh­t gold medals he won at Rio (2016) and London (2012).

JANJA GARNBRET

Slovenia, rock climbing She rocks … literally. Garnbret began the sport at age seven and has been climbing in the rankings since, to the point where she is clearly the most dominant female force in the new Olympic sport.

Competed at a national competitio­n for the first time at age eight and has dominated the World Cup scene for half a decade.

KYLIE MASSE

Canada, swimming Glamorous backstroke­r who could become one of the faces of the Games.

Dead-heated for bronze in the 100m in Rio but her confidence and times have surged since then.

A year later in Budapest she became the first Canadian woman to win a world title and defended it two year later. Much is expected of her in Tokyo.

NYJAH HUSTON

US, skateboard­ing

The world’s highest-paid skateboard­er can be found in empty schools or on the streets plying his craft in preparatio­n for his sport’s first appearance at the Olympics.

He has quarantine­d for almost a year in the lead-up to the Games. There have been visits to his favourite skating park to hone a craft which gained him his first sponsor at age seven.

SERENA WILLIAMS

US, tennis

Just getting to Tokyo for her fifth Olympics, 21 years after her first, would be an astonishin­g achievemen­t. Williams turns 40 in September and hopes to add to the four Olympic golds she has pocketed, three with sister Venus in the doubles. The sisters’ desire to win medals gave Games tennis welcome credibilit­y when many said it did not belong.

STEPH CURRY

US, basketball

The dead-eyed shooter, who some say is the most reliable three-pointer marksman in the history of basketball, has never played in an Olympics but is scheduled to do so this time.

The seven-time NBA All-Star, who plays from the Golden State Warriors, is credited with changing the way teams think about taking three-point shots, which are a gamble to many but not to him.

At 33, this may be his first and last Olympics.

DAVID BOUDIA

US, diving

Veteran diver who won four Olympic medals on the platform but has switched to the springboar­d after suffering concussion from a dive gone wrong in 2018.

This is likely to be his last Games but one more medal will put him alongside the great Greg Louganis.

Claims to have overcome depression during COVID lockdowns.

LAURA KENNY

Great Britain, , cycling

Her and husband Jason have 10 Olympic gold medals between them and there may be more to come from both in Tokyo.

Laura won gold in the team pursuit and omnium in London and Rio and is tipped to shine again in the same events.

Damaged her arm and shoulder in falls and briefly contemplat­ed retiring but has risen for what could be a farewell Games.

KENTO MOMOTA

Japan, badminton

A flawed but fascinatin­g Japanese cult hero, he missed the last Games after being banned for visiting an illegal casino.

Last year he was involved in a fatal car accident and a decade ago his home region was struck by an earthquake. He has somehow survived to be one of the favourites for the individual gold. A two-time world champion who won 67 of 73 matches in 2019.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

Japan, golf

Japan’s historic Masters winner, has gone from golfing underachie­ver to became the face of the Tokyo Games. He brings a star factor to the golf event after the sport’s Olympic return suffered from several high-profile withdrawal­s in the past two Games, Matsuyama, is the local hero who can ignite the Olympic flame and the Games ..

NATE EBNER

US, Sevens rugby

The three-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots has returned from the NFL to try to regain the US Sevens berth he held in Rio.

Played rugby as a junior in Ohio and for US underage teams and has maintained a deep-seated love of the sport despite being lured by the bright lights of the NFL.

He is one of 30 players trying out for 12 spots in the US team and said winning an Olympic gold was a major sporting priority.

ARMAND DUPLANTIS

Sweden, athletics

Tipped by scribes to be one of the superstars of the Games, he is a pole vaulting phenomenon who has soared to great heights.

The son of a pole vaulter and raised in the United States as the son of an American father and Swedish mother, he first tried the sport at age three and held his first world record four years later.

Now he has left giants such as Sergey Bubka in his wake by posting indoor and outdoor world records.

ADRIAN GONZALES

Mexico, baseball

The five-time Major League All-Star wants to play at the Olympics before maybe giving broadcasti­ng a try.

Gonzales, 38, was first baseman for the LA Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets ets during a decorated

15-year major league career but has s not played in the big league for three years. y

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