TOKYO (Reuters) – Superheroes the world over come head to toe in spandex. So too here in Tokyo, where the one person with the best shot at making – or even saving – these most beleaguered of Olympic Games, will be dressed in a red one-piece.
Never mind that Simone Biles stands 1.42m in her stockinged feet, the American is set to be a giant at these pandemic-postponed Games as she bids to add to the four gold medals she won at the 2016 Games in Rio.
Here are other key moments and athletes to look out for at Tokyo 2020 when the sport gets underway in earnest on Saturday:
THE SKATE PARK IS WHERE IT’S AT
There should be plenty of Japanese smiles at the skate park as the hosts are likely to dominate both the park and street disciplines of skateboarding at Tokyo 2020, an event supporters hope will make the activity more widely accepted in the country. A particular focus will be the rivalry between hometown favourite Yuto Horigome and U.S. superstar Nyjah Huston.
Huston, who has an outsized personality and a massive Instagram following, has a signature flair on and off the skatepark, while Horigome is known for his intense work ethic. Teenagers will headline the women’s park competition, with wunderkind Sky Brown from Britain and Kokona Hiraki in particular likely to be in focus. Brown had a life-threatening fall last year and has spent the pandemic preparing for Tokyo.
The hippest of sports makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and a battle between traditional powers such as the United States and Australia and up-and-coming nations like Brazil is expected. Watch out for the mind games — often an athlete with the right of way might try to appear disinterested before suddenly jumping on a wave in an effort to put off their fellow competitors. It will be typhoon season at the height of the Japanese summer, which could play havoc with weather conditions.
AN OLD NEW FACE AT THE TRACK?
Tokyo will crown a new 100m champion for the first time since 2004, with Usain Bolt no longer lighting up the sprinting firmament – but it could be the same man who took gold in Athens 17 years ago, in 39-year-old Justin Gatlin.
MUCH-NEEDED JAPANESE SMILES
More Japanese smiles should be on show at the Makuhari Messe when the women’s wrestling gets underway. Having won 11 out of 18 possible gold medals in the last three Olympic games, Japan are the most dominant team in the women’s version of the sport. With defending Olympic champions Risako Kawai and Sara Dosho, Japan will be hopeful of success.
NOVAK EYES STEFFI FEAT
Fresh from success on the lawns of Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic continues his quest to become the first man to win the calendar Golden Slam – all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same year. Only Steffi Graf has managed the feat, back in 1988, but if Djokovic prevails in Tokyo he will need just the U.S. Open in August to clinch it.
NBA STARDUST IN TOWN – AND STREET STYLE DEBUTS
America’s ‘Dream Team’ will again carry all before them as they transfer the stardust of the NBA onto Olympic basketball courts. The U.S. women also look hugely dominant, drawing from a massive WNBA talent pool that includes Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, widely regarded as the best player in the world, and WNBA most valuable player A’ja Wilson.
This time, though, the sport will also have more of a street feel, with the introduction of 3×3 basketball, played on a half-court with three players on each side.
NO PHELPS, BUT U.S. SET TO DOMINATE AGAIN
The United States dominated the medals table at the pool in Rio with 33 (16 golds), ahead of Australia on 10 (three golds). This time, though, for the first time since 1996, they will be without Michael Phelps. Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel have a glut of medals in them, though, and Ledecky’s 400m clash with Australian world champion Ariarne Titmus is set to be one of the face-offs of the Games. Rikako Ikee will provide a feelgood story for the hosts after her strong recovery from leukaemia.
The Maltese Olympic Committee selected a team of six athletes, two men and four women to compete in five different sports. The athletes were selected by means of the Tripartite Commission for Invitation Places for the Olympic Games and Universality clause.
The Maltese delegation in Tokyo will feature two returning Olympians – Eleanor Bezzina (Shooting) and Andrew Chetcuti (Swimming). Joining Andrew will be Sasha Gatt who, at sixteen, will be the youngest member of the delegation.
Making their Olympic debut with Sasha will be Carla Scicluna (Athletics), Matthew Abela (Badminton) and Yazmin Zammit Stevens (Weightlifting). This will be the first time that Malta will have a player competing in Badminton, whilst Yazmin will be the first Maltese female weightlifter to compete at Olympic Level.
Andrew Chetcuti | Swimming
Andrew Chetcuti’s competitive swimming career started at the age of 11. He first represented Malta at the World FINA Short course Championships in Dubai in 2010. During the span of Andrew’s swimming career he specialised in freestyle and butterfly events, competing in five editions of the Games of Small States of Europe earning a total of 16 medals for Malta.
Andrew has represented Malta in 2012 (London) and 2016 (Rio), making the Tokyo games his third consecutive Olympic appearance.
Andrew will once again compete in the 100m freestyle event.
Yazmin Zammit Stevens | Weight Lifting
Yazmin started lifting since the beginning of 2016, when she was already 22 years old. She was introduced initially to CrossFit by a friend at university who suggested they do some type of fitness classes to make up for all the time spent sitting down at school. Eventually Yazmin fell in love with the weightlifting part of those classes and later that year switched to weightlifting altogether.
Since then she has broken her own national records over 150 times, over 3 weight classes. And was the first Maltese athlete to go to the IWF World Championships and first female to go to the EWF European championships.
She has also competed all the multi-event Games events, namely; the Commonwealth Games, Universiade Games, Mediterranean Games. This will be her first appearance at the Olympic Games.
Carla Scicluna | Athletics
Twenty year old, track and field athlete, Carla Scicluna has competed in international events such as EYOF ( European Youth Olympic Festival) in 2017 where she advanced to the 200m semi-finals. She also represented Malta at the European U18 championship. Both competitions took place at Gyor, Hungary. More recently Carla rrepresented Malta at the Championships of the Small States of Europe at San Marino with a very close 4th place in the 200m.
Carla was the 2020 National Champion in the 100m and the 2021 Winter Champion for the 60m. The result of the latter secured her a place at the European Indoor Championships. In July she competed in the U23 European Championships in Tallin, Estonia where she registered a Personal Best time.
Carla will be competing in the 100m.
Sasha Gatt | Swimming
Sixteen year old Sasha Gatt will be the youngest athlete to compete for Malta in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Since starting swimming at seven years of age, she has since then has achieved significant success.
She won her first medal at the age of eight. Her first National Short Course Record, at the age of thirteen, was the 800m freestyle at the Opera Swim Classics Short Course Meet.
Sasha has competed in several high level competitions including the FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest and the Games of the Small States of Europe (Montenegro). Sasha represented Malta at the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival held in Azerbaijan.
Sasha holds National Long Course Records in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle and also National Short Course Record for 800m freestyle. Earlier on this year she qualified for the Olympic B Standard in Malta, just 21 seconds off from A Standard.
Apart from competing at several international events, Sasha qualified for the 2021 European Aquatic Championships (Hungary) and the European Junior Swimming Championships (Italy). In the latter she broke her own National Record for the 1500m and made it to the final competition – a first for a Maltese athlete in this competition.
Sasha has been recognised by the Aquatic Sports Association of Malta, SportMalta and Maltese Olympic Committee for consistent results.
Sasha will be competing in the 400m and 1500m.
Matthew Abela | Badminton
Hailing from a family that is active in Badminton, Matthew picked up his first racket at the age of 5. When he was 13, he decided to focus solely on Badminton. Since 2016 he has retained the National Champion title and also qualified for the European Championships in 2018 and 2020. Matthew brought home a number of medals in his participation in the Algeria, Egypt and Israel International competitions. Matthew has an Advanced Diploma in Sports as well as BWF Level 1 and 2 Coaching certifications. For the past three years, Matthew has been training on a professional level at the Centre of Excellence in Denmark, following a rigorous selection programme. He is currently ranked 312 in the BWF and ranked 93 in the European Ranking list.
Eleanor Bezzina | Shooting
Eleanor started practising air pistol 10m shooting in November 2009 and within a month she competed in the Malta Shooting Grand Prix. In April 2014 she started practising Sport Pistol 25m discipline.
Since then Eleanor has built a notable list of achievements competing regularly on the international circuit. She has represented Malta at the 2013 (Mersin) and 2018 (Tarragona) Mediterranean Games. Eleanor also competed in three Commonwealth Games 2010 (Delhi), 2014 (Glasgow), 2018 (Gold Coast) and two European Games 2015 (Baku) and 2019 (Minsk). She brought home a number of medals in the Games of the Small States of Europe – 2013 (Luxembourg – Gold), 2017 (San Marino – Silver) , 2019 (Montenegro – Gold). Her Personal Best and National Record in 10m Air Pistol stands at 583/600.
Eleanor also competed in Netball – where she competed in the European and World Championships. She also took part in several waterpolo leagues and runs regularly to maintain her fitness.
This is Eleanor’s second appearance in the Olympic Games, having competed in Rio in 2016. Eleanor will be competing in the 10m Air-Pistol and 25m Sport Pistol events
Additional reporting by CDE / Mari Sato, editing by Ed Osmond