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Tokyo conquered, Paris beckons

Prodigies, surprise winners, breakthrough stars with potential to repeat success three years from now

Caeleb Dressel and Marcel Jacobs: Two stars of Tokyo 2020 (AFP)

The answer to the question who next after Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt may not have been answered at the Tokyo Games, but there were signs of who could be the next great at the Olympics. The traditional powerhouses of swimming and gymnastics might see the next line of great Americans come to the fore while Italian athletics program pointed to a strong French invasion in three years.

Forza athletics

The national redemption of Italian sports, which began with the European Championship being conquered, forayed into an unlikely territory – gold medals in athletics at the Tokyo Games. No Italian had ever made it to a 100m final and then came the son of an American father and an Italian mother running 9.80 seconds to take gold.

Lamont Marcell Jacobs, was hugged at the finish line by Gianmarco Tamberi, yet another Italian, who shared gold for the men’s high jump along with Mutaz Barshim of Qatar. Jacobs then went on to complete a historic double, winning the 4x100m relay with Lorenzo Patta, Eseosa Desalu, Filippo Tortu. The Italians pipped Great Britain to the finish line and collected five medals from athletics, pointing to a possible gold rush three years on in Paris.

Five-star Dressel

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The answer to Thorpe came from Baltimore and the answer to Phelps now comes from Florida. Caeleb Dressel took part in six swimming events at the Tokyo Games and came home with five gold medals in his kitty.

Dressel tied the Olympic record for the 100m butterfly with 50.39 seconds in the heats and then broke that record by setting a time of 49.45 in the final. Dressel then broke the 50m freestyle Olympic record by clocking 21.07. The only blemish of these Games for him was the failure of USA to medal in the 4x100m mixed medley relay, in which the team of Dressel, Ryan Murphy, Lydia Jacoby, and Torri Huske finished fifth.

Chopra breakthrough gold

In the world of javelin throw, there is Johannes Vetter and then the rest. So the world believed. Vetter’s technique, which riles on a solid block of the leading leg and power, didn’t account for the ‘sliding’ surface of the Tokyo Olympic stadium, one which required flatter throws with more velocity. Neeraj Chopra’s silky-smooth technique and elasticity made him standout.

But what sets apart the 23-year-old India from the rest of the field is consistency. Chopra has the ability to consistently throw the javelin between 86-88m on almost any given day. That consistency may not guarantee monster 95m throws like Vetter achieves, but it means that Chopra is always going to be in the mix.

Lee fills Biles void

The American gymnastics team always had Simone Biles. Sunisa Lee came out publicly to say that she was aiming for silver because the winner of the gold in the women’s artistic individual all-around event was locked. The American legend skipped events (she won the balance beam bronze and team silver) to take care of her mental health and Lee stepped in. Born to immigrants who moved to the States from Laos, Lee showed a love for gymnastics when her father built her a balance beam out of a mattress and a thin piece of plywood.

The victory signalled the deep ‘bench strength’ that the Americans possess in gymnastics and a repeat three years from now at the Paris Games isn’t dependent on whether Biles turns up or not.

Titmus shows class

United States Katie Ledecky, the defending champion in the 400 metres freestyle, was overshadowed by the amazingly talented Ariana Titmus from Australia. Ledecky led for 300m of the race and the last 100 was turned into a dogfight which Titmus took, surpassing the American’s time by almost a second. Ledecky, who herself began in London almost 10 years ago as a prodigy exploding out onto the world, was now the star that was trying to fend off the next big thing.

Titmus is known as The Terminator’. The 20-year-old’s family moved from Tasmania to Queensland six years ago after Australian swimming authorities earmarked her as a future Olympian.

Duplantis has just started

Armand Duplantis was a three-year-old when he tried to pole vault for the first time. By age 7, he had set the best mark for his group. It was never a surprise that Duplantis, the current men’s world record holder, won gold in Tokyo. Just 21, Duplantis has age on his side. He attempted to further break his own world record at these Games, but couldn’t pull off the feat of surpassing 6.18m and had to settle for the 6.02 that netted him his first Olympics gold.

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