For 10 days, the best track and field athletes in the world will descend on Tokyo to compete in the 2021 Olympics. From July 30 through August 8, world record-holders, defending champions, and rising stars will finally go head-to-head after persevering through a pandemic.
While there are plenty of inspiring Americans to follow, many of the medal contenders are representing different countries across the globe in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Here are 10 international runners to watch during the track and field session in Japan’s capital city.
Sifan Hassan, The Netherlands
Women’s 1500 metres, 5,000 metres, and 10,000 metres
All eyes will be on Sifan Hassan’s daring attempt to run three events in Tokyo. The Dutch runner—who trains in Park City, Utah, with coach Tim Rowberry—made history at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar by becoming the first runner to win gold in the women’s 1500 metres and 10,000 metres at the world championships.
In June, Hassan broke the 10,000-metre world record by running 29:06.82 at the World Athletics Continental Tour: Huelva in Hengelo, the Netherlands. However, her record only lasted two days; Letesenbet Gidey shattered the time by winning the Ethiopian Olympic Trials in 29:01.03—also on the track in Hengelo.
The rivals will finally meet face-to-face in the 10,000 metres, Hassan’s last race of the triple in Tokyo.
Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda
Men’s 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres
The year 2020 was the year of records for Joshua Cheptegei. The Ugandan world champion broke the 5,000 metres, 5K, and 10,000-metre world records in three of the four races he competed in last year. In February 2020, Cheptegei broke the 13-minute 5K barrier on the roads, averaging a 4:08 mile pace. In August, he took down the previous 5,000-metre world record, which stood for 16 years, to win the Monaco Diamond League meet in 12:35. Two months later, he shattered the 10,000-metre world record by running 26:11 in Valencia.
Cheptegei will be racing the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in Tokyo, two years after he earned gold in the 10,000 metres at the 2019 world championships.
Karsten Warholm, Norway
Men’s 400-metre hurdles
For several years, Karsten Warholm has dominated the men’s 400-metre hurdles. The Norwegian sprinter earned his first title at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London and continued his winning streak two years later at the 2019 world championships in Doha. Weeks before the Tokyo Games, Warholm broke the 29-year-old world record in the 400-metre hurdles by clocking 46.70 seconds at the Oslo Diamond League meet on July 1. After the race, he told meet organizers that winning Olympic gold could require setting another world record.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica
Women’s 100 metres
At 34 years old, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is on the verge of making history in the women’s 100 metres. The two-time Olympic champion, known as “Mommy Rocket” since giving birth to her son Zyon, ran the second-fastest 100-metre time ever (10.63) in Kingston, Jamaica on June 5. The legendary Florence Griffith-Joyner (10.49) is the only sprinter who ran faster.
According to AP News, the nine-time world champion from Jamaica could become the oldest person to win an individual Olympic sprint, and she could become the first woman to win three 100-metre gold medals at the Olympic Games if she wins in Tokyo.
Also, Fraser-Pryce was one of the Jamaican flag bearers at the Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony on July 23.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Bahamas
Women’s 200 metres
In 2016, Shaunae Miller-Uibo went viral with a dive at the finish line to win gold and beat defending Olympic champion Allyson Felix in the women’s 400 metres at the Rio Games. In the years since her daring performance, the Bahamian standout has collected medals in the 400 and 200 metres.
She earned bronze in the 200 metres and finished fourth in the 400 metres at the 2017 world championships in London. Two years later, she earned silver and set a national record (48.37) in the 400 metres at the world championships in Doha.
Miller-Uibo is also one half of a track and field power couple. Her husband, Maicel Uibo is an Estonian decathlete. The track stars met while competing at the University of Georgia.
Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya
Men’s 1500 metres
Defending world champion Timothy Cheruiyot is looking poised to win his first ever Olympic medal after a rocky start to the summer. At first, Cheruiyot did not make the Kenyan Olympic team because he finished fourth at the Olympic Trials, but he was later named to the team after two runners were dropped because they didn’t take the required number of out-of-competition doping tests.
The Kenyan middle-distance runner rebounded from the trials disappointment by running 3:28.28, a world-leading time and new personal best, to win the 1500 metres at the Monaco Diamond League meet on July 9. Cheruiyot won gold at the 2019 world championships and earned a silver medal at the 2017 world championships in his signature event.
Tokyo will be his first Olympic Games.
Laura Muir, Great Britain
Women’s 1500 metres
Laura Muir has been on the hunt for a medal since she made her first world championship final in 2015, and she is due for some hardware.
The Scottish 1500-metre runner has finished within the top seven but off the podium at every global outdoor championship in the last six years. But the Tokyo Games could be her breakout moment. On July 9, she set a personal best by winning the 800 metres in 1:56.73 at the Monaco Diamond League meet, and her 1500-metre season’s best of 3:55 is currently ranked No. 4 in the world.
In addition to being one of the best middle-distance runners ever, Muir is also a veterinarian.
Jakob Igebrigtsen, Norway
Men’s 1500 metres and 5,000 metres
At 20 years old, Jakob Ingebrigtsen holds his own against the world’s top distance runners.
As the youngest of three brothers who all excel on the track, Ingebrigtsen finished fourth in the 1500 metres and fifth in the 5,000 metres at the 2019 world championships. He’s also entered in both events in Tokyo after running a world-leading time that broke the Norwegian national record in the 5,000 metres (12:48) in Florence on June 10.
Andre De Grasse, Canada
Men’s 200 metres
Keep an eye on Andre De Grasse, the returning 200-metre Olympic silver medalist from Canada.
In Rio, the University of Southern California alum finished second in the 200 metres and earned bronze in the 100 metres and 4x100-metres relay. At the 2019 world championships, De Grasse earned more hardware with silver in the 200 metres and bronze in the 100 metres.
Medals run in the De Grasse family. His partner, Nia Ali of Team USA, won gold in the women’s 100-metre hurdles at the 2019 world championships. This year, she decided to sit out on competing so she and De Grasse could try for their third child, but she plans to return to the track with big goals for the next three years.
Natoya Goule, Jamaica
Natoya Goule won three NCAA titles between 2013 and 2015 while competing for Clemson and LSU, and she has continued her winning streak at the pro level.
In 2018, she broke the Jamaican national record by running 1:56.15 at the Monaco Diamond League meet. The following year, she finished sixth in the 800 metres at the 2019 world championships. In May, she ran a 4:08 personal best in the 1500 metres and followed the performance with a season’s best of 1:56.44 at the Stockholm Diamond League meet.
Heading into Tokyo, Goule is ranked No. 3 in the world and looks ready to earn her first Olympic medal.
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