I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited – under obviously strange circumstances – about the prospect of great athletic performance.
These athletes are usually the emerging talent of one of the most exciting generations we have seen in the sport in many years. I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our sport when it comes to performance because we’re looking at a large portion of that group who are 25 years old or younger.
It is a privileged job that I have to choose 10 athletes who will be part of a great Games. The beauty of this sport is that anyone reading this column could make up their own 10 and everything would be completely different from mine…
It is a privileged job that I have to pick 10 athletes who will be part of a great Games
Karsten Warholm – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 3
Warholm won the 2017 World Championships in London when he was just 20 and the Norwegian enters this Olympics as the world record holder in the 400m hurdles at the Oslo Bislett Games last month at 46.70sec, breaking Kevin Young’s 1992 record.
I was also at the American trials in Eugene a few weeks ago and Rai Benjamin finished third on the all-time list with 46.83 seconds. The great prospect is that they will compete against each other in Tokyo.
At this point you have to say that Warholm will come out on top because I think he has a little more experience at the championship level. Both will have to be at the absolute top of their game to fend off each other.
Karsten Warholm won the World Championships in London in 2017 when he was just 20 . used to be
Dina Asher-Smith – Sprints. July 30 – Aug 6
There isn’t much I can say about Dina that hasn’t already been written or said. She is the fastest British woman in history – it’s that simple. Even at the age of 13, she effectively broke a world record in the 300 meters.
Interestingly, she was a kit carrier in the 2012 London Games and that was one of her most exciting memories. She wore Usain Bolt’s outfit while he competed in London. A year later she was on the GB team in the lead-off lane for their 4 x 100 m bronze medal winning team at the World Championships.
Her rise from team carrier to the UK team, I can’t think of anyone who has moved up from volunteering into the team so quickly, it’s such an inspiring story. And then her crowning moment came when she became the first British woman to win a sprint title at a World Championships in Doha 2019.
She is calm, collected and smart. She is in events that are currently on fire competitively. She has the crucial asset that she feels very much at home in this environment.
There isn’t much I can say about Dina Asher-Smith that hasn’t already been written or said
Mondo Duplantis – Pole Vault. Final: Aug 3
Mondo has the quality of rock stars and is also a world record holder. One of those records was set in Glasgow a few years ago at an indoor gathering.
I was at the stadium in Rome when he jumped his 6.15m, the largest single jump outdoors. So whether it’s indoors or out, he has jumped higher than anyone in the history of the sport.
I like him because I like people going to championships that are absolutely focused on their ambition. He recently said, “Winning is the only goal.” He thinks it would be nice if he broke a world record, but his only goal is to win an Olympic title.
Of all the events that rely on the passion of the crowd to make an impact, I think the pole vault is the one it will miss the most.
Mondo will have to be on top of his game as there are some very talented opponents, including Sam Kendricks and Renaud Lavillenie, the former French world record holder. Duplantis is clearly the best in the world but will come under a lot of pressure.
Mondo Duplantis has the quality of rock stars and is also the current world record holder
Laura Muir – 1500m. Final: Aug 7
If I hadn’t seen Laura Muir compete in Monaco a few Fridays ago, I wouldn’t have chosen her. But I witnessed her personal best that night, which broke a Scottish record and is the second highest British record.
The reason I chose Muir is because I remember seeing Kelly Holmes just weeks before the Athens Games.
I’ve watched her over 800m – and a very good indicator of 1500m form is actually a pace over 800m. I know this well from when I was a competitor.
If I hadn’t seen Laura Muir compete in Monaco a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have chosen her
When Kelly ran an excellent 800 meters for Athens, I remember turning to my friends and saying, ‘I would choose her now to definitely win the 1500 meters in Athens.’ She did. I was so confident in nominating just one medal to be part of the ceremonial games that I also said, ‘I’d love to be there if Kelly wins.’
I felt watching Laura recently that her performance in the 800 meters, which I think the speed surprised even her, means that there is definitely a medal for her in the 1500 meters.
I don’t predict gold because it is very competitive. I think she’s right that she doesn’t want to do the 800-1500m double.
Dalilah Muhammad – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 4
Mohammed was the gold medalist in the 400m hurdles in Rio and broke a world record in Doha at the 2019 World Championships.
The 31-year-old is the man to beat. She is the only woman in this event, other than Sally Gunnell, who holds the world record and Olympic title at the same time.
Dalilah Muhammad was the gold medalist in the 400m hurdles in Rio and broke a world record in Doha
Sydney McLaughlin – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 4
McLaughlin is someone I’ve seen rise through the junior ranks. At 21, she is one of the youngest American athletes to ever make the team. There are only two younger female athletes in the history of American track and field to make up a complete underage team.
Last month she became the first woman to run under 52sec in the American trials with a 51.90.
She was the 2015 World Youth Champion in Colombia. But again, the tantalizing thought is that the 400m hurdles have the potential for the most exciting head-to-head showdown.
Sydney McLaughlin is someone I’ve seen rise through the junior ranks
Tom Walsh – shot put. Final: August 5
This is a personal choice. I am a big fan of Walsh. I have met him. A track guy, like me, choosing a shot putter from my list of 10 just goes to show how incredibly exciting the shot put for men has become in recent years.
It was arguably the best match of the 2019 Doha Championships.
Walsh won gold for New Zealand in London at the 2017 World Cup and is a big character. He was famously quoted as saying, ‘Some get angry, others want to start a fight for a shot put, but low-key and relaxed works for me.’
Tom is incredibly relaxed.
Tom Walsh won gold for New Zealand in London at the 2017 World Cup and is a big character
Ryan Crouser – shot put. Final: August 5
Walsh was part of that great game in 2019 against current world record holder, Crouser, who followed him for the first five laps and then threw a massive 22.90m.
Then Joe Kovacs unleashed a 22.91m monster on the final lap to win – the gold, silver and bronze all covered by about an inch.
Crouser is interesting because he comes from a throwing family. His father and uncle were both pitchers, so it’s kind of a family dynasty. This could be one of the biggest games at the Games.
Current world record holder Ryan Crouser is interesting because he comes from a throwing family
Faith Kipyegon – 1500m. Final: Aug 7
Muir will take on 2016 Olympic champion Kipyegon, whose run in Monaco was stunningly complete.
Her 3.51.07 was fourth on the all-time list and she dismantled – relatively easily – Siffan Hassan, a previous world record holder.
I think there is a medal for Muir in the 1500m but it’s so competitive and you have to say Kipyegon would be the star.
Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon’s run in Monaco in 2016 was astonishingly complete
Eliud Kipchoge Marathon. Aug 8
Kipchoge is an obvious choice. He is admittedly not in a fully competitive race, but more of a choreographed time trial. But he is an athlete who resembles Roger Bannister in his achievements, the first athlete to run a marathon under two hours.
He has won 11 of the 13 trips over the marathon distance. He will defend his Olympic title that he won in Rio and he is quiet, humble and a great philanthropist in his sport.
He has absolutely understood that breaking the two-hour barrier was much more than breaking an athletic landmark, he has used it to change the image of young people in his country. He is relatively mature over this distance and there are many talented runners competing against him.
On his last outing in the pouring rain at the London Marathon last fall, he was out of shape and had a chest infection. If this race is a tough battle from gun to tire and not tactical, then he has a good chance of defending his title.
But he’s not a hot favorite, even if he’s broken these records — age isn’t on his side. I chose him simply because his achievements should be commended. The outpouring of emotion as he broke the two hour barrier was extraordinary.
Eliud Kipchoge defends his Olympic title he won in Rio and is quiet and humble