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5 Key Events at the Inspiring Long-Awaited Tokyo Summer Olympics

the 5 key events you need to watch at the inspiring (and long-awaited) Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021

It’s finally almost here! After a year’s delay due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo are scheduled to commence on July 23, 2021. And while you may not be planning wall-to-wall viewing, there are some events that you simply can’t miss. Our ace correspondent Jillian Tangen has the scoop on the 5 key events you need to watch at the inspiring (and long-awaited) Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021, including gymnastics, swimming, soccer, and the Opening Ceremony.

After a year long postponement, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo are finally here. Kicking off on July 23rd, the XXXII Olympiad will feature athletes from 203 countries competing in no less than 33 sports, set in 339 events, across 42 venues, taking place over the course of just two short weeks. Phew!

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NBC will be broadcasting a record 7,000 hours of coverage. The die-hards will be trying to watch nearly all of it, but just in case you’re really busy (or have only a passing interest in summer sports), here are the 5 can’t miss events – plus the star athletes to watch – so you can keep up and contribute meaningfully when the conversation at work, at the gym, or at the bar turns to the Games.

We confess that our list skews very American, so forgive us, dear readers in other nations. We can’t help showing some home-town pride on this one.

Without further ado, here’s what and who to watch at the Tokyo Olympic games.

1. the opening ceremony

Because Japan is 13 hours ahead of the U.S.’s East Coast and 16 hours ahead of the West Coast, you’ll have to wake up early if you want to catch the Parade of Nations live: 7 a.m. ET or 4 a.m. PT, respectively. But don’t worry: The Opening Ceremony will be re-broadcast during primetime hours on the night of Friday, July 23.

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021.

The host country typically brings out its best and brightest singers, dancers and other performers during the Opening Ceremony, but so far, Tokyo organizers have been tight-lipped about who will take the stage. A survey taken in Japan polled people there about which of their favorite stars they’d like to see and topping the list was Ryuichi Sakamoto.

That being said, in 2019, the official Tokyo Olympics’ Twitter account shared a promo video for the 2020 Games that included a short video of Hatsune Miku, which may be a clue to one performer. The only catch? Hatsune Mike isn’t a person, but an illustrated Vocaloid character.

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2. gymnastics

Unlike other Olympic sports like soccer or even swimming, where viewers can truly relate to the sport, gymnastics is one of those events where the athletes are like magicians. Sure, most of us can kick a soccer ball, but can you do a double back flip? We didn’t think so. The United States is undeniably the country to beat when it comes to women’s gymnastics; they fielded the last two Olympic champion teams as well as the last four gold medalists in the all-around event.

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021.

who to watch: In what could be her final Olympic Games, Simone Biles is headlining another U.S. women’s team and expectations are even higher now than they were in 2016, when Biles won four gold medals. She’ll now take the stage with four signature moves in her name, in addition to the Yurchenko double pike vault, which she became the first woman to ever perform in competition earlier this year.

Keep an eye on U.S. team newcomer Sunisa Lee too. If not for the phenomenon that is Biles, she might be the star of the U.S. team right now.

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3. swimming

This will be the first Summer Olympics since 2000 where swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, won’t be competing. However, that won’t make swimming any less interesting to watch. Like most sports, swimming is constantly evolving and its athletes continuously innovating. And this innovation in techniques has allowed seven new world records to be set in the sport between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Who knows how many new world records could be set at this Olympics!

who to watch: Katie Ledecky holds active world records in the women’s 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle events and is also the defending Olympic champion in the 200m free. With the addition of the women’s 1500m free to the Olympic program, she has the potential for an unprecedented distance sweep in Tokyo. A four-gold medal performance this summer would make her, at just 24 years old, the most decorated female Olympic swimmer of all time.

On the men’s side, Caeleb Dressel will be aiming for his first individual Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and may swim as many as seven events, including four relays. A sprint freestyler and butterflyer, he could become the third man to win three individual golds at a single Olympics, after Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps.

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4. track and field

Track and field is one of those Olympic sports that is loved for both its simplicity and its competitiveness. Yet, despite its simplicity, it keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. Why? Because races are often won by milliseconds. In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Usain Bolt beat Justin Gatlin for the gold medal in the 100-meter race by eight-hundredths of a second. In turn, Gatling only beat Andre De Grasse by two-hundredths of a second.

Likewise, the field events also display great athleticism and great accomplishments that you don’t see every day. Afterall, when was the last time you watched somebody throw a javelin 98 meters (107 yards)?

who to watch: Poised to be one of the next big American stars, Noah Lyles was just 22 when he became the 200-meter world champion in 2019, putting him within shouting distance of Usain Bolt’s world record of 19.19.

Get the popcorn ready for another intensely fast match up between Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad as they line up for a 400m hurdles race. Muhammad, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, has somehow only gotten better since her triumph in Rio, breaking the longstanding world record at the national championships in 2019 only to shatter it months later at the world championships with a blistering 52.16 time.

For her part, McLaughlin outsprinted Muhammad to win the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. trials and break Muhammad’s world record. McLaughlin finished in 51.90 seconds, becoming the first woman to run the race in less than 52 seconds.

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5. soccer

Despite Euro Cup and Copa America having just taken place, the Olympics are still a great couple weeks for soccer fans – particularly women’s soccer fans. Outside of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s the only other major opportunity to see the best female players in the world compete on a massive stage. And unlike the World Cup, the winner is determined in just two weeks. Talk about action packed!

who to watch: In what could be her last time playing on a truly global stage, Megan Rapinoe remains one of the best players in the world. With 59 goals and 69 assists in 177 career matches with Team USA, Rapinoe is the creative catalyst in attack for the defending FIFA Women’s World Cup champions.

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021.

Had the 2020 Olympics taken place as scheduled, Alex Morgan, who has scored 109 goals in 175 international games, would have had to sit them out, having given birth to her first child in May 2020. Thankfully, the postponement has reopened the door so that she can again spearhead the American attack and continue her run as one of the most prolific strikers in women’s soccer history.

The 5 key events you must see at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2021

There you have it! Everything you need to know to be Olympics-literate this month. Let the Games begin!

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Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier and a former Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in New York and is married with three young children. She loves cross-country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.

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