I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited — under obviously strange circumstances — about the prospect for great athletic performance.
These athletes are mostly the emerging talent of one of the most exciting generations that we’ve witnessed 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 watching a large part of that group being aged 25 and under.
It’s a privileged job I’ve got to pick out 10 athletes who are going to be part of a great Games. The beautiful thing about this sport is that anybody reading this column could make up their own 10 and all would be completely different from mine…
It’s a privileged job I’ve got to pick out 10 athletes who are going to be part of a great Games
Karsten Warholm – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 3
Warholm won in London in the World Championships in 2017 when he was barely 20 and the Norwegian goes into these Olympics as the 400m hurdle world record holder from the Oslo Bislett Games last month at 46.70sec, breaking Kevin Young’s 1992 record.
I was also at the US trials a few weeks ago in Eugene and Rai Benjamin ended up running 46.83sec, third on the all-time list. The great, lip-smacking prospect is the pair of them going head to head in Tokyo.
At this moment, you have to say Warholm will come out on top because I think he has marginally more experience at championship level. Both of them will have to be at the absolute top of their game to fend each other off.
Karsten Warholm won in London in the World Championships in 2017 when he was barely 20
Dina Asher-Smith – Sprints. July 30 – Aug 6
There is not much I can say about Dina that has not already been written or said. She is the fastest British woman in history — end of, it’s as simple as that. Even at the age of 13, she effectively broke a world record over 300 metres.
Interestingly, she was a kit-carrier in the London 2012 Games and that was one of her most exciting memories. She carried Usain Bolt’s kit while he competed at London. A year later she was in the GB team in the lead-off lane for their 4 x 100m bronze medal-winning team at the World Championships.
Her rise from team carrier into the British team, I can’t think of anyone who has risen from volunteering into the team so quickly, it’s such an inspiring story. And then her crowning moment was when she became the first British woman to win a sprints title in a World Championships at Doha 2019.
She’s calm, collected and smart. She’s in events that are currently competitively on fire. She has that crucial asset that she is very much at home in this environment.
There is not much I can say about Dina Asher-Smith that has not already been written or said
Mondo Duplantis – Pole vault. Final: Aug 3
Mondo has rock star quality as well as being the world record holder. One of those records was set in Glasgow in an indoor meeting a couple of years back.
I was at the stadium in Rome when he jumped his 6.15m, the biggest single jump outdoors. So whether it is indoors or outdoors, he has jumped higher than anybody in the history of the sport.
I like him because I like people going into Championships absolutely set 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 have an impact, I think the pole-vault is the one that will miss it the most.
Mondo will have to be on top of his game because there are some very talented opponents including Sam Kendricks and Renaud Lavillenie, the French former world record holder. Duplantis is clearly the best in the world but will be strongly pressed.
Mondo Duplantis has rock star quality as well as being the current world record holder
Laura Muir – 1500m. Final: Aug 7
Had I not seen Laura Muir competing in Monaco a couple of Fridays ago, I would not have picked her. But I witnessed her personal best that night that broke a Scottish record and is the second-highest British record.
The reason I have picked Muir is I remember watching Kelly Holmes only weeks before the Athens Games.
I watched her over 800m — and a very good indicator for 1500m form is actually pace over 800m. I know this well from when I was a competitor.
Had I not seen Laura Muir competing in Monaco a few weeks ago, I would not have picked her
When Kelly ran an outstanding 800m before Athens, I remember turning to my friends and saying: ‘I would pick her now to certainly win the 1500m in Athens.’ She did. I was so confident to nominate just one medal to be a part of at the ceremony Games, I also said: ‘I’d like to be there when Kelly wins.’
I sensed watching Laura the other night that her 800m performance, the speed of which I think surprised even her, means there is certainly a medal for her in the 1500m.
I’m not predicting gold because it is a highly competitive. I think she is right not to want to do the 800-1500m double.
Dalilah Muhammad – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 4
Muhammad was the 400m hurdles gold medallist at Rio and broke a world record in Doha in the World Championships in 2019.
The 31-year-old is the one to beat. She is the only woman in this event other than Sally Gunnell to hold the world record and the Olympic title at the same time.
Dalilah Muhammad was the 400m hurdles gold medallist at Rio and broke a world record in Doha
Sydney McLaughlin – 400m hurdles. Final: Aug 4
McLaughlin is someone I’ve watched rise through the junior ranks. At 21, she is one of the youngest American athletes ever to make the team. There are only two younger female athletes in the history of US track and field to make a full team underage.
In the US trials she became the first woman to run under 52sec with a 51.90 last month.
She was a world youth champion in 2015 in Colombia. But again, the tantalising thought is that the 400m hurdles has potential for the most exciting head to head.
Sydney McLaughlin is someone that I’ve watched rise through the junior ranks
Tom Walsh – shot put. Final: Aug 5
This is a personal pick. I am a huge fan of Walsh. I have got to know him. A track man, like me, choosing a shot putter in my list of 10 just goes to show how incredibly exciting the men’s shot put has become in recent years.
It was arguably the best competition of the 2019 Championships in Doha.
Walsh won gold for New Zealand in London at the 2017 Worlds and is a big character. He was famously quoted as saying: ‘Some get angry, others want to start a fight before a shot put but low-key and relaxed works for me.’
Tom is incredibly laid-back.
Tom Walsh won gold for New Zealand in London at the 2017 Worlds and is a big character
Ryan Crouser – shot put. Final: Aug 5
Walsh was part of that great competition in 2019 against the current world record holder, Crouser, who trailed him for the first five rounds and then threw a massive 22.90m.
Then Joe Kovacs unleashed a monster 22.91m in the last round to win — the gold, silver and bronze all covered by about a centimetre.
Crouser is interesting as he comes from a throwing family. His father and uncle were both throwers, so it’s a bit of a family dynasty. This could be one of the greatest competitions at the Games.
Current world record holder Ryan Crouser is interesting as he comes from a throwing family
Faith Kipyegon – 1500m. Final: Aug 7
Muir will be up against the 2016 Olympic champion Kipyegon, whose run in Monaco was jaw-droppingly complete.
Her 3.51.07 was fourth on the all-time list and she dismantled – with relative ease – Siffan Hassan, a previous world-record holder.
I think there is a medal for Muir in the 1500m but it is so competitive and you have to say Kipyegon would be the standout.
2016 Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon’s run in Monaco was jaw-droppingly complete
Eliud Kipchoge – marathon. Aug 8
Kipchoge is an obvious pick. He is admittedly not in a fully-competitive race but more of a choreographed time-trial. But he is an athlete that is Roger Bannister-like in his achievements, the first athlete to run under two hours in a marathon.
Of 13 outings over the marathon distance, he’s won 11 of them. He will be defending his Olympic title that he won in Rio and he is quiet, unassuming and a great philanthropist in his sport.
He has absolutely understood that breaking the two-hour barrier was far more than rupturing an athletic landmark, he has used it to change the picture with young people in his country. He is relatively mature over this distance and there are many talented runners competing against him.
At his last outing in the driving rain at the London Marathon last autumn, he was struggling with fitness and had a chest infection. If this race is a hard, gun-to-tape battle and not tactical then he does stand a good chance of defending his title.
But he’s not a red-hot favourite even though he’s broken these records – age is not on his side. I have chosen him simply because his achievements do need to be saluted. The outpouring of emotion when he broke the two-hour barrier was extraordinary.
Eliud Kipchoge will be defending his Olympic title that he won in Rio and is quiet and unassuming