From The Joker to the 'Russian Tank', 10 men who'll grab eyeballs in Tokyo
Novak Djokovic, Kevin Durant and Rory McIlroyIANS (File photos)

From The Joker to the 'Russian Tank', 10 men who'll grab eyeballs in Tokyo

New Delhi, July 22, 2021

The Tokyo Olympics is all set to see several keen contests, but some of the men in the race for top medals are going be in the limelight more than the others. Who are these 10 men and what makes them so special?

1. Novak Djokovic (Serbia): Does this man really need any more titles? Well, it turns out that with both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal absent, it may well be a walk in the park for the Serb as he goes for the tennis gold. Djokovic will be hoping to repeat Steffi Graf's 1988 Golden Slam -- winning the Olympic gold medal on top of four Grand Slam victories on the trot. Djokovic previously won a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His biggest threat, Great Britain's Andy Murray, is the reigning Olympic champion, but of late he has been beset by injuries. The tennis competition will get under way on Saturday, July 24.

2. Rory McIlroy (Ireland): Regarded as one of the greatest golfers on the planet, McIlroy is expected to make his Olympic debut in Tokyo. And although he is from Northern Ireland and holds a British passport, he will represent Ireland at the Games. McIlroy has been one of the most successful golfers on the PGA Tour over the last decade, winning the PGA Championship twice, the U.S. Open and the British Open, besides being named PGA Player of the Year twice and winning the Vardon Trophy (PGA leader in scoring average) and Byron Nelson Award (lowest adjusted scoring average) three times each. The Masters Tournament is the only major title that has eluded McIlroy, though he did rank fourth in 2015. McIlroy intended to make his Olympic debut in Rio Games in 2016, but dropped out because of fears over the Zika virus.

3. Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa): He was the breakout athletics star of the Rio Games five years ago, but it has not been an easy ride for him since then. After smashing Michael Johnson's 400m world record in 2016 (43.03 seconds), van Niekerk was injured in a charity touch rugby match soon after and has since struggled to regain form. The 29-year-old had been focusing on the 200m in the build-up to the Games, but failed to reach the qualifying time. He returned to his speciality distance - 400m - and just managed to qualify in June, much to the relief of his fans in South Africa.

Not only is it a big summer for his career, he has also just announced that he is to become a father later this year. The men's 400m heats start on Sunday, August 1.

4. Caeleb Dressel (USA): Before Michael Phelps broke his record, Mark Spitz was the most celebrated American Olympic swimmer, winning seven gold medals in Munich in 1972. But then Phelps won eight golds at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and eventually a career total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes. Is it possible for anyone to top that? Well, many experts believe Caeleb Dressel can do it. Having won two Olympic gold medals so far, the 24-year-old is competing in three individual events - the 50m and 100m freestyle, plus the 100m fly - and will feature in at least three relays. The 6ft 3in University of Florida graduate won seven gold medals at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest and eight medals at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. Dressel is married to his high school sweetheart and former Florida State University swimmer Meghan Haila. The 100m freestyle heats start on Tuesday, 27 July.

5. Kevin Durant (USA) Among the 12 NBA superstars heading to Tokyo is this Brooklyn Nets small forward. The two-time Olympian will not want to break the tradition of Team USA bringing home the gold, but it has not been an easy build-up with two defeats in a warm-up competition in Las Vegas. Durant (or KD, as he is popularly known) was the US team's leading scorer in the past two Olympics. The US men's team will up againt France in its opening match on Sunday, July 25.

6. Teddy Riner (France): At 6ft 8 in, he is one of the giants of the Tokyo Olympics, literally and figuratively. Winner of two golds and one bronze in judo since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 32-year-old is aiming for his third gold in Tokyo. The 10-time world champion won the +100kg gold at the World Judo Masters this year. Born in Les Abmes near Pointe-a-Pitre in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, he is affectionately known as Teddy Bear or Big Ted. The first round of Riner's +100kg category starts on Thursday, July 29.

7. Nikita Nagornyy (Russia): His country's men's gymnastics hopes are pinned on this Rio silver medalist who was declared the world all-around champion in 2019. Nagornyy, along with compatriot Artur Dalaloyan, has dominated men's gymnastics since Rio and is eyeing Russia's first team medal since 1996 -- but Dalaloyan recently tore his Achilles tendon, leaving his status for Tokyo in doubt. At the European Championships in April, Nagornyy made history by becoming the first man to perform a triple-back pike somersault in the floor exercise competition.

8. Tom Daley (Great Britain): Will this be the Olympics where he finally puts it all together? The former child diving prodigy competed in his first Olympics as a 14-year-old in Beijing in 2008. He was among the most anticipated British performers at the London Olympics, but could only manage a bronze medal in the 10m platform. Still just 27, Daley is back among the medal contenders in Tokyo after winning the platform gold at the 2017 World Diving Championships. In addition to the individual competition, Daley is also eyeing a medal in the synchronised platform event with partner Matty Lee.

9. Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia): The 'Russian Tank' has been in the public gaze for a number of years for being the world's best pound-for-pound wrestler. During the 2016 Olympics, he conceded just one point (while scoring 28 of his own) in his four matches en route to winning the 86kg freestyle gold. But since then he has moved up to the 97kg weight class, putting him in direct competition with Team USA's reigning Olympic champion Kyle Snyder. The American beat Sadulaev for a world title in 2017; Sadulaev returned the favour a year later. The two wrestlers did not face off at the 2019 Worlds, but Sadulaev emerged with his second straight title and Snyder ended up with the bronze. A Sadulaev-versus-Snyder final could produce wrestling's most thrilling match in Tokyo.

10. Nino Schurter (Switzerland): Domination is an understatement when it comes to cross-country mountain bike cycling and Schurter, who, before the 2020 World Championships which took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, won the previous five world titles in his event going back to 2015 and the Olympic gold in 2016. Schurter, additionally, is a seven-time World Cup winner and took the silver in London (2012) and bronze in Beijing (2008). Despite the 34-year-old's disappointing ninth-place finish at the 2020 Worlds, he remains the favourite to defend his Olympic gold and increase his international title count to 13.

IANS

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