Athletes in the Tokyo 2020 spotlight

Who were the men and women who sparkled in Tokyo, and who missed out on glory? The Straits Times looks at the heroes/heroines who brought us magic and moments of pure delight, and others who left in tears.

(Clockwise from top left) USA's Caeleb Dressel, Japan's Momiji Nishiya, Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah and South Korea's An San.
(Clockwise from top left) USA's Caeleb Dressel, Japan's Momiji Nishiya, Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah and South Korea's An San.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS, EPA-EFE

Athletes who impressed

Caeleb Dressel (USA, Swimming)


Caeleb Dressel reacts during the men's 4 x 100m medley relay final on Aug 1, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

He has been crowned the new swim king with five golds (men's 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly, men's 4x100m freestyle relay, men's 4x100m medley relay) and is the most bemedalled athlete at the Tokyo Games.

Momiji Nishiya(Japan, Skateboarding)


Momiji Nishiya poses with her gold medal on July 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 13-year-old became the youngest gold medallist at Tokyo 2020 when she captured the women's street competition, winning hearts and new fans.

She is the second-youngest athlete to win Olympic gold after diver Marjorie Gestring, who won at Berlin 1936 at 13 years and 268 days of age.

An San (South Korea, Archery)


An San poses with her gold medal on July 30, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Targeted on social media for cutting her hair short, the archer brushed off her critics in winning style by becoming the first in her sport to claim three golds (individual, team, mixed team) in Tokyo.

Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica, Athletics)


Jamaica's Elaine Thompson-Herah reacts as she win the women's 200m final on Aug 3, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The sprint queen won the 100m and 200m in Tokyo to become the first female track and field athlete to win consecutive double-double titles at the Olympics.

She added a third gold in Japan in the 4x100m relay.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands, Cycling)


Annemiek Van Vleuten celebrates after winning the women's cycling road individual time trial on July 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The Dutchwoman had celebrated too early after crossing the finish line in the women's road race, only to realise she had finished behind Austria's Anna Kiesenhofer due to confusion in the peloton.

She made up for that disappointment - and her disastrous crash in 2016 - by winning the time trial gold days later.

Italo Ferreira (Brazil, Surfing)


Italo Ferreira in action during the men's shortboard event on July 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The reigning world champion, hugely popular with over a million Instagram followers, recovered from a broken board to beat local favourite Kanoa Igarashi to win the first surfing gold medal at the Olympics.

Viktor Axelsen (Denmark, Badminton)


Viktor Axelsen in action during his men’s singles gold medal match on Aug 2, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The Danish delight, a former world and European champion, beat defending champion Chen Long of China to claim his first Olympic gold after finishing third in Rio in 2016.

Sunisa Lee (USA, Artistic gymnastics)


Sunisa Lee competes in the women's balance beam final on Aug 3, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The Olympic debutante stepped up to fill teammate Simone Biles' very big shoes after the latter pulled out of the team, all-around and other individual events due to mental health concerns.

The daughter of Hmong immigrants, she helped the US win a team silver, won the coveted all-around gold and bronze in uneven bars.

Mijain Lopez (Cuba, Wrestling)


Mijain Lopez celebrates his gold medal on Aug 2, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Cuban wrestler is the first male athlete to win four Olympic gold medals in the sport after claiming the men's Greco-Roman 130kg title in Tokyo and Rio 2016, and 120kg golds in London 2012 and Beijing 2008.

Favourites who missed out

Kento Momota (Japan, Badminton)


Kento Momota in action on July 28, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Japanese badminton world No. 1 was tipped to win gold after recovering from a serious car accident in January last year.

But the top seed was bundled out at the group stage after a shock loss to South Korea's world No. 28 Heo Kwang-hee.

Kohei Uchimura (Japan, Artistic gymnastics)


Kohei Uchimura completes the horizontal bar event on July 24, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

"King Kohei" had been the dominant force in men's gymnastics but the two-time Olympic all-around champion chose to focus on only the horizontal bar owing to injuries.

But his reign came to a disappointing end as he fell during his routine and failed to qualify for the final.

Novak Djokovic (Serbia, Tennis)


Novak Djokovic leaves after losing the match for the bronze medal on July 31, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The world No. 1 came to Tokyo with the aim of keeping his bid for the Golden Slam (all four Majors and the Olympic gold) alive after winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and French Open.

But he left empty-handed, losing in the singles semi-finals and bronze play-off while throwing a tantrum and destroying two rackets.

Naomi Osaka (Japan, Tennis)


Naomi Osaka in action on July 27, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The face of Japan at the Tokyo Games, Osaka was given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron.

But the world No. 2 crashed out in the third round after losing to 42nd-ranked Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

Simone Biles (USA, Artistic gymnastics)


Simone Biles in action on the vault on July 27, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The sport's G.O.A.T was expected to win six gold medals in Tokyo to add to four from Rio 2016 but shocked the world when she pulled out of the team event after her first vault, before also withdrawing from the all-around and three other individual events, citing mental health issues.

She eventually returned to compete in the beam final, winning a bronze.

Notable moments

Caring is sharing

The Tokyo Games saw the first shared gold medal in athletics since 1912 when high jumpers Mutaz Barshim of Qatar and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi were tied in first place with no failed jumps at earlier heights.

They were offered the option of a jump-off but the duo, who are close friends, decided to share the gold.

Athletes make a statement

American shot putter Raven Saunders, who won a silver, raised her arms and made a cross gesture while on the podium to represent "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet".

The International Olympic Committee has suspended initial investigations into the protest after Saunders' mother died.

A number of athletes and teams, including the British and US women's football sides, have taken the knee in protest against racism and online hate.

Media reports said that the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers had banned their social media teams from posting the photos but that has since been reversed.