Olympics: Five stars to watch in athletics

Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt and Cathy Freeman transformed their lives with iconic performances at the Olympic Games

AFP July 26, 2021


Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt and Cathy Freeman transformed their lives with iconic performances at the Olympic Games.

Here, AFP Sport picks out five athletes hoping to enjoy a similar experience when the track and field events get under way on July 30:

Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin's clash in the 2019 World Championships in Doha may have been the highlight of the track, but it was Barshim's title-winning performance in the high jump that finally brought a semblance of an atmopshere to the stadium.

The 30-year-old retained his title -- despite spending almost a year out due to a fractured ankle -- but it is the Olympic gold he craves and if successful will bring him a full house of medals having taken bronze in 2012 and silver in 2016.

The Qatar-born son of Sudanese immigrants already has experience of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, finishing joint first at a test event in May.

"The pressure to win a medal will never be greater than what I felt when I had suffered an injury which could have ended my career," he said last year.

The engaging Norwegian's clash with the equally charismatic American Benjamin could be the most spectacular race of the Games if both get through to the final.

Warholm and Benjamin, at 23 two years younger than the Norwegian, provided a foretaste of potentially what is to come in the 2019 world final in Doha.

There Warholm edged Benjamin to retain his title, but an indication of how hard he had to push himself came when he said: "I thought I was going to die."

The Norwegian arrives as the world record holder having timed 46.70sec to break Kevin Young's 29-year-old mark -- four years before Warholm was born -- in front of his home fans on July 1.

"It might take another world record to win the Olympics," said Warholm.

Gidey, one of four children brought up on a farm in Tigray, is likely to be part of the women's duel of the athletics in the 10,000 metres with her former compatriot, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands.

Hassan will be bidding for an extraordinary treble of 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m and a measure of revenge on her rival, who sent out a warning by timing 29min 01.03sec on June 8, smashing the 10,000m world record Hassan set just two days earlier on the same Hengelo track.

In doing so, Gidey became the first female athlete to be the world record holder in both the 5,000 and 10,000m since Norwegian legend Ingrid Kristiansen.

"I'd like to try to break the world record again and break 29 minutes," said Gidey.

She may need to if she is to deprive Hassan of the title and also reverse the placings from the 2019 world championships.

Rojas has brought joy to her troubled nation with back-to-back world triple jump titles.

Her first gold was a historic moment for the South American country who had never had a world athletics champion and the 25-year-old also became the first Venezuelan athlete to medal at the Olympics with silver in Rio five years ago.

Rojas -- one of seven children brought up on a small farm -- is setting her sights on completing a world championships and Olympics double and setting a world record to boot.

"Yulimar Rojas is brave, joyful, and a committed person," she told the Olympic Channel this year.

"I'm always giving my best. And, above all, I'm a warrior."

Rojas is an unashamed fan of superhero comic characters, saying "I'm a bit like a child", with Batman and Wonder Woman her pick of the pack.

"I hope to be considered a superhero in my country and in the world," she said.

The 24-year-old Harvard graduate is bidding to emulate another illustrious alumna from the Ivy League university, Thomas Burke, in winning Olympic gold on the track. Burke did the 100 metres/400m double in the 1896 Games, while Thomas could also strike gold twice in the 4x100 metres relay and the 200m.

Thomas had a tumour in her liver diagnosed shortly before the US trials which fortunately turned out to be benign.

Now studying a masters at the University of Texas, Thomas blitzed the opposition at the US trials, posting a time of 21.61 seconds to become the second fastest woman in the event's history behind the late Florence Griffith Joyner.

"I think the standard for myself is a lot higher... I just want more for myself now," she told Harvard Magazine.

"Now, I'm going to have to start thinking about different goals, different visions.

"Because this was my dream -- my dream was to make the Olympic team, not to win Olympic trials, not even to break the meet record.

"Now that I've accomplished those, I'm going to set higher goals."


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