2021 Summer Olympics Preview

At long last, we are just a few days away from the start of the Summer Olympics.  Originally slated for last summer, they were pushed back a year after Covid wrecked havoc around the world. There is still heavy consternation about the games actually happening as many Japanese disapprove of it and there is an ethical issue at play while the pandemic is still at a wide scale.  However, I did read an article recently where 3 out of the 4 doctors surveyed were on board with the games being held as long as nothing too drastically happened with Covid.  At least in the states, cases have risen again, which after July 4th honestly should have probably been expected, but the vaccines even with the Delta variant being the main one now still seems to be a solution at least and are making more people less gravely ill, leaving us in a much better position than we were this time last year.  

At first it was looking like these could be the games to announce that the world has defeated the pandemic. Unfortunately that will not be the case and we will have to take a step back from that outlook, but staging a global games could be at the very least a step towards normalcy and it is similar to the NCAA Tournament bubble I feel like which makes me believe these games will be successful.  To me, without International fans, the no spectators was never as big an issue as media is making it out to be and other than the basketball, swimming and track events, I don’t often notice the crowds besides that.

There is a ton to look forward to these Olympics and I hope that the Games give people around the world some optimism after an awful 16-17 months and the athletes really deserve the games to go on as well knowing how much of their lives they devote to their sport and then going through hell with all of the Covid protocols. 

The schedule has ballooned to 339 events in 33 sports, an increase by over 30 events from 2016.  IOC President Thomas Bach said two of the goals of this year’s Olympics were to make the games more youthful and urban as well as to increase the number of female participants.  They have accomplished this goal by adding 3×3 basketball, surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, and freestyle BMX. There are also new mixed events in several sports-the 4x100m medley relay in swimming in particular is one I am looking forward to.  In the past, it would’ve been crazy to see Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky on the same team and we should have a really good team this year. I saw too that triathlon is having a mixed event, The triathlon is not usually one of the events I watch, but I will make sure to try to check that out this year. 

Here is this year’s schedule and some of the events I am looking forward to the most:

Men’s basketball tournament-The United States has gotten off to a really rocky start in their exhibition games, losing as nearly 30 point favorites to Nigeria and then to Australia as a 16.5 point favorite. They did bounce back vs. Argentina, but then had another exhibition cancelled vs. Australia. They play Spain tonight (Sunday 7/18). The losses are some cause for concern as we have never lost back to back with professional players and it is not a greatly constructed team. Yes, with guys like Kevin Durant, the second best player on the planet, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green and company we should still be favored, but it will be interesting to see just how competitive the other countries are. Australia is likely our toughest competition so I don’t think that loss is the end of the world. Nigeria, on the other hand was a horrendous loss, particularly when you consider we beat them by about 80 the last time we met. Our group is pretty reasonable-Iran, Czech Republic and France, the 4th favorite to win the tourney, should be our main competition. Czech Republic pulled a massive upset of Canada in one of the FIBA qualification pods to advance to the Olympics.

I really like Australia’s group and that should be a fun group to follow. Australia should be the team to beat, but you have an upstart Nigeria team and a good German team in the Group that should make for fun watches. Another story to watch too is Dallas Mavericks point guard/small forward Luka Doncic leading his Slovenian team through one of the FIBA pods into the Olympics, the country’s first Olympics berth in basketball defeating perennial powerhouse Lithuania in the championship of their bracket. They have a very interesting group and certainly a good measuring stick for how they stack up against some elite world competition in Spain and Argentina. Host country Japan is also in that bracket. A US-Australia final would be fun and I look for the US to avenge their loss to win the Gold Medal.

3×3 basketball tournament-I think this will be one of the big winners of this Olympics and if the Olympics goal was to make it more youthful and urban, they did a great job including this to the games. The games are 10 minutes, first to 21. So they are rapid fire and are done pretty quickly. Each team plays 2 games each of the first 3 days of the event and then one game on the final day. The top 2 advance to the semifinals and 3-6 play in the quarterfinals. On the men’s side, this is the first event in the history of Olympic basketball the United States didn’t qualify. The women on the other hand are favored in this event and have a very solid roster with 2 former UConn players, Stefanie Dolson and Katie Lou Samuelson, Allisha Gray and star ex-Washington Huskies player Kelsey Plum. They have a nice start with France and Mongolia, who they are a 12 point favorite against. If they are able to post at least a 5-2 record, they should wind up in the semifinals and be in a position to medal. The men’s tourney will likely come down to Serbia or Latvia. It will be interesting to see how it plays out and should be a fun event moving forward.

Men’s Rugby Sevens-If you look at the odds for this, this should be a fantastic tournament. Fiji are the inaugural and defending champions, defeating Great Britain 43-7 in the Gold Medal Final in Rio. They come into this year’s event as +230 favorites, but New Zealand is +250, South African is +340, USA is +750 and Australian is +900. Great Britain, last time’s runner up is just behind them at +1400. I actually think FIji at those odds are pretty good. Rugby sevens are a fun addition as well to the Olympics and go quick, with only 7 minute halves. New Zealand’s women’s team are -300 favorites in their event and are likely to capture Gold, Australia likely silver and a battle between Canada and United States for Bronze.

The return of Baseball and Softball to the Olympic program-Let me just say how much of a fan I am of these round robin formats, playing every team in the tournament to decide placement, which is how softball and the 3×3 basketball tournaments are constructed. Softball is the first event that kicks off this Olympics just two days from now, with Australia playing Japan in the Games first event at 8PM, United States playing Italy at 11PM and Mexico playing Canada at 2AM. It’s pretty simple, the top 2 teams play for the Gold Medal and 3 plays 4 for Bronze. For baseball, what is interesting is that the top 2 teams get a bye, but play each other in round 2. It is a double elimination tournament however, so the loser still has life. Japan likely will win group A, and it should come down to the United States or South Korea for group B. I have a feeling the United States will get picked off here somewhere. I like our chances to medal, but beating South Korea and Japan when they are hosts is a tough ask.

Djokovic’s Pursuit of the Golden Slam-All eyes will be on Novak Djokovic over the next month and a half. He carries a 34-3 record this season, winning all 3 Grand Slams–the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Only Steffi Graf has accomplished this feat, doing so in 1988. He has said that it is a goal for him and the case is harder and harder to make that he is not the greatest tennis player of all time, and frankly he can distance himself from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal before his career is over too. If he captures Gold in Tokyo, the US Open will be a huge story with him looking to pull it off.

Ariarne Titmus/Katie Ledecky battles in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle- Ariarne Titmus at the 2019 World Championships, swam a full second ahead of Katie Ledecky in the 400m. She is a back to back World Champion in this discipline and you’d have to think she is a deserved favorite over Ledecky. Ariarne won the Gold Medal at the 2018 World Championships in the 200. Katie is the defending gold medalist in all 3 so it will be interesting to see how many of those she can defend. I think of the 200m and 400m, Katie is more likely to upset Ariarne in the 400m. I think Katie wins the 800m and the brand new 1500m women’s event in which Katie is a substantial favorite. She dominated the 800 last time and for an event almost doubly as long, that should even be more accentuated in that discipline this year.

Other Pool Races-Some of the more tossup races to look forward to are the Men’s 100m backstroke, Men’s 100m freestyle, Men’s 1500m freestyle, Men’s 200m breaststroke, Men’s 200m freestyle, Men’s 200m IM, Men’s 400m freestyle, Men’s 400 IM, Men’s 800m freestyle, Women’s 100m backstroke, Women’s 100m butterfly, Women’s 100m freestyle, Women’s 200m breaststroke, Women’s 200m butterfly, Women’s 200m IM, Women’s 400m IM and the Women’s 50m.

Men and Women’s 100m and 200m Races-The men’s 100m race as usual is shaping up to be one of the best events of the games. You know your field is stacked when guys like Fred Kerley and Yohan Blake are the 7th and 8th favorites in the event. Trayvon Bromell comes in as a slight favorite over fellow American Ronnie Baker. A great value pick at 7-1 in third in my opinion is South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who holds Africa’s world record for the 100m, doing so in 9.84 seconds, which is a fantastic time. He has golds in University Games, African Games and Commonwealth Games and has a gold in the World Relays too. Canada’s Andre De Grasse also hopes to contend for a medal. The women’s 100m race features the usual suspects-Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herrah, Dina Asher who was on a bronze medalist winning Great Britain team in the 4×100 at Rio, Shericka Jackson and Marie-Josee Ta Lou, a solid pick at 11-1 winning silvers at the 2017 World Championships in London in the 100m and 200m. The men’s 200m, one of the potential American faces for these games is Noah Lyles, a slight favorite in this event. This will likely be Andre De Grasse’s main spot to potentially claim gold. Others include Ken Bednarek, Erriyon Knighton, and Steve Gardiner. The women’s 200m race is one of the biggest tossups in the track and field program this year as Gabby Thomas is 2-1, then Dina Asher-Smith, Shericka Jackson and Shaunae Miller are all 5-1 with Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and Elaine Thompson 6-1. It is a fantastic field loaded with names well respected in track.

Women’s 400m Race-The track and field race besides the 100m and 200m I am most interested in as Sydney McLaughlin is running here. She went to high school just a couple towns away from me at Union Catholic in New Jersey and has an excellent chance to not only medal here, but win gold. She is a -250 favorite and for all intents and purposes this looks like this will be a 3 dog race between her, Netherland’s Femke Bol and Dalilah Muhammad. Should be a exciting race and hopefully the Jersey girl can bring home gold here.

The other new sports-While a lot of attention will be garnered by baseball and softball’s return as well as 3×3 basketball, a few other events are new to this year’s games as well in sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding, madison cycling and freestyle BMX. Sport climbing should be a cool new addition as it is a combined format, speed, bouldering and lead. This should be a exciting addition to the Olympic program. Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki is favored for the men and Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret is a substantial favorite on the women’s side. Skateboarding for the men should feature a great battle between United States Nyjah Huston and Japan’s Yuto Horigome. These sports are all great additions with the main goal of urbanizing and making the Olympic Games more youthful. Should be a fun 3 weeks with plenty of stories to unfold.

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