Athletics at Tokyo Olympics: Top 5 on-track rivalries to watch out for

May it be Usain Bolt vs Justin Gatlin in 2016 or Carl Lewis vs Ben Johnson in the 80s, on-track rivalries add some extra intensity and exhilaration to athletics at the Olympic Games.

Athletics Representational Image
Athletics Representational Image

The upcoming Tokyo Olympics is expected to witness some exceptional performances. Athletics has been a long fan favourite in the Games. With some phenomenal times, distances and heights given this year, the multi-event sport will be nothing short of exciting.

May it be Usain Bolt vs Justin Gatlin in 2016 or Ben Johnson vs Carl Lewis in the 80s, on-track rivalries have only added more emotion and exhilaration to athletics in the Olympic Games. With the vast spectrum of events in the sport, such intense duels are abundant. The scenario would be similar going into Japan.

Top 5 on-track rivalries to watch out for in Tokyo Olympics

5. Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis vs Sam Kendricks

Armand 'Mondo' Duplantis and Sam Kendricks
Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis and Sam Kendricks

Pole vaulters Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis of Sweden and Sam Kendricks of the USA have always been friendly but tough competitors to each other. Although Duplantis leads with 0.09cm, Kendricks will not be the one to bow down so quickly.

Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis has already established himself as an icon at the age of 21, with his back-to-back world records in a single week in February 2020. The youngest World Athlete of the Year broke Sergey Bubka’s 26-year-old record with an awe-striking vault of 6.15m at the Rome Diamond League.

Sam Kendricks beat the then world-record holder, Renaud Lavillenie of France at the 2017 London World Championships bagging the second USA pole vault gold in history. The 28-year-old proved his mettle yet again after defending his title two years later in Doha. His jump of 5.97m was only equalled by Duplantis who won the silver medal. The Rio bronze medallist is known for his ability to perform under pressure.

And it is exactly what it will boil down to in Tokyo; which pole vaulter fares better under the scorching lights of the Olympics.

4. Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Thomas vs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Gabrielle 'Gabby' Thomas and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Thomas and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Sprinters Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Thomas of USA and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica will be brutal competitors to each other in the 200m event. Gabby Thomas emerged as the second-fastest woman in 200m ever with her brilliant 21.61 second run at the US Trials but the second fastest woman in 100m, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will be a deadly threat to her in 200m.

24-year-old Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Thomas stunned the world with her performance at the US Trials last month. The world no. 1 has also been victorious at the Lausanne Diamond League meets in 2018 and 2019. Legendary Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce gave her personal best of 21.79 seconds at the Jamaican Trials last month. The 2012 London silver medallist is all set to clinch a 200m Olympic title.

It will be exciting to watch which sprinter comes out on top in Tokyo.

3. Sifan Hassan vs Faith Kipyegon

Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan
Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan

1500m runners, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya have been perennial rivals of each other. It has always been an unpredictable race every time these two middle-distance runners have gone head-to-head.

Sifan Hassan created history at the 2019 Doha World Championships bagging gold medals in both the 1500m and 10,000m becoming the only athlete, male or female, to win both events at a World event. The Dutch star hasn’t looked back ever since, taking the Golden Gala title in June. In the same month, the 28-year-old held the 10,000m world record for two days.

Faith Kipyegon will be all set to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo this year. Returning from childbirth, the Kenyan icon created a new national record in Doha in 2019. The 27-year-old improved her national records twice in 2021. In July she achieved the 4th fastest time in history.

With these two runners in their best form, the 1500m race in Tokyo will see a nail-biting climax.

2. Katarina Johnson-Thompson ‘KJT’ vs Nafissatou ‘Nafi’ Thiam

Katarina Johnson-Thompson 'KJT' and Nafissatou 'Nafi' Thiam
Katarina Johnson-Thompson ‘KJT’ and Nafissatou ‘Nafi’ Thiam

Heptathletes, Katarina Johnson-Thompson ‘KJT’ of England and Nafissatou ‘Nafi’ Thiam of Belgium share an intense on-track rivalry with each other. And it will only speed up at the world’s grandest sporting stage in Tokyo.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson ‘KJT’ produced an incredible upset at the 2019 Doha World Championships beating Thiam for the first time in a major heptathlon competition. And the British star has been on a roll ever since, taking the numero uno position in the heptathlon world rankings. Her national record created in Doha of 6,981 points ranks her at the 6th spot in all-time lists.

Nafissatou ‘Nafi’ Thiam will be all ready to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo this year. The 2017 World Athlete of the Year has multiple titles to her name including the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 European Championships. The Belgian icon is known for mounting a strong comeback and will surely be back with a vengeance in Tokyo.

Acing every event will be all that will count for these two multi-eventers in the sizzling environment of the Olympics.

1. Dalilah Muhammad vs Sydney McLaughlin

Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin
Dalilah Muhammad and Syndey McLaughlin

USA 400m hurdlers, Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin share a fierce on-track rivalry. The clash between these two world-leading athletes is definitely one of the most anticipated events in Tokyo. Their bouts have led to the creation of three world records.

31-year old Dalilah Muhammad had sent the world into a tizzy with her spell-bounding world record of 52.20 seconds at the World Championship Trials in 2019. The star went on to rewrite it at the 2019 Doha World Championships where she lowered it to 52.16 seconds. The reigning Olympic champion will have much to prove and the ultimate title to defend in Tokyo.

Sydney McLaughlin was the youngest track and field athlete at the Rio Olympics. In 2019, the star earned her well-deserved silver at the 2019 World Championships in Doha but her incredible run was only a glimpse of what was yet to come. The 21-year-old shattered Muhammad’s world-record at the US Trials last month with a jaw-breaking time of 51.90 seconds. McLaughlin is the only woman to breach the 52-second barrier. She will be looking to clinch her first Olympic title in Tokyo.

It will all come down to whose best is better in the thrilling air of the Tokyo Olympics.

Also Read: Tokyo Olympics Athletics Schedule: Dates, Events, and time