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Who’s ready for the Olympics?

Ryan Stieg

The greatest spectacle in sports is finally about to occur again, one year after it was supposed to.

The Summer Olympics begin next Friday and the anticipation is high for pretty much everyone who enjoys them. This is especially true for my wife, who loves to see the best athletes on the planet compete on the largest stage possible.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be the typical Olympic Games that we’re used to though. Things are gonna look different and kind of reminiscent of most events last year.

We all know what happened in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world, either forcing seasons to be canceled or having teams play in empty stadiums and arenas, sometimes in different countries as was the case of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The pandemic also crushed the Olympics that were supposed to be held in Tokyo last year. Well, they’re back in Japan, but if you were hoping to see packed stadiums cheering on the athletes, you’re gonna be disappointed. Fans are banned from stadiums since the pandemic is still going on and the Delta variant is spreading. Unlike what some leagues tried last year, there won’t be any fake fans like dolls or cutouts either, so those massive stadiums are going to be almost empty.

That Opening Ceremony is gonna be wild huh?

As disappointing as it will be not to have spectators, it shouldn’t be a big change for us that will be watching on TV. We watched the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and various college events take place in empty venues over the course of the last year, so we should be used to it by now. Admittedly though, it still will look a little weird.

Sure the atmosphere will be gone, but that doesn’t mean the competition won’t be entertaining to watch. Let’s start in the pool where the two big stars are Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel. Ledecky has racked up six Olympic medals (five of them golds) and will compete in four individual events as well as the 4×200 freestyle relay. If she earns golds in all four individual events, she’ll tie the record for most Olympic gold medals by a female athlete. One of those events is the 1,500 meters, which will have female competitors for the first time ever and Ledecky is the clear favorite.

Dressel, on the other end, is considered by some as the best all-around swimmer in the world. He currently has two world records and will be swimming in three individual events (50 and 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly). He also hopes to swim in all four relays, which could give him seven gold medals in Tokyo, one shy of Michael Phelps’ record eight in Beijing in 2008.

Other swimmers to watch are Lilly King in the breaststroke; Simone Manuel, who became the first American black woman to win gold in an Olympic event back in 2016, in the 50 free; Allison Schmitt in the 200 free and relays; Ryan Murphy in the backstroke and Chase Kalisz in the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

Over in the gymnastics competitions, it’s almost already a coronation for the American women. This year’s squad of five athletes is heavily favored to win its third straight team gold medal and Simone Biles is their clear leader. Considered by many to be the best gymnast ever, Biles racked up five medals in 2016 and four of them were gold. She basically had a spot on the team wrapped up by just saying she was going to compete again in 2017 and not surprisingly, she’s the favorite in the all-around. She also could have some company on the podium as Sunisa Lee is arguably the best at the uneven bars and she’s good on the balance beam, while teammate Jordan Chiles could also fight her way on it.

If that isn’t enough to excite you, there’s also soccer and basketball. The U.S. women’s soccer squad could win its fifth gold medal and first since 2012. The U.S. women’s basketball team will most likely win its seventh consecutive gold, while the men’s team might actually embarrass itself. The men just lost an exhibition game to Nigeria last week, so a gold medal is no longer a guarantee for them anymore. That’s a good thing in that it shows that the Americans are actually getting some competition, but on the other hand, it could mean they might go home medal-less. That probably won’t happen considering the talent they have, but that medal could very well not be gold.

All in all, it should be a fun few days in Japan. Yes, it won’t be entirely the same as in the past. It’s in an odd year instead of the typical even years, there won’t be any spectators and the hype to the event just doesn’t seem to be there like it was in previous years. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be exciting. We get to watch our best athletes do what they do best and compete against the best the world has to offer and that’ll be entertaining.

Things are slowly getting back to normal and the fact that the Olympics are even happening is a good sign. Let’s celebrate that and enjoy something truly great that we missed out on last year.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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