We are living in challenging times. But however reduced this year’s Olympics Games have become, they are still welcomed by the sports lovers. For the sports of The World Games that have representation on the Tokyo 2020 programme, the Olympics will present an amazing opportunity to showcase their finest athletes. For four sports in particular, there will be particular cause for celebration as they participate at a Games for the first time. Karate, Sport Climbing, Roller Sports and Surfing would have loved to dazzle worldwide audiences against a backdrop of cheering fans. Sadly it is not to be, but participation at an Olympics is still a reward in its own right.
The ban on spectators will hit Karate stars Rio Kiyuna and Ayumi Aekusa particularly hard. Their dream of competing in Japan’s beloved martial art in front of their fellow countrymen may have been dashed, but their other goal of being part of a medal ceremony at their home Olympics looks set to be fulfilled. Also look out for legend of The World Games Antonio Diaz from Venezuela, who has won medals at five separate editions of the multi-sport event; his longed-for appearance at an Olympic Games marks the culmination of an extraordinary career.
The casual sports fan is going to love Sport Climbing; this spectacular sport is a perfect encapsulation of the Olympic motto. Its three disciplines of speed (faster) lead (higher) and bouldering (stronger) are normally contested as separate medal events at The World Games. However for Tokyo 2020, it will become a super event with only one set of medals being presented, allocated to whoever has the lowest multiplied ranking in each discipline. Janja Garnbret (Slovenia) and Adam Ondra (Czech Republic) are literally head and shoulders above everyone else and should, if all goes well, be the maiden Olympic champions.
Though Roller Sports are a regular fixture on the programme of The World Games, Skateboarding, the discipline chosen for Tokyo, has never been seen at any edition. Expect lots of breathtaking flips and dizzying spins. Popular X Games boarder Nyjah Huston (USA) has dazzling routines which have wowed millions of YouTube viewers: his will be the most prominent name at Tokyo. However look out too for Sky Brown, who despite being born in Japan opted to compete for Great Britain. At 13 years old, she will become the youngest-ever athlete to represent her country, a record that was almost endangered when she fractured her skull in a serious fall a year ago.
Like skateboarding, Surfing is yet to feature at The World Games, which has a lot to do with host cities being mostly inland and unable to offer suitable facilities for competition. Competitors will have two runs to impress the judges. Keys to success are bravery, flair and obviously a good sense of balance. Brazil’s Italo Ferreirahas had an unusual journey of improvisation to the top of the wave; his impoverished family could not afford surfboards, so he learned to ride by mounting discarded plastic lids from his father’s fish-packing business. After a delayed flight to the Olympic qualifying tournament, he could not access his wetsuit, so wore his shorts instead, but despite this still managed to secure his Tokyo spot!
Softball and Baseball are not strangers to the Olympic programme, but were both discarded after Beijing’s 2008 edition. Their return to the Games marks a homecoming in more ways than one; you will not find a nation more fervent than Japan for appreciating its pitchers and batters. The host nation are the defending Olympic champions in Softball, with Eri Yamada’s (Japan) home run taken from Cat Osterman’s (USA) pitch proving the difference. Both veteran players are back again in Tokyo and another meeting in the gold medal game looks a strong probability.
Another Beijing medallist who is still going strong is China’s Dong Dong, the legendary Gymnastics athlete who is widely acknowledged as the greatest performer on Trampoline. In the Olympics, in which he competes in the Individual discipline, he won silver in front of his own countrymen, in London (2012) went one better, and in Rio completed the full set of medals. At The World Games where Synchro is the favoured discipline, he stood on the top step of the podium in both Cali and Wroclaw. Rhythmic Gymnastics offers a chance to see two more owners of gold medals from The World Games go head to head, even more excitingly as you cannot tell them apart; not just in terms of outstanding skill but because they are identical twins. Dina and Arina Averina made a clean sweep of all the Individual apparatus titles in Wroclaw, however only one gold is available in Tokyo for the all-round champion. Their talent should ensure that it ends up in Russian hands, but it is anyone’s guess which sister will end up with the most precious souvenir from their Japanese adventure.
Archery is another sport where it is possible to win medals at both the Olympics and The World Games. Two athletes who have accomplished this feat are in Japan, attempting to upgrade their silvers earned in Rio. In 2016 Lisa Unruh from Germany unexpectedly advanced all the way to the final of the women’s individual target archery competition. A year later she held her nerve in the tense single-arrow shoot-out of the field archery (different targets similar to golf) final to provide Wroclaw’s most dramatic moment. America’s Brady Ellison can rightfully be regarded as an archery great, except that there is one conspicuous gap in his overloaded trophy cabinet. Four major finals at the two top multi-sports events, and yet no renditions of The Star Spangled Banner. He was part of the American team that reached the medal match in both London and Rio but did not prevail. It was a similar story in the individual field archery competitions in Cali and Wroclaw- so near, yet so far! The reigning World Champion has three chances to bag the coveted gold in Tokyo, in the mixed team and men’s team plus the individual men’s target archery. Surely it is finally the time for such a talented athlete.
In Rugby 7s, Fiji Men overcame the odds in Brazil to give the tiny Pacific nation their first-ever Olympic medal in any sport. This time round, it is guaranteed that a disadvantaged nation is going to take gold in both competitions. Arguably, no sport has suffered as much from the global pandemic as this speedy ball game. With borders closed, staging the World Sevens Tour was an impossibility; lack of revenue has led to squads being disbanded and Olympic dreams shattered. Due to the lack of competition, no side is well prepared, thus making predictions of the medal allocations a bit of a lottery. The side pre-COVID most likely to impress was New Zealand, whose flowing style led them to becoming World Champions in both the Men’s and Women’s competitions.
Brian Salmon for The World Games
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in The World Games.
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