Paris Olympics: Here are the players to watch out for

After a two-year hiatus US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles vaults into Paris

By AFP
January 22, 2024
No track athlete had a more remarkable 2023 than Kipyegon, who set world records at three distances and took two golds at the world championships. - AFP

When the Paris Olympics open in six months' time on July 26, these five stars will be expected to light up the venues, delighting spectators and a TV audience of billions:

SIMONE BILES (USA, gymnastics)

After a two-year hiatus US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles vaults into Paris as potentially the biggest headline act of the 2024 Games.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist was meant to be the poster star of the last Summer Olympics in Tokyo, only to dramatically pull out of most of her events suffering from a debilitating temporary spatial awareness condition known as ´the twisties´.

The pint-sized bundle of brilliance -- who has five moves named after her -- made an explosive return to the international stage at the world gymnastics championships last October, scooping four golds.

The 26-year-old´s multi-million strong army of social media followers, and sports fans everywhere, will hope to see her trademark smile shine down from the top step of the podium for the first time at an Olympics since Rio 2016.

FAITH KIPYEGON (Kenya, athletics)

No track athlete had a more remarkable 2023 than Kipyegon, who set world records at three distances and took two golds at the world championships.

Having won one gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and five years later in Tokyo, the Kenyan, voted Woman Athlete of the Year in 2023, could bag several titles in Paris.

Her country, whose status as an athletics superpower has been tarnished by a string of doping scandals, badly needs her to succeed.

TEDDY RINER (France, judo)

If the hosts are to meet President Macron´s target of making the top five in the medals table, they need their stars to shine and no one is more brilliant in his field than judoka Teddy Riner.

Riner, who will be 35 when the Games start, has won gold in each of the last three Olympics, twice in the heavyweight 100+ category and once in Tokyo in the mixed team. He also has two bronze medals.

He appears to be in good shape as he prepares for Paris. He won his 11th world championship title last May before taking a long break.

When he returned in December at a meeting in Belgrade, he won all three of his bouts, signalling that, in spite his age, the native of Guadeloupe is in the mood for a fourth successive gold medal.

"It´s not just about showing off," he said after he was selected for Paris. "It´s about performing and bringing home the most beautiful of medals."

NOAH LYLES (USA, athletics)

The engaging American can put behind him the disappointment of the 2020 Tokyo Games and prove once and for all he is the heir to Usain Bolt by landing the sprint double in Paris.

The 26-year-old, who could only manage 200m bronze in Tokyo three years ago, is keen to go one better than Bolt as he bids for a remarkable four golds -- the 100m, 200m plus the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

Lyles has already shown he is capable of three titles having been the star of last year´s world championships, taking the sprint double and the 4x100m relay.

ORLA KHARLAN (Ukraine, fencing)

Should Kharlan finally secure the individual sabre gold that has eluded her in her stellar career it could bring down the roof on the Grand Palais in response to the suffering her family and compatriots have experienced since the Russian invasion of her country in February 2022.

The 33-year-old, who already has two individual Olympic bronzes and a team gold and team silver, has been guaranteed a place in Paris thanks to an intervention by IOC President Thomas Bach when she was disqualified at the world championships for refusing to shake hands with her Russian opponent.

Kharlan is one of a growing number of Ukrainian athletes who would prefer not to boycott of the Games -- they would rather beat their Russian opponents.

Kharlan said the war has put her Olympic ambitions in perspective.

"It is not my dream, that would be the war ending, but it is my goal to be in Paris, and my family to be there watching," she told AFP last July.

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