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What to Watch for at the Summer Olympics

June 16, 2021

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Despite calls for postponement over coronavirus concerns, the summer games will be going forward in Tokyo this July. Here's what we expect to see during these dramatically different Olympic Games in 2021.

What, When, and Where

Commencing on July 23 and concluding on August 8, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games will take place in Japan's capital city of Tokyo. They're still the "2020" Olympic Games because this is the event that was postponed due to COVID last summer. Forty-two different venues will host 339 events and 33 Olympic competitions. A few of those will be held outside of Tokyo due to COVID, such as the iconic marathon and some soccer games that will happen in the city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido.

COVID is a Games-Changing Factor

While Japan has had a comparatively low number of COVID cases throughout the pandemic, there was a rise starting in April of 2021, and a state of emergency was announced across most of the country in May. While a mass-vaccination program is underway, the outbreaks aren't expected to be fully under control by the time the games begin. With Japan's borders on lockdown, international fans will not be attending the events. Japan says it will allow domestic spectators, but we should expect audiences to be minimal, and perhaps in some cases nonexistent.

It'll Be Livestreamed

In years past NBC Olympic coverage would do tape-delay broadcasts, playing recorded events in primetime in the U.S. While we'll still see some of that, every event will stream in real-time, airing online and across a variety of NBC-owned TV stations and NBCUniversal cable channels. We should see over 7,000 hours of coverage over the 17 days.

When the Games Begin

The opening ceremony is set to kick off on Friday night Tokyo time, which in the United States will be 7 a.m. Eastern time and 4 a.m. Pacific. NBC will air it live with Bob Costas as the lead host for the telecasts. These early morning broadcasts will be the norm as most of the events are taking place at night in Tokyo, which is 13 hours ahead of U.S. East Coast time.

New Games and Old Favorites Return

Skateboarding as an Olympic sport? Yup, we'll see its debut at the Tokyo games. Same thing for karate, and sport climbing, with competitors scaling climbing walls in three disciplines: bouldering, lead climbing, and speed climbing. Plus, surfing. In the ocean! Top riders will compete at Shidashita Beach; the waves are moderate, so we expect more acrobatics than big-wave styles. The games will also see the addition of three-on-three basketball, as well as two-person team cycling. And after a 13-year hiatus, softball and baseball are both back in the Olympic Games.


What to Expect from Top Competitors


The U.S. women’s national team, which soared to fame at the World Cup, will be heading to Tokyo, with one last chance for star vets Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd to snag Olympic gold. The U.S. men's team didn't qualify. But we will see some international male stars such as Lionel Messi with Argentina and Brazil's Neymar.


Simone Biles is the big name from America who is heading to Tokyo. The now-24-year-old gymnast double-backflipped her way to international fame with four gold wins at the 2016 Olympics. She'll have a shot at taking home six more medals at this round of games.


Expect to see some news about America's star swimmers: Caeleb Dressel is competing in butterfly and freestyle; Katie Ledecky is doing long distance; Lilly King is in the breaststroke competition; Simone Manuel is a favorite in freestyle sprints. Australia looks to be the biggest threat to Americans bringing home the gold.

Track and Field

Alas, superstar Usain Bolt is retired. But Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is one to watch, as is Swedish pole-vaulter Armand Duplantis. Americans to keep an eye out for include Dalilah Muhammad, competing in the 400 hurdles, Christain Taylor taking on the triple jump, and Noah Lyles sprinting for an Olympic win.


Six boxers from Team USA are going to Tokyo. On the female side, we've got Ginny Fuchs, Oshae Jone, Rashida Ellis, and Naomi Graham. Fuchs is a favorite in the flyweight division, taking first place at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Welterweight Delante Johnson and super-heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr. are the only male boxers going to Tokyo to represent the U.S.


We're going to see riders compete in four disciplines. Mountain biking heads out across a rugged cross-country course. BMX riders will take on bumpy courses and perform freestyle tricks. The track discipline takes place on the traditional oval track, while in the road race discipline we'll see competitors from the last Tour de France.

While they did see a one-year delay, it seems that summer Olympic Games are a tradition that won’t be stopped by a pandemic. We’ll see all of the hallmark triumph, heartbreak, and nail-biting heats as the world’s top athletes go for Olympic gold in Tokyo.

Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.

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