The Euros and Wimbledon may be over – but sports fans still have plenty to look forward to as the Tokyo Olympics get underway. Nearly 400 elite athletes are heading to Japan as part of Team GB, with around 250 Paralympians jetting out a month later.
Covid restrictions mean there will be no supporters in the stands, but with the prospect of gold medal success at an all-time high, we will be cheering them on from home. HELLO! talks to some of our brightest prospects about how they have coped with an extra year of training, what they’re most looking forward to and the qualities that make them champions.
Max Whitlock – Gymnastics
Max is a five-time Olympic medalist
Five-time Olympic medallist Max, 28, won two gold medals in Rio and three bronze at London 2012. An ambassador for Trade Nation, Max and his wife Leah have a two-year-old daughter, Willow.
"I am feeling a bit more nervous than normal about these Games. I’ve been lucky to have been able to train in the gym throughout most of the past year, as I had the elite sport exemption. Preparation hasn’t been perfect – but in the grand scheme of things, there has been a lot more serious stuff going on than getting into the gym for training."
Helen Glover – Rowing
Helen, 35, retired from competitive rowing after Rio 2016 but announced her bid to return for Tokyo with Polly Swann, with whom she won gold in the women’s pairs at the European Championships in April. She and her husband, Steve Backshall, have son Logan, three, and twins Bo and Kit, one.
"It feels very surreal to be heading to Tokyo. I’ve thought a lot about the moment I board the plane and it’s been a big motivation for me throughout training. A year ago, I couldn’t have dreamt I’d be going to Japan to compete in my third Olympics."
Zoe Smith – Weightlifting
Zoe will be competing in her second Olympics
Greenwich-born Zoe, 27, went to school just over the river from where London 2012 was held. The former gymnast broke the British clean and jerk record in the women’s 58kg at her home Games but injury forced her to miss Rio 2016. She will compete in the women’s 59kg in Tokyo.
"This will be my second Olympics and I’m so excited. I can’t wait to experience the whole atmosphere in the world’s biggest competition. For weightlifting, there is no bigger competition and so just to be there is a real achievement in itself. The thought of it is what’s been keeping me going over all the lockdowns."
Jade Jones – Taekwondo
Welsh-born Jade, 28, won gold in taekwondo at London 2012 and Rio 2016. If she wins in Tokyo she will make history as the first-ever triple Olympic taekwondo champion. She’ll be travelling to Tokyo and competing alongside her teammate – and housemate – Bianca Walkden.
"I’m just super excited to have the chance to win again and I feel so lucky that I even have a chance to go for my third and create more history. Can I do it? Yes, definitely. I know it’s going to be tough and every single person that I fight wants to win it, too, and they will be gunning for me, but I know that if I give it everything I have got and perform to my best then I can definitely get a gold."
Vanessa Wallace – Para Shot Put
Vanessa, 44, from London, began wheelchair racing in 2012, switching to shot put in December 2014. She placed fifth in the F34 category at Rio 2016 and won gold at the 2018 European Championships and the 2019 World Championships.
"Postponement of the Games last year was a bit of a shocker initially, and it did take a little bit of thinking and changing of the narrative on: ‘Can I do another year? Have I got it in me?’ But then I realised I could… I was very lucky as my coach was quite creative so we were able to go and train outside and do our best to keep things as normal as possible."
Ben Williams – Triple Jump
Ben missed the last two ceremonies due to a knee injury
Staffordshire-based Ben, 29, won gold at the World Youth Championships in 2009 but a knee injury has forced him to miss the last two Olympics.
"I cannot wait to get back out there and compete again. Performing brings out the best athlete in me. When the atmosphere is good and there’s a buzz, I just love it."
Hannah Cockroft – Para Athletics
Yorkshire-born wheelchair racer Hannah, 28, specialises in sprint distances and is the current world record holder for the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m in her classification. She won two gold medals at London 2012 and three more at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
"I can feel the excitement building. I am excited but more than anything, I’m a bit apprehensive; this is the longest in my whole career that I haven’t seen my rivals so I have no idea what to expect about what shape they are in."
Freya Anderson – Swimming
Relay swimmer Freya, 20, who is based in Bath, has won gold and bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships.
"Last year we had ten weeks out of the water when we couldn’t train as the pools were closed so that was tough but since then it’s been really good. Now I’m looking forward to experiencing the Olympics for the first time."
Adam Peaty – Swimming
Adam took home a gold medal back in 2016
Adam, 26, won gold in the 100m breaststroke at Rio 2016 – the first British male swimmer in 24 years to do so. He is also an eight-time world champion and 16-time European champion. He and girlfriend Eiri Munro welcomed a son, George-Anderson, last September.
"It has been a very tough time for the whole world and I think the Olympics will bring a lot of athletes and people together. I am just looking forward to putting on a good show – that’s what sport is at the end of the day, an entertainment."
Naomi Ogbeta – Triple Jump
Manchester-born Naomi, 23, is a seven-time British triple jump champion. She won bronze at the European U20 Championships in 2017 and Tokyo will be her first Olympics.
"I am looking forward to the reaction from my friends, my family and my school when I compete. My school took me to the Olympic stadium in year nine, so I’m really excited to see what they all think of me taking part. I would love to make the final but I won’t put too much pressure on it, I am just excited to be there."
Holly Bradshaw – Pole Vault
Lancastrian Holly, 29, is the British record holder for the indoor pole vault. A 4.90m clearance at the British Championships last month saw her break her own national record and placed her third in the world. After strong finishes at the London and Rio Games, Holly, who is studying a sports psychology masters at Loughborough University, is hoping it’s third time lucky in Tokyo…
"I caught Covid-19 after the Europeans so I didn’t know how I would react when I was coming back to training – if you are an athlete it can have a varied response. But it’s gone really well and my body feels good."
Kate French – Modern Pentathlon
Kate is hoping for great things at this year's event
Kate, 30, from Kent, won gold at the 2013 World Championships and silver at both 2018 and 2019 European Championships. She is hoping for great things in Tokyo after finishing as the highest-placed British competitor in her event at Rio 2016.
"I loved everything about Rio: the atmosphere and the whole Team GB vibe as it was really friendly but competitive, so I can’t wait to experience that again."
Niamh Emerson – Heptathlon
At just 21, Derbyshire’s Niamh is heading to her first Olympics, mentored by three-time world champion Jessica Ennis-Hill. She was still a teenager when she won a Commonwealth Games bronze and a European Indoor Championships silver. She is studying psychology at Loughborough University.
"I’m really excited – I’ve never been to an Olympics before. I train with some athletes who are really experienced and they tell me it will be very different from other Games because of Covid-19 restrictions but I still can’t wait."
Anna Hopkin – Swimming
Anna, 25, from Lancashire, is a relay swimmer who has been dubbed the “pocket rocket”. She claimed her debut national title in 50m freestyle at the 2017 British Championships and formed part of England’s bronze-winning 4x100m freestyle relay quartet at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Tokyo will be her first Olympics.
"It’s been a longer wait than we thought but the main thing for most of us is the fact the Games will be going ahead. It’s really been something to look forward to."
Richard Whitehead – Para Athletics
Richard has won gold in both London and Rio
Nottingham-born Richard, 44, holds the world record in the full and half marathon for athletes with a double amputation. The Paralympic track star – who during lockdown launched the popular Track and Ball podcast with England footballer Ellen White “to inspire and liberate the nation” – won gold in both London and Rio.
"This will be my third time at the Olympics but I think Tokyo is going to be a completely different environment. I think it will be a Games of the human spirit and instead of just looking at the medals, it’s important that we can have something to be happy about."
Max Litchfield – Swimming
Freestyle and medley swimmer Max, 26, won silver at the 2016 World Championships and is seeking to upgrade his 400m medley fourth from Rio. His brother Joe is also an Olympic hopeful in the pool and the Pontefract pair have been compared to triathlon’s triumphant Brownlee brothers, also from Yorkshire.
"This will be my second Olympics and my brother Joe’s first – our first together. It will be awesome for us to both be there, it’s going to be an amazing dynamic."
Hollie Arnold – Para Javelin
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! fans will recognise Lincolnshire-born Hollie from last year’s series – she was the first Paralympian to appear on the show. The 26-year-old is a four-time javelin world champion and will be defending the gold medal she won at the Rio Paralympics in the F46 event.
"I'm just so happy the Games are going ahead. I know it’s going to be strange and different but it needs to take place for both the athletes and the people who love and support them. We need something to cheer everyone up and get some excitement and positivity back into the world."
Joe Litchfield – Swimming
This will be the first Olympics for Joe, 22. He earned silver in the men’s 200m individual medley final at the British Swimming selection trials in London, and gold in the men’s 100m backstroke at a subsequent Glasgow meet, all earning him a place on the Tokyo team to compete alongside big brother Max. He is studying for a sports science degree at Loughborough University.
"Since I qualified, the pressure has gone down as I was just focusing on making the team. I want to do well so I can go to Tokyo and enjoy the racing and hopefully score a personal best, make a final or even get a medal."
Amy Truesdale – Para Taekwondo
Amy's dream is to win a gold medal this year
Chester-born Amy, 32, burst onto the international scene fighting – winning gold at the 2014 and 2017 Para Taekwondo World Championships. Her sport makes its Paralympic debut in Tokyo and Amy’s dream is to win gold this year and repeat that feat in Paris in 2024.
"This will be my first Paralympics and everyone in my team wants to leave a legacy. If I can get a gold medal, then I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted."
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