Vacancies: New champions to be crowned at Tokyo 2020 as legends move on

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was altered with digital filters.) Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates winning the Men's 200m Final on Day 13 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was altered with digital filters.) Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates winning the Men's 200m Final on Day 13 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

They excited, entertained and brought stadiums alive at the height of their Olympic careers before the curtain was drawn on their illustrious careers in Rio 2016. Their absence in Tokyo 2020, whether through retirement, injury or missed Olympic qualification, has left their titles vacant. We take a look at five Olympic icons that have bowed out after Rio 2016 and the athletes ready to take up the mantle.  

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11:  Michael Phelps of the United States competes in the first Semifinal of the Men's 100m Butterfly on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11: Michael Phelps of the United States competes in the first Semifinal of the Men's 100m Butterfly on Day 6 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Michael Phelps

The U.S. swimming legend returned to Rio 2016 to reclaim the men’s 200m butterfly title he conceded to South Africa’s Chad le Clos four years earlier at the Olympic Games in London.

Raising his total medal tally to 28, Phelps retired after his fifth appearance at the Olympic Games, leaving a new crop of swimmers to battle it out for his prized titles.

Hungary’s Kristóf Milák has since emerged as the next 200m butterfly superstar thanks to his record-breaking rise over the last three years. The 21-year-old won his maiden world title in style in Gwangju in 2019, smashing into the wall in a world-record time of 1:50.73, chopping 0.78s off the time Phelps set a decade earlier.

Milák has been peerless over the last two years and is the only swimmer who has swum faster than 1:52 this year, boasting a season’s best of 1:51.10. It would take a special effort to stop Milák from reaching the top step on the podium at Tokyo 2020 (in 2021).

Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
2016 Getty Images

Usain Bolt

Bolt has left an indelible mark on the global showpiece, bowing out as the greatest sprinter ever to grace the track at the Games. He brought the curtain down in Rio 2016 with eight gold medals behind his name over three Olympics. The Jamaican superstar cemented his place in the annals of the Olympics, claiming an unprecedented “triple-double”, winning both the 100m and 200m at three consecutive Games – Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

While Bolt dominated both the 100m and the 200m, Olympic title prospects in Tokyo 2020 are split between the two events.

As the reigning 200m world champion, U.S. sprint sensation Noah Lyles is the top candidate looking to prevail over the half-lap sprint event at these Games. The 24-year-old further strengthened his case when he unleashed the fourth fastest 200m in history, clocking 19.50 seconds in Lausanne in 2019.

The blue-riband 100m event is even less clear cut with another U.S. speedster, Trayvon Bromell, launching himself into the top of the list with the world-leading 9.77 he ran earlier this year. Bromell is now the seventh-fastest man of all time, courtesy of his new personal best and will be looking to stake a claim to the title that has evaded U.S. sprinters since 2004.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09:  David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya celebrates after winning gold and setting a new world record of 1.40.91 in the Men's 800m Final on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 09: David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya celebrates after winning gold and setting a new world record of 1.40.91 in the Men's 800m Final on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 9, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
2012 Getty Images

David Rudisha

Rudisha’s world-record run in London 2012 was one of the defining moments of the showpiece as the packed Olympic Stadium roared in unison as he crossed the line. In his spine-tingling solo performance, the Kenyan star dismantled his own world record with a time of one minute, 40.91 seconds (1:40.91) for his maiden Olympic title. Rudisha successfully defended his title four years later in Rio 2016.

Plagued by injuries, Rudisha will not be in Tokyo 2020, and instead, the focus turns to the man that finished second behind him in London 2012: Botswana’s Nijel Amos.

With flailing arms, the 18-year-old Amos crossed the line in a junior world record time to win his country’s first Olympic medal in 2012. Amos missed the final completely at Rio 2016.

He seems to have regained his lost form going into Tokyo 2020 with a world-leading time of 1:42.91.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18:  Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain celebrates as he crosses the finish line during the Men's Triathlon at Fort Copacabana on Day 13 of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18: Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain celebrates as he crosses the finish line during the Men's Triathlon at Fort Copacabana on Day 13 of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Alistair Brownlee

Winning back-to-back Olympic titles in London 2012 and Rio 2016, Brownlee is the most successful triathlete at the Games since the sport was included in the programme for the first time in Sydney 2000. 

The Briton ruled the podium, with his younger brother Jonny winning bronze and silver behind him in the last two editions. Brownlee missed out on qualification for Tokyo 2020, and with that a fourth appearance at the Games and a chance at a third gold medal. 

Jonny is among the favourites and will be looking to keep the Olympic title in the family and complete his set of medals. 

He will, however, go up against a strong and open field that includes prospective challengers such as Vincent Luis (France), Henri Schoeman (South Africa) and Kristian Blummenfelt (Norway).

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Track and Field athlete, Christian Taylor of the United States poses for a photo with his gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: (BROADCAST - OUT) Track and Field athlete, Christian Taylor of the United States poses for a photo with his gold medal on the Today show set on Copacabana Beach on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Christian Taylor

The U.S. triple jump ace enjoyed an imperious reign over the last decade, leaping to victory at London 2012 and Rio 2016. His incredible run includes four world championship titles starting with his first victory in Daegu 2011.

Taylor’s quest for a third straight Olympic title came to a crashing halt when he ruptured his Achilles at a meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic earlier in 2021.

Compatriot Will Claye, who had to be content with the silver medals in London 2012 and Rio 2016, will fancy his chances of finally upgrading to gold in Taylor’s absence.