Tokyo's Olympic Stadium (© Dan Vernon)
Four years, 11 months and nine days after the action in Rio came to a close, Olympic Games athletics will make its highly anticipated return at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium on Friday (30).
There is one final – the men’s 10,000m – taking place on the first day of the athletics programme, while a series of heats and qualification rounds will set the scene for all that is to come.
Here are five things to follow on day one.
A new champion
Men’s 10,000m final
8:30pm Tokyo time | 1:30pm CEST
With two-time winner Mo Farah missing from the field, a new Olympic men’s 10,000m champion will be crowned in Tokyo for the first time since 2012.
Two Ugandan stars – world record-holder Joshua Cheptegei and world-leader Jacob Kiplimo – shape up as the men to beat in an event in which some of the sport’s all-time greats have won consecutive golds dating back to 1996.
The last time the Olympics were held in Tokyo, the men’s 10,000m produced one of the greatest athletics upsets in Games history. Unheralded US runner Billy Mills, a Native American, sprinted past the leaders in the final straight of an epic race to claim gold at the 1964 Games – the first, and still only, US athlete to win the event.
Fans can look forward to what should be a thrilling competition in Tokyo, even without the reigning champion on the start line.
Warholm takes to the track
Men’s 400m hurdles heats
11:25am Tokyo time | 4:25am CEST
After two world title wins, this time Karsten Warholm will stand on a global start line and be introduced as the world record-holder.
In 2016, the Norwegian was just settling into his first full year as a 400m hurdles specialist. Rai Benjamin, at 18 and two years Warholm's junior, had just wrapped up his first year of NCAA competition. In Tokyo they'll co-star in one of the Games' most eagerly awaited showdowns as two of the three fastest 400m hurdlers of all-time.
Warholm – who ran 46.70 to break Kevin Young's long standing world record in Oslo – goes in heat three at 11:41am local time. Benjamin – who clocked 46.83 less than a week earlier at the US Olympic Trials – races in heat five at 11:57am.
Relay exciting debut
Mixed 4x400m heats
8:00pm Tokyo time | 1:00pm CEST
There is one event on this athletics programme that has no previous Olympic medallists, no Olympic records and, in fact, no Olympic history at all.
The mixed 4x400m relay makes its debut in Tokyo, a discipline featuring teams of two men and two women competing against each other in any order they choose.
Fans will get an early taste of the new event on the first day of action, with the final set for the next evening.
Sprint stars align
Women’s 100m heats
12:15pm Tokyo time | 5:15am CEST
The women’s 100m is an event on fire right now, with eight women having gone sub-10.90 in 2021 and three athletes on the Tokyo entry list – Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson – all having run under 10.80.
Multiple global gold medallist Fraser-Pryce’s 10.63 to become the second-fastest 100m sprinter of all time leads the list, while defending Olympic 100m and 200m champion Thompson-Herah is just 0.01 off her 10.70 PB from 2016 so far this season. Meanwhile, Olympic and world 400m medallist Jackson, who is concentrating on the shorter sprints this year, has run a PB of 10.77.
The 100m entries joining them in having dipped under 10.90 in 2021 are multiple world medallists Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast and Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, while Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith has clocked 10.91.
Men’s high jump, men’s discus, women’s triple jump, women’s shot put
The qualification rounds for the men’s high jump (9:15am Tokyo time/2:15am CEST), men’s discus (9:45am & 11:20am Tokyo time/2:45am & 4:20am CEST), women’s triple jump (7:05pm Tokyo time/12:05pm CEST) and women’s shot put (7:25pm Tokyo time/12:25pm CEST) all take place on the first day.
Stars in action include Qatar’s two-time world champion Mutaz Barshim in the high jump, Sweden’s world champion Daniel Stahl in the discus, Venezuela’s two-time world champion Yulimar Rojas in the triple jump and New Zealand’s shot put star Valerie Adams.