The most memorable races of the Tokyo Olympics

With the flame extinguished over Japan National Stadium, the Summer Olympic Games have come to a close.

The past 16 sixteen days have seen triumphs, tragedies, and history being made. Tokyo certainly has been home to some of the most exciting and engaging racing in memory. 

For fans forced to watch at home, the epic comebacks and dominant victories will be etched in their memories for years to come.

Below are some of the races that have defined the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, from the pool to the velodrome and the track.

Ariarne Titmus’s chasedown

It’s rare that a predicted battle lives up to the hype. Coming into the Tokyo Games, attention was focused on the battle between the best young swimmer in the world, Ariarne Titmus, and the swimmer generally called the greatest, Katie Ledecky.

Ledecky, 24, with 15 world championship titles and five Olympic golds coming into the Games, is considered practically untouchable at distances 800m and above. Titmus, 20, has been more dominant at slightly shorter distances, from 200m up.

The 400m shaped as the perfect battleground in the middle.

Ledecky took the lead early as Titmus bided her time. With two laps to go, Titmus started to make her move, tempting the great to go with her.

The rest, including Titmus’s gold medal and her coach Dean Boxall’s famous celebration, is history.

Zac Stubblety-Cook’s moment in the sun

Coming into the Olympics, not many people at home were talking about Zac Stubblety-Cook. In a world where athletes like Kevin Durant have millions of fans on social media, Stubblety-Cook has just 58 Twitter followers.

Despite the lack of fans before the Olympics, most will remember his massive comeback to win gold.

Stubblety-Cook went through the first lap in sixth, getting off to a slow start. By the 100m mark, he’d moved into fourth, and with just 50m left he sat in third. It was the closing leg that made the swim special though. The young Queenslander swam the last lap 1.8 seconds quicker than second-placed Arno Kamminga, timing his burst to the wall perfectly.

At just 22, the Brisvegan walks away from Tokyo with two medals around his neck, including one in the most fascinating race of Tokyo 2020.

Chaos in the pool

It was one of the newest events in the pool, and one of the most tactical. Coming into the Olympics, few outside of dedicated swimming fans would have predicted the sheer chaos the 4×100 mixed medley relay could provide.

The event saw two male and two female swimmers line up for each country, but the stroke each athlete swam was up to the coaches.

The approaches in Tokyo varied significantly, which set up a race for the ages, as different swim speeds led to a wild ebb and flow of team positions.

The three male-fronted teams in the top lanes shot out of the blocks and then were hauled in, while the American bet on superstar freestyler Caleb Dressel to overhaul a big deficit against seven female freestylers did not pay dividends.

In the end, Dressel made up about five or six seconds on the field but needed nearly that much again. The British held on to gold as Anna Hopkin hit the water first and held off the chase from China’s Yang Junxuan and Australia’s Emma McKeon.

Cate Campbell’s gamble pays off

One of Australia’s two flag-bearers at the Olympics, Cate Campbell might have saved her best for last.

Going into the last leg of the 4x100m women’s medley relay, Australia was down by 0.25 seconds. Campbell gambled on the touch for the handover, risking disqualification, with a reaction time of just 0.04. In athletics, that would count as a false start. No other athlete would have a changeover within 0.10 of Campbell’s blistering changeover. Most importantly, it was 0.34 faster than the USA’s Abby Weitzeil.

The end margin? Just 0.13 seconds. Campbell’s fast jump was a big part of her fourth gold medal.

Filippo Ganna’s gold

For many cyclists, winning a Grand Tour stage is the goal of a lifetime. For others, grabbing an Olympic gold on the track is the pinnacle.

Filippo Ganna has managed to achieve both in 2021 — an incredibly rare double.

The individual team pursuit is a nearly unmatched exercise in team strength and precision, of teamwork and power. Italy got off to a quick start in the final, breaking out to a 10th of a second lead at the halfway mark.

Then the Danish machine kicked into gear, as it did in the qualifications.


That Italian lead was quickly erased, even with the newly tape-free legs of the Danes. Four laps of the track later, and with just four to go, Denmark led by nearly a second.

Then Ganna took the front spot and the lead was erased. Over four laps, Ganna took a massive turn, and it took until the final half a lap to hit the lead. It was a phenomenal performance from a rider at the peak of their powers.

Peter Bol’s Tokyo turn

One of the biggest local surprises of the Olympics was the rise and rise of Peter Bol.

The 800m sits between the long sprint of the 400m and the tactically driven 1500m. You can’t go flat chat the whole way, but sitting too far back conserving energy can cost you the race.

Bol got out to a fast start, and at the merge hit the lead. Bol later told the ABC this was his worst-case scenario. But the South Sudanese-Australian made the most of it and guided the field through the first lap.

Coming into the last 200m, Bol still was in the lead but Emmanuel Korir was closing. In the end, three runners came over the top, but Bol held on for fourth place. It was the best result by an Australian male on the track since 1984.

Regardless of the end place, Bol’s courageous performance was a true highlight of the Olympics.

Cedric Dubler delivers teammate the goods

Often considered the ultimate test of the track and field events, Australia has historically struggled at the Olympics in the decathlon. Enter Ash Moloney, a 21-year-old Queenslander from the Jimboomba Athletics Club.

After the first day (and five events), Moloney sat in second place behind Canadian powerhouse Damien Warner. But Moloney’s strengths line up with the first day better than the second, and it would be a battle to hold on for a medal. The second Australian in the field, Cedric Dubler, would end up playing a large role in the quest to hold on.

Coming into the last event, the equation was simple:


In practice, it was a lot harder than that.

Moloney got off to a slow start, his body beaten by the gruelling event. Dubler, Moloney’s training partner, tried to stick with him as much as he could. Dubler failed to register a mark in the pole vault, effectively ending his hopes of a decent finish.

Dubler sacrificed his race and dropped back to make sure Grant Scantling and Pierre LePage stayed in sight, and yelled at Moloney to kick towards the end. With a lap to go, Scantling was six seconds in front, and LePage nearly seven.

In the end, the strategy worked perfectly, with Moloney coming home like the wind. The Queenslander finished with a personal best. More importantly, Scantling finished just six seconds ahead and LePage eight.

Dubler, out of the running, strolled home in last. It didn’t matter because his teammate had a medal around his neck and Australia its first medal ever in the decathlon.

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