Talking Tokyo: the YOG stars to watch
As the Japanese capital marks 500 days to go until the start of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on 12 March, we focus on eight former Youth Olympic Games (YOG) athletes who will be hoping to make a major impact in their respective sports.
Expectation among Japanese sports fans will be sky-high should the 16-year-old artistic gymnast from Osaka qualify for Tokyo 2020. Kitazono won five gold medals at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018 in the all-round, floor, rings, parallel bars and horizontal bar. In the process, he became the first gymnast in YOG history to claim a quintet of titles, the first Japanese athlete to win five individual gold medals in any sport at any Olympic Games, and the first athlete to secure five gymnastics golds since Vitaly Scherbo achieved the feat for the Unified Team (the former Soviet Union) at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992.
Eduarda Santos Lisboa
More commonly known as ‘Duda’, the 21-year-old is one of beach volleyball’s new stars and has risen to second in the most recent FIVB women’s world rankings with team-mate Ágatha Bednarczuk, 14 years her senior and a silver medallist at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Duda won gold at the YOG Nanjing 2014 and, between 2013 and 2017, amassed an impressive three Under-19 and two Under-21 World Championship titles. In August 2018, the pair secured the biggest victory of Duda’s senior career, winning the World Tour Finals in Hamburg (Germany).
The American athlete has emerged as a potential heir to Usain Bolt’s Olympic sprint throne. It was five years ago that Lyles won 200m gold at the YOG Nanjing 2014, and he’s been getting quicker every season since. He was crowned IAAF World Under-20 100m champion in 2016, while the summer of 2018 saw him set new personal bests in winning the 100m (9.88s) at the USA Championships in Des Moines and 19.65s for the 200m in the Diamond League in Monaco.
The Japanese athlete was a gold medallist in the 52kg freestyle wrestling event at the YOG Nanjing 2014, and has subsequently matured into one of her sport’s standout competitors. Her major breakthrough in the senior ranks came with victory in the 55kg division at the 2016 World Championships in Budapest (Hungary), and she regained the title two years later at the Budapest Sports Arena.
The winner of an incredible six gold medals and one silver medal in the pool at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, the Russian backstroke specialist is a real prospect for Tokyo 2020. In the build-up to Buenos Aires, the teenager won six medals at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow (Scotland) in August, setting a new world-record time of 24 seconds dead in victory in the 50m backstroke. He also holds the 100m short course world record, set at the Vladimir Salnikov Cup on home soil in 2017.
A veteran of the inaugural YOG Singapore 2010, where she claimed gold, the 26-year-old Russian high jumper already has two World Championship titles on her CV but is yet to compete at the Olympic Games. Lasitskene’s recent form has been impressive, winning the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham (Great Britain), the 2018 European Championship title in Berlin (Germany) and the 2018 IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava (Czech Republic).
Currently second in the Badminton World Federation men’s singles rankings behind the reigning world champion – Japan’s Kento Momota – the 23-year-old Chinese athlete has shown consistent improvement in the five years since he claimed the singles title at the YOG Nanjing 2014. Yuqi won his maiden Super Series title at the French Open in October 2016 and secured the biggest victory of his career to date when he triumphed in the final of the prestigious All England Open in March last year. He reached his first World Championship final in Nanjing in August 2018 but lost in straight sets to Momota.
The outstanding performer in the women’s and mixed team diving events at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, Chinese teenager Shan could be a genuine medal contender at Tokyo 2020. The 17-year-old began the YOG by winning the women’s 10m platform before victory in the 3m springboard competition. The final day of diving in the natatorium in Buenos Aires saw Shan claim a third gold medal in the mixed team event in partnership with Colombia’s Restrepo Garcia.