Our writers choose the Olympians likely to make the headlines at the most anticipated sporting event of the year

Sean Ingle, Bryan Armen Graham and Kieran Pender

Dina Asher-Smith, Simone Biles and Eliza McCartney will expect to be among the medals in Tokyo. Photograph: EPA, Getty Images and PA
Dina Asher-Smith
Great Britain
Athletics, 100m, 200m, 4x100m
Seb Coe, who knows a thing or two about winning Olympic titles, believes Asher-Smith will be Team GB’s “poster girl” in Tokyo. Given her seamless upward trajectory and personality it would take a brave person to argue with his lordship. Last autumn the 24-year-old won three world championship medals, including the 200m title, making her the greatest British female sprinter in history. Next year she will have live chances of Olympic gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay – although Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shaunae Miller-Uibo and the USA 4x100m team will have a thing or two (or three) to say about that. Sean Ingle

Kelsey-Lee Barber
Athletics, Javelin
Barber’s seasonal best chart over the past decade shows almost linear improvement. The 28-year-old javelin thrower finished 20th at the 2015 world championships, 10th two years later and upset a talented field last September to clinch gold. Barber is no stranger to high-pressure competition, having won medals at consecutive Commonwealth Games and competed in Rio, but Tokyo will be her first outing as the athlete to beat. Following several retirements, Barber and the high-jumper Brandon Starc are Australia’s only established medal hopes in track and field. Kieran Pender

Sports predictions for 2020: From Team GB’s medal haul to England’s Euro hopes
Sean Ingle
Simone Biles
The 22-year-old American nonpareil, who affirmed her presumptive status as the greatest gymnast ever with four gold medals in seven days in Rio, has continued to rewrite the record books while somehow raising her level at the past two world championships. She will enter Tokyo as a runaway favourite to become the oldest woman in more than five decades to win the Olympic all-around title, the sport’s most coveted prize, and the first repeat champion since Vera Caslavska did it for the former Czechoslovakia in 1968. As ever, her only competition is herself. Bryan Armen Graham

Sky Brown
Great Britain
If Brown qualifies for Tokyo – and she is almost a shoo-in – she will be only 12 years and 15 days on the opening day of skateboarding, eclipsing the swimmer Margery Hinton to become the youngest British athlete to ever compete at an Olympics. Brown, who was born in Japan to an English father and Japanese mother, is improving at such a rate it is impossible to put limits on where she might finish – in September she was third in the São Paulo Park World Championships. SI

Sky Brown is set to become the youngest ever British Olympian.
Sky Brown is set to become the youngest ever British Olympian. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian
Christian Coleman
Athletics, 100m

The soft-spoken 23-year-old from Atlanta has, over the past three seasons, established himself as the warm favourite to succeed Usain Bolt as the Olympic 100m champion, most recently in September when he surged to the world title in a personal-best time of 9.76sec that made him the sixth-fastest man in history. His reputation took a hit when the US Anti-Doping Agency charged him with three whereabouts failures in a 12-month period – an offence that carries a potential two-year ban – but a defiant Coleman has kept on course for a Tokyo coronation after the case was dropped. BAG

Rohan Dennis
Road Cycling
A mercurial cyclist specialising in the race against the clock, Dennis, 29, raised eyebrows when he walked out on his WorldTour team Bahrain Merida midway through the Tour de France. While he has not ridden for them since, and is currently in a contractual dispute, that did not stop Dennis from defending his world time trial crown in September. Having recently signed with Ineos, who seem agreeable to Dennis focusing on the Olympics, the South Australian is a strong favourite for time trial gold. KP

Rohan Denni
Rohan Dennis should get backing from Team Ineos to focus on the Olympics. Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP
Caeleb Dressel
The 23-year-old from Florida has been cast as the heir to Michael Phelps as the face of swimming in the US and, potentially, the world. The freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly sprint specialist equalled Phelps’s world championships record with seven gold medals in Budapest two years ago, followed by six golds and two silvers at last year’s worlds in Gwangju. Dressel has played down suggestions he would add the 4x200m free relay to his Tokyo schedule – and make a run at Phelps’s epochal eight-gold haul from Beijing 2008 – but even so seven golds remain in his sights. BAG

Janja Garnbret
Sport climbing

Climbing will be one of the starry new attractions at Tokyo 2020 – and Garnbret is expected to shine brightest of all. The 20-year-old has been described as a “reincarnated spider monkey” because of her ability to scale walls and in 2019 she become the first athlete to win every bouldering World Cup event in a season. She won the world titles in bouldering and combined climbing in 2018 and 2019 and is also rapidly improving in her weakest discipline, speed climbing, making her heavy favourite for Olympic gold. SI

Janja Garnbret
Not for the faint-hearted: Janja Garnbret in action. Photograph: Marco Kost/Getty Images
Stephanie Gilmore
A seven-times world champion, the surfer from Tweed Heads will represent Australia alongside her compatriot Sally Fitzgibbons in the sport’s Olympic debut. The perennially consistent Gilmore, 31, won the 2018 World Surf League and finished fourth last year. If she can overcome the likes of Fitzgibbons and the Hawaiian Carissa Moore, the natural-footer will have a real shot at gold. It would be a fitting triumph, given Gilmore and her country’s consistent surfing success over the past decade. KP

Nyjah Huston
Skateboarding debuts as a medal event in Tokyo and the three-times world champion from Laguna Beach is widely regarded as the gold medal favourite in men’s street. The 25-year-old is a long-established star in the skate world, having amassed more than 3.7 million Instagram followers, a signature Nike shoe and more prize money than any other skateboarder in history since making his X Games debut aged 11. Huston will headline a US team that includes another gold medal favorite in Hawaii’s Heimana Reynolds, the reigning world champion in the park discipline. BAG

Laura Kenny
Great Britain

Kenny is already Britain’s most successful female Olympian with four gold medals across London 2012 and Rio 2016. British Cycling insiders say that three more could arrive in Tokyo in the team pursuit, omnium and, if selected, madison. Seven Olympic golds would take Kenny to the top of the Team GB medal pantheon, above her fellow track cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and her husband Jason, who both have six golds and a silver. However, with Jason also gunning for more glory in Tokyo it could yet be Kenny v Kenny for the title of the top Team GB athlete in history. SI

Laura Kenny
Laura Kenny on her way to glory in the omnium in Rio. Can she triumph again? Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Mariya Lasitskene
Russia/Neutral athlete
Athletics, high jump
The extraordinary high jumper was a piping hot favourite for gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics – only to be barred from competition when the IAAF, track and field’s governing body, banned all Russians from the Games. She will go to Tokyo desperate to right that wrong, even if she ends up wearing the vest of a neutral athlete given Russia’s recent four-year ban. Don’t bet against it either, given Lasitskene has won an unprecedented three high jump world championship titles in 2015, 2017 and 2019. SI

Eliza McCartney
New Zealand
Athletics, pole vault
McCartney, 23, rose to international prominence four years ago in Rio, claiming bronze as a teenager in her first major event. Having gone one better with a silver medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, the sky appeared to be the limit for the Auckland-born vaulter. A persistent achilles injury has hampered her last year, but having recently discovered the cause – a genetic disorder – there is hope she can overcome the problem and head to Tokyo fully fit and as one of New Zealand’s genuine gold medal contenders. KP

Pat McCormack
Great Britain
Britain have won eight boxing medals in the past two Olympics, with Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams all making the highest step of the podium before having decorated pro careers. Many expect McCormack, a classy light-welterweight who has won Commonwealth and European Games titles, to follow in their gold-laced footsteps. Last year he reached the final of the world championships, only to lose to the Russian Andrey Zamkovoy. But with question marks over Russia’s participation, he could go off as favourite in Tokyo. SI

Pat McCormack
Pat McCormack is well fancied for light-welterweight gold. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/TASS
Kylie Masse
The 23-year-old from Ontario has won every major 100m backstroke race she has entered since capturing a surprise bronze at the distance as a teenager in Rio, becoming the first Canadian swimmer to win back-to-back world titles in the same event. Masse, who has been tipped to become her country’s first Olympic backstroke champion since Mark Tewksbury in 1992, will headline a Canadian team including Penny Oleksiak, Maggie MacNeil, Taylor Ruck and Sydney Pickrem that will enter Tokyo with medal chances up and down the programme. BAG

Shaunae Miller-Uibo
Remember Michael Johnson winning 200m and 400m gold at Atlanta? Well, 24 years on, Miller-Uibo has a live chance of repeating Johnson’s extraordinary feat. Not only is she the reigning 400m Olympic champion, she was also the fastest over 200m in 2019 – beating Dina Asher-Smith easily when they met. However, the schedule might yet thwart her in Tokyo. As things stand she would have to run a 400m heat on the morning before trying to win gold in the 200m final in the evening. Yet don’t bet against it being Miller-Uibo time in 2020. SI

Shaunae Miller-Uibo
Shaunae Miller-Uibo could emulate the great Michael Johnson on the track. Photograph: Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters
Naomi Osaka
Osaka has had an up and down 2019 but she is still the reigning Australian Open champion and ranked No 3 in the world. And crucially, her decision in October to represent the country of her birth, Japan, rather than the US – a country where she has dual citizenship – means she will be one of the stories of the Games. “It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan,” she said recently. “I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional.” SI

Teddy Riner
Japan might have invented judo, but no one has dominated the sport more than Big Teddy Riner. The 6ft 8in and 20st Frenchman not only has two Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016 to his name, along with a bronze in Beijing as a teenager in 2008, but has won a record 10 world titles. The last time he was beaten? September 2010. If the Frenchman takes gold again he will join Tadahiro Nomura on three Olympic titles – and the ominous news for his rivals is that he intends he continue until Paris 2024. SI

Teddy Riner
Teddy Riner with his medal after defeating Brazil’s David Moura in the over 100 kg category final combat of the Judo Grand Slam Brasilia this year. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images
Duncan Scott
Great Britain
Of course Adam Peaty will be the fulcrum of Team GB in the pool, having blasted to 100m breaststroke gold – and followed it up with 4x100m medley silver – in Rio. But don’t forget Scott. Not only did he anchor Britain to 4x100m relay gold at last year’s world championships and win bronze in the 200m freestyle, he also made global headlines by refusing to shake hands with the controversial Chinese swimmer Sun Yang. If Yang survives his doping case, the rematch in Tokyo will be tasty. SI

Ariarne Titmus
Australian swimming has been in the doldrums, but the wonderkid Titmus is determined to propel them back up the medal table in Tokyo. The teenager spectacularly beat Katie Ledecky in the 400m freestyle at the world championships in 2019, in an event in which the American superstar had been undefeated since 2012. The rematch should be thrilling, and Titmus is also a strong contender in the 200m, 800m and relays. After winning three golds and a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Tasmanian will hope for an even more bountiful haul. KP