The Tokyo Olympic Games is fast approaching and the eyes of the world will be on the Games that will go down in history as the one that did not have a crowd. While the athletes will be gutted that they have to compete behind closed doors, the lack of eyes inside the venues could provide an advantage in terms of lack of background noise to allow peak performance.
Japan’s athletes will be particularly devastated as they would have dreamed of performing in front of a home crowd at the Olympics, especially those who have a strong chance of a homeland hero like there have been in many of the Games that have preceded. Here are some of the homeland heroes that have brought pride and joy to their respective nations when hosting the Olympics.
Atlanta 1996 – Michael Johnson
The sprinter came into the Games hosted in the United States as an already established Olympic gold medallist, having been a part of the Barcelona 1992 4x400m relay team – so he knew what was demanded of athletes who wish to win the gold.
In June 1996, at 28 years of age, Johnson ran the 200m in 19.66 seconds at the US Olympic trials, breaking Pietro Mennea’s record of 19.72 seconds which had stood for 17 years. At the Olympic finals, Johnson easily captured the 400m gold medal with an Olympic record time of 43.49 seconds, 0.92 seconds quicker than Great Britain’s Roger Black. He amazed again when he claimed the 200m title with a world record time of 19.32 seconds, now that is how you deal with the pressure of performing in front of your home crowd.
Sydney 2000 – Cathy Freeman
Freeman had the honour of lighting the torch for the Games, which showed how she was one of Australia’s main hopes for a gold medal and to be their homeland hero. She was the clear favourite for the 400m in her home Games in Sydney, where she was expected to face her rival Marie-Jose Perec, which never happened due to Perec leaving the Games after claiming harassment from strangers. Without her main rival to challenge her, Freeman won the Olympic title in a time of 49.11 seconds, becoming only the second Australian Aboriginal Olympic champion. After the race she took a victory lap where she carried both the Aboriginal and Australian flags.
London 2012 – Jessica Ennis- Hill
Part of Great Britain’s ‘Super Saturday’, Ennis-Hill won one of Team GB’s gold medals in the same day as she became Olympic champion in the Heptathlon – setting a record British and Commonwealth score of 6,955 points, 306 points clear of silver medallist Lilli Schwarzkopf. Ennis-Hill’s score on the first day was 4,158 points, which was her highest ever. She set two personal bests that day: 12.54 seconds in the 100m hurdles and 22.83 seconds in the 200m. Her time in the 10m hurdles was a new British record and also the fastest time ever recorded in a heptathlon while she also recorded another personal best of 47.49 metres in the javelin. Pressure makes diamonds.
Rio de Janeiro 2016 – Neymar
The famous Brazilian footballer was tasked with inspiring Brazil to the Olympic gold in Rio and the attacker did not shy away from the challenge. He was one of the three over-23 players selected for the tournament and manager Rogerio Micale named him as his captain. In Brazil’s quarter-final clash with Colombia, Neymar scored the first goal and assisted the second as they won 2-0. In the semi-final against Honduras, Neymar scored a brace where he scored the first and last goals in a 6-0 thrashing.
Neymar opened the scoring in the final against Germany at the Maracana with a sublime free-kick. As the game ended 1-1 after extra-time, Brazil won the subsequent penalty shoot-out 5-4, with Neymar scoring the winning penalty which sent the stadium into a state of euphoria. Overcome with emotion Neymar broke down in tears, you could see how much it meant to him.
Tokyo 2020 – Naomi Osaka?
The young tennis star is going to be one of Japan’s strongest gold medal hopes heading into this summer’s Games. As the highest-paid female athlete in the world, a lot will be expected of her. The four-time Grand Slam champion will head into the Olympics having withdrawn from the French Open due to the controversy of wanting to not take part in media interviews. She then missed Wimbledon which means she will be heading into the Games with a lack of competitive action, but she will be spurred on to bring some pride to her nation and she will personally want to add an Olympic gold medal to her already impressive CV.