Tokyo 2020: Time for Team GB fans to stop living in the past? Britain’s Olympic squad is going through a transition
These past few weeks, it has become clearer than ever that Team GB is reaching the end of an era, after double Olympic triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee failed to qualify for Tokyo. Mo Farah has been given one last chance, while Andy Murray’s only just begun to prove his fitness. But previous stars like Laura Kenny and Jade Jones look well set to add to their previous successes.
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London 2012 was special - Rio 2016 was overall more successful. In the past few summer Olympic Games, Team GB has emerged as a real force on the biggest stage.
The consistency over the last decade has been seriously impressive - 65 medals nine years ago helped Great Britain to a third place finish in the medal table and four years later, 67 medals contributed to a runners-up spot.
Much of that success has hinged on the same athletes and this year has shown that Team GB is going through a transitional phase. We may finally have reached the point where fans need to stop living off past glories and find new heroes.
All of these athletes are true British Olympians who have set the standard for those to follow. But let us start with the areas which haven't, or may not be going completely to plan, because there is also plenty to be excited about. Alistair Brownlee’s failure to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and to go for a third Olympic triathlon medal felt like a significant moment - the end of an era. There were similar emotions a week before, when Mo Farah failed to run the qualifying time to compete in the 10,000m.
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Ultimately, Brownlee’s body has let him down. Since Rio, he has focused on longer distances, and with great success too. Twice he has finished with a silver medal at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. But he tried to juggle that with a qualification attempt at the Olympic distance and ended up with an ankle injury, which now needs surgery. Maybe his disqualification at the Leeds World Series event was a blessing in disguise - his body was being pushed to the limit.
With Jonny also moving up in distance after Tokyo, the Brownlee dynasty is approaching its end. The brothers have inspired a new generation of triathletes in the UK and they have transformed the sport here.
As we probably expected, Farah has been given another chance. A special, extra 10,000m at the British Athletics Championships in a fortnight has been put on for the four-time Olympic champion in a bid to keep his Japan dream alive. But this is it for him. After a spectacular career, the way it ends comes down to one race over a little under half an hour on a Friday evening in Manchester.
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Elsewhere, Andy Murray is only just starting to prove his fitness and given the past few years, has been understandably downbeat about his long-term future in tennis. His win over Benoit Paire at the Queen’s Club Championships showed there are reasons to be optimistic, but even the most positive British tennis fan would consider a third Olympic singles gold a miracle. Doubles success? That might be more achievable.
Equestrian star Charlotte Dujardin has had to be patient to find some form with her new horse Mount St John Freestyle, after Valegro was retired after Rio. Only in December did the triple Olympic champion score over 90% with her new horse.
In diving, double Olympic medallist Jack Laugher missed out on a podium place at the European Championships recently in his favoured 3m springboard event - both in the individual and synchronised events.
And then there is the track cycling team, which has dominated the Olympics at recent Games. Both Chris Hoy and Ed Clancy have warned other countries have caught up with Britain, and while Laura Kenny continues to strike fear into opponents, her husband Jason is likely approaching his last Games and Clancy will lead an inexperienced team pursuit.
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That all sounds a little downbeat - but they are only warnings that we need to look forward. Of the seasoned pros, Judo’s Jade Jones has shown no sign of slowing down and looks well set to become the first in her sport to win three Olympic golds.
Gymnastics’ double gold medallist Max Whitlock feels so confident in himself that he is even targeting Los Angeles 2028, Geraint Thomas looks a decent bet for cycling’s road race and Adam Peaty is frankly unstoppable in swimming’s sprint breaststroke events. The rowing team could again clean up, with Helen Glover going for a third gold.
Tokyo 2020 is surely Dina Asher-Smith’s Games. Since winning relay bronze in Rio, she has become one of the globe’s top sprinters, claiming World Championship gold in the 200m at Doha 2019. In that discipline, and the 100m, she is a huge contender for medals in Japan.
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Frazer Clarke is Britain’s next big heavyweight boxing hope and will look to sign off his amateur career with gold before he begins his campaign to dislodge his good friend Anthony Joshua as a professional world champion. Pat and Luke McCormack also have a great chance of topping the podium.
And if we are looking well into the future, look no further than skateboarder Sky Brown, who will turn 13 just before the Games. A sensational prospect with a fearless attitude, she will be the only British athlete who will receive partisan support as her mother is half-Japanese.
So while there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, it is probably time to at least start the process of letting go of the past. Tokyo could be a swansong for many heroes from London and Rio - we need to manage our expectations and look to the future. Few had heard of the likes of Kenny (then Trott) and Dujardin before London 2012 - we are likely to unearth some more new household names in Japan.