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15th Jul 2021

All the big names missing from the Tokyo Olympics – and why

Danny Jones

The Tokyo games get underway next week but some of the world’s top athletes, including Sir Mo Farah and Usain Bolt won’t be in the starting blocks

After a year-long delay, the starter’s pistol is set to fire at the Tokyo Olympics on July 23 under strict Covid restrictions. But the pandemic isn’t the only reason some of the world’s most recognisable athletes won’t be attending. Here are the stars sadly missing from this year’s event and the reasons why.


Serena Williams (USA – Tennis)

Serena Williams pulled out of Tokyo ahead of Wimbledon, in which she struggled with injury

Williams is the joint-most successful Olympic gold medal-winning (four) tennis player alongside her sister, Serena, but the 39-year-old opted out of the Games in favour of Wimbledon. Unfortunately, that didn’t go too well either, as she pulled out with an injury during the first round. Her resilience and performances post-pregnancy have been remarkable – truly gutted for her.

Rafael Nadal (Spain – Tennis)

Rafael Nadal drops out of Tokyo 2020

The 20-time Grand Slam champion ducked out of both Wimbledon and the Olympics after his disappointing semi-final defeat at Roland-Garros. Nadal has won two gold medals (singles in 2008, doubles in 2016) but after a long list of injuries and this latest tournament, the 34-year-old says he must “listen to his body” in a bid to “prolong his career.” Another great goes missing.

Nick Kyrgios (Australia – Tennis)

Nick Kyrgios pulls out of Wimbledon injured

The controversial king of the court confirmed he was pulling out of Tokyo 2020 simply because there’d be no fans. Writing on social media, he said “The idea of ​​playing in front of empty stadiums just doesn’t suit me. It never has.” He added: “I don’t want to take the opportunity of a healthy Australian athlete who is ready to represent the country.” Fair play – we’ll miss that personality.

Johanna Konta (Great Britain – Tennis)

Johanna Konta pulls out the Olympics after testing positive for coronavirus

The hits just keep coming. The British hopeful has slipped down the rankings somewhat recently (currently sat as the 38th seed), but she still remains one of the nation’s best female talents. Konta was forced to pull out after testing positive for Covid-19 and, therefore, being unable to sufficiently train in time for the tournament’s start on July 23. So unlucky.

Dustin Johnson (USA – Golf)

Dustin Johnson withdrew due to a heavily congested season

The world no.1 seed decided to skip one of four USA spots reserved for the Olympics due to a long haul of cumulative play-time. Johnson said: “It’s right in the middle of a big stretch of golf for me. A lot of travelling at a time where it’s important for me to feel like I’m focused on playing the PGA Tour.” He isn’t the only one who’s had a busy season either…

Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr & Mohamed Salah (Brazil, France, Egypt – Football)

Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr and Mo Salah will all miss Tokyo 2020

Kylian Mbappe, Mo Salah and Neymar are just three of several footballers who were virtually forced to withdraw from their respective national squads. Aside from Euro 2020 and Copa America keeping several players busy after a hectic season, the likes of PSG and Liverpool refused to release the trio for the Games despite the three expressing interest in leading their national sides.


Dominic Thiem (Austria – Tennis)

Dominic Thiem injured his wrist during the Mallorca Championships

After a poor start to his 2021 season brought about injuries and lack of training, the world no.5 seed decided to skip both Wimbledon and the Tokyo Games with an aim to defend his US Open title later this year. The decision also coincided with a wrist injury earned during the Mallorca Championships. We’re sure he’ll be back to his 2020 form in no time.

Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland – Tennis)

Stan Wawrinka has struggled with post-surgery injuries throughout the season

Yet another tennis star ducks out as the 36-year-old Swiss gold medalist failed to recover from foot surgery in time – an operation that tanked his 2021 season too. Wawrinka won the 2008 doubles alongside Roger Federer but joined Romanian, Simona Halep, as he also misses out on the games this time around. We’d love to have seen that partnership one more time.

Roger Federer (Switzerland – Tennis)

Roger Federer could have missed his last chance to win an Olympic singles gold medal

Speaking of which. The Swiss legend and GOAT himself, Roger Federer also had to pull out due to a knee injury which he has not yet recovered from after two surgeries in 2020. The 39-year-old may be coming towards the twilight of his career but this one is particularly frustrating as this could have been his last chance to win an Olympic singles gold medal. Devastating.

Christian Taylor (USA – Triple-jump)

Christian Taylor injured himself during the Golden Spike Ostrava

Taylor, a two-time Olympic defending champion triple-jumper will sadly not be competing at the Olympics Games this year either, after the 31-year-old suffered a ruptured Achilles at the Ostrava Golden Spike back in May. The “heartbreaking” news was announced by Austrian hurdler and friend, Beate Schrott on Instagram.

David Rudisha (Kenya – 800m)

David Rudisha has competed since 2017 after multiple injuries

The 800m world record holder and reigning champion will not be able to defend his title at this year’s Olympics after multiple injuries, a serious car accident and personal issues that have deterred him from returning to the track just yet. The Kenyan star won gold in both 2012 and 2016 but hasn’t competed since 2017. Unfortunately, it is doubtful we will see him next tournament.

Hima Das (India – Athletics)

Hima Das suffered an

A crushing blow for India as one of the most exciting talents in the country’s athletics scene sustained a hamstring injury while running 100m heats during the National Inter-State Athletics Championships back in June. Not only does Das still have time on her side, just 21, but she holds the Indian national record for 400 meters, clocking in at 50.79 seconds. She’ll be back.

Derek Drourin (Canada – High jump)

Derek Drourin had recurring injuries, including a fatal spine condition

The 2016 Rio Olympics high-jump champion is yet another who will not be fit enough to defend his title in Tokyo later this month either. Drourin revealed in June that he is yet to recover from constant injuries, including spinal conditions, and that Canada’s Covid isolation rules meant that he simply couldn’t get back up to scratch in time. Absolutely crushing stuff.

Qualification troubles

Mo Farah (Great Britain – 5000m & 10,000m)

After uniting the nation in 2012, Mo Farah narrowly failed to qualify this year

Perhaps one of the biggest blows for fans of Team GB is Mo Farah missing out on Tokyo 2020. The four-time Olympic champion will not return to defend his 5000 and 10,000m crowns after failing to clock the required qualification time in the event. Farah fell short by 19 seconds and, sadly, the man who thrilled the nation in 2012 will have to sit back and watch this year.

Downie sisters (Great Britain – Gymnastics)

Ellie Downie withdrew after her sister, Becky, was denies the chance to qualify

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories of Tokyo 2020 qualification is that of the Downie sisters. While both were reeling from the recent death of their brother, Ellie understandably decided to withdraw while Becky was unbelievably left out of the team selection. A petition was started after calls of injustice and she took to social media to express her frustration:

Her sister went on to add that the decision was not a surprise, as despite being in “world-beating form”, both of them have been subjected to a “sinister” culture of fear, according to campaigners.

A truly sad state of affairs, the details of which are worth investigating but all we know is that both Downies will come back even stronger. They have been the pride of Britain over the last few years and we can’t wait to see them back at it in their own time.

Saina Nehwal & Kidambi Srikanth (India – Badminton)

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth couldn't qualify due to Covid's impact on Indian sporting events

India’s badminton stars Saina and Srikanth lost their Olympic spots after the country’s battle with Covid-19 derailed multiple qualifiers throughout the year. With Saina – the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in badminton – ranked 22nd and Srikanth 20th, the duo fell short of the top 16 threshold. So unfair on the exciting duo and virtually out of their control.

Dipa Karmakar (India – Gymnastics)

Injuries and Covid-19's impact on India derailed Dipa Karmakar season

Another one sandbagged by coronavirus, we’re gutted for Dipa. The first Indian Commonwealth gymnast to win a medal and the first to qualify for the Olympics – her bid for a second appearance at the Games was sadly stricken by the pandemic and constant injuries. Understandably, the 27-year-old failed to gain consistency and we’ll certainly miss her talent and that smile this year.

Caster Semenya (South Africa – 800m)

Caster Semenya coasts ahead of the competition back in 2016

The double Olympic 800m gold winner could not qualify for the Games after being barred by World Athletics due to high testosterone levels – a debate that continues to rage on. Semenya’s last-ditch effort to qualify for the 5000m event (unaffected by hormone regulations) were in vain, falling short of the qualification mark in the rushed attempt.

Suspensions and doping bans

Sun Yang (China – Swimming)

Sun Yang is one of several Chinese swimmers to miss out on Tokyo Olympics

Defending 200m freestyle Olympic champion Sun Yang will not compete this year after receiving a four year and three-month ban after failing to comply with anti-doping rules. Sun is one of several Chinese athletes and swimmers, in particular, who will be missing Tokyo 2020 for a number of reasons. China had a solid 2016, coming third behind Team GB – this will be a big blow.

Sha’Carri Richardson (US – 100m & 4×100 relay)

Sha'Carri Richardson was banned after testing positive for cannabis

Perhaps one of the more controversial exclusions and somewhat similar to the Downie sisters, Richardson was suspended and fined for having used cannabis during a difficult period following the death of her mother. The 21-year-old underwent counselling and used the drug to “hide [her] pain” but insisted that she will never be embroiled in a doping/performance-enhancing scandal.

Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain – Triathlon)

Alistair Brownlee has been doing Iron Mans between Olympics

Another Team GB fave goes missing. Brownlee, the only athlete to win the triathlon gold twice (2012, 2016), will sadly not feature in 2020. While his brother Jonny has said this be his last Games, the eldest, 33, was disqualified after pushing a competitor during the swimming at the Triathlon World Championship Series in England in June. A shame to miss out for such a reason.

Brianna McNeal (USA – Hurdles)

Brianna McNeal

The reigning 100m hurdles Olympic champion will miss Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 after she was given a five-year doping ban by the Athletics Integrity Unit back in April. McNeal was punished before for breaching rules back in 2017 and despite appealing this latest decision, the doping ban was upheld.


Usain Bolt (Jamaica – 100m, 200m & 4×100m relay)

Usain Bolt toyed with the idea of a return for Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020 will never be the same without, arguably, the biggest personality in Olympic history. Now we know that Usain Bolt retired from athletics to try and become a footballer (that didn’t last too long either), but the 34-tear-old had toyed with the idea of making a return in Japan since last year. Sadly, no such luck, and the 100 and 200m champ’s near 13-year reign will end this year.

Jessica Ennis-Hill (Great Britain – Track and field)

Jessica Ennis retired after her silver medal in the Rio 2016 heptathalon

Another retiree, there was no suggestion that Jess Ennis could return to the sport this year, we’re just gutted we won’t be seeing her again. Not only did she smash it as we knew she would in 2012, but she still had a solid Rio too, picking up silver at the age of 30. Now with two kids, Ennis-Hill recently told the Mirror that while she “loved the adrenaline […] I don’t miss all the sacrifices.”

Paralympians missing Tokyo 2020 games

Blake Leeper (USA – 100m, 200m & 400m)

Blake Leeper will miss Tokyo due to World Athletics ruling on his bladesLeeper will be missing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) for the World Athletics ruled his blades did not meet regulations. With the blades on, the 31-year-old eight-time medalist and world record holder’s prosthetics was deemed to be “running unnaturally tall” – a decision which his legal team said was “racially discriminatory”.

Alice Tai (Great Britain – Swimming)

Alice Tai has withdrawn with an elbow injury

Another truly tough one to take as British hopeful, Alice Tai, made the decision to withdraw from Tokyo 2020 due to a recurring injury regarding her ulnar nerves, which run from your elbow, down your arm and all the way to your little finger. Aged 22, she has already picked up golds at European, Commonwealth, World and Paralympic levels. She posted this video just last month:

Till next time

So that’s it: those are all the big names missing Tokyo 2020 this year. Whilst it will no doubt be gutting for all of them and, for some, perhaps their last real chance to win an Olympic medal, we know this won’t be the last we see of these sports stars. Whether it’s in the next Games in Paris 2024 or during the regular domestic season, don’t count these athletes out.