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Olympics 2021: Rising stars of Australian sport join veterans in gold harvest

Australia’s medal tally has been trending downwards since the Games came to our shores in 2000.

However, the 2021 contingent headed to Tokyo has in it a number of genuine gold medal contenders.

Some of these athletes have been there and done that, while others are about to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage of all.

Ariarne Titmus (Swimming)

Ariarne Titmus.
Camera IconAriarne Titmus. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

Australia might not be the world swimming powerhouse it once was, but our hopes of any significant medal haul still sit in the first week of competition, and in the pool.

The meteoric rise of Ariarne Titmus, who claimed three gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, has shown no signs of slowing.

Titmus now heads to Tokyo as one of the form swimmers in the world, and maybe Australia’s biggest name in the pool.

After blowing away the field in the 200m, 400m and 800m at the national trials, American superstar Katie Ledecky’s trifecta of golds are now in Titmus’ sights — with the US legend the most likely to stand in her way.

Sally Fitzgibbons (Surfing)

Sally Fitzgibbons.
Camera IconSally Fitzgibbons. Credit: Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Imag

There are five Australian surfers in the World Surf League’s women’s top 10 at the moment, but only two could go to Tokyo.

Sally Fitzgibbons will hit the water at Tsurigasaki Beach as one of the favourites, alongside compatriot and tour rival Steph Gilmore.

Small waves which lack any great power, typical of a Japanese summer, are forecast for the Games, which will mean the more technically-gifted surfers come to the fore.

Jessica Fox (Canoe Slalom)

Jessica Fox.
Camera IconJessica Fox. Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Considered the greatest athlete her sport has ever seen, Fox has won 10 world championship medals, with seven of those being gold, but the ultimate Olympic triumph continues to elude her.

Her infectious personality endeared her to the sporting public early on, and her bronze medal in Rio, with the weight of a nation’s expectations on her shoulders, was one of the heartbreak story of those Games.

Her Olympic preparation could hardly be more impressive, with two gold medals and a bronze at last month’s world championships.

Women’s Rugby Sevens

The pandemic threw the World Rugby Sevens Series into disarray, with the circuit cancelled after only a handful of tournaments.

But exposed form is all we have to go off, after all, and Australia, the defending Olympics champions, won a gold medal in Sydney to take them to second on the standings before the tour shut down. Not surprisingly, New Zealand appear to be their biggest threat.

Andrew Hoy (Equestrian)

Andrew Hoy.
Camera IconAndrew Hoy. Credit: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that the 62-year-old is saddling up again for his record-extending eighth Olympics.

And it is even more remarkable that he is still set to be in serious medal contention.

The legendary New South Welshman already has three gold medals to his name.

But experts think the horse he has qualified with, 12-year-old gelding Vassily de Lassos, is the best he has ever taken to a Games.

Selectors opted for reliability this time around, with a change in regulations meaning riders no longer have ‘drop scores’, with all three rides counting towards the final result.

Men’s Hockey

It has been a lean run for the Kookaburras in major tournaments recently, but a dominant finish to the Pro League has them well placed to take on European powerhouses Belgium and Netherlands and reigning Olympic champions Argentina.

The Aussies played New Zealand six times — four games in New Zealand and two in Perth — to end the tournament, and finished the two series with an unblemished record.

Avoiding Belgium, Netherlands and Germany in their pool is also a boost for Colin Batch’s side, who face Japan, India, Argentina, New Zealand and Spain in Pool A.

Aran Zalewski.
Camera IconAran Zalewski. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Ash Barty (Tennis)

Queensland’s golden girl and the world’s best female tennis player will hit the Olympics, rightly, as one of the favourites, following her Wimbledon triumph.

Barty will need to defy recent hard-court form and home fan favourite Naomi Osaka to take gold.

Osaka has won four of the past six hard court grand slams but will enter the tournament having not played since her second-round withdrawal at Roland Garros in the first week of June.

Stewart McSweyn (Athletics)

McSweyn might not be a household name just yet, but the 26-year-old Tasmanian smashed the Australian mile record just last week and is set to make a splash in the second week of the Games.

His record-breaking run at the Oslo Diamond League event was also the fastest mile run in the world in the last seven years and makes him one of the favourites for the 1500m.

He has also qualified for the 10,000m, where he also holds the Australian record, and the 5000m.

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