Tokyo Games 2020: Eight world records under threat

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Norways' star hurdler Karsten Warholm reacts after breaking the men's 400m hurdles world record at the 2021 Bislett Games Oslo Diamond League meeting on July 1, 2021


When it comes to track and field, the build-up to Tokyo 2020 has been nothing short of mesmerizing. The 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials alone saw two world records being created. Sifan Hassan’s 10000 meters World record only lasted for two days, while Karsten Warholm broke the long-standing twenty-nine-year-old 400 MH world record of Kevin Young. 

The last six months have witnessed track and field world records being broken half a dozen times. Come Tokyo 2020, the records might come tumbling again as new champions emerge in the land of Rising Sun. 

With that being said, let’s take a look at the top eight world records that are under severe threat when athletics gets underway at the Summer Games.

MORE READ: When will track and field begin at the Tokyo Olympic Games?


World Record holder – Karsten Warholm (Norway) – 46.70 seconds

Defending Champion – Kerron Clement (USA) 

When Kerron Clement won gold in Rio, Karsten Warholm was an unknown figure in global athletics. The 400 meters hurdles have undergone tremendous change over the past four years making it one of the toughest events to compete in. The emergence of all-time great hurdlers such as Warholm, Samba, and Benjamin has put the event in to spotlight in the Tokyo games. Warholm bettered the previous world record with the timing of 46.70 in Bislett Games (Oslo Diamond league).

READ MORE: Karsten Warholm breaks 400m hurdles world record at Oslo Diamond League

One cannot forget, the American Sprint hurdler Rai Benjamin had run 46.83 in the American Olympic trials which was the second-fastest time then. The duo of Benjamin and Warholm shall face each other in an iconic battle for Gold in Tokyo. They will be joined by other top medal contenders from across the globe such as Brazilian and South American record-holder Alison De Santos, Kyron McMaster from the British Virgin Islands, just to name a few. Given the form of the athletes and the possible field for finals, it seems that 400 meters hurdle gold is up for grabs, but the winner might very well need to set a new record to have it.

Sydney McLaughlin wins her 400m hurdles heat in the 2021 USA Olympic trials
Sydney McLaughlin winning her 400m hurdles heat in the 2021 USA Olympic trials

World record Holder- Sydney McLaughlin (USA) – 51.90 seconds

Defending Champion- Dalilah Mohammed (USA)

Sydney McLaughlin had seen the back of Dalilah Mohammed for years. Finally, her time arrived in the U.S. 2021 Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field, University of Oregon. She took first place with a new world record of 51.90 seconds. It was good enough to beat Muhammad only by 0.52 seconds. This iconic duo shall be joined by NCAA collegiate champion Anna Cockrell at the USA Olympic team.

READ MORE: Sydney McLaughlin smashes 400m hurdles world record at U.S. Olympic Trials

But The USA’s attempt to clean sweep the event would not be an easy task. While the world applauded Sydney Mclaughlin, The Dutch superstar athlete Femke Bol has set the European circuits on fire. She ran the fourth-fastest time ever in early July with a timing of 52.37. The clash between these wonderful women in Tokyo might see another record stumbling. 


World record holder- Ryan Crouser (USA) – 23.37m

Defending Champion- Ryan Crouser (USA)

The men’s Shot Put event was one of the two world records that were taken down during the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials. The defending champion threw a monstrous 23.37 metes to edge out his fellow countrymen and competitor Joe Kovacs to second place and to take the glory of being the world record holder. The last global shot-put competition, the Doha 2019 world championships was one of the most memorable events ever.

READ MORE: Crouser breaks world shot put record with 23.37m at U.S. Olympic Trials

Kovacs ousted Ryan Crouser to the Gold medal with a difference of 1 cm. Former world champion Tom Walsh (New Zealand) took bronze. But this time around the hint for gold goes beyond these three. Poland’s Michal Haratyk is also over 22 meters this year (22.17m) and Brazil’s Darlan Romani, an unlucky fourth in Doha with 22.53m, should not be forgotten. The clash of these giants might set the stage for a new world record in Tokyo.

Grant Holloway on his way to running 12.81 at the U.S. Olympic trials
Grant Holloway on his way to running 12.81 at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

World record holder- Aries Merritt (USA) – 12.80 seconds

Defending Champion- Omar Mcleod (USA)

Unfortunately, Men’s 110-meter hurdles have made noise for the wrong reasons this time around. The defending champion Omar Mcleod failing to get a ticket to Tokyo and expressing his dissatisfaction publicly has reignited the debate of whether defending champions should be given a direct ticket like it the rule followed in IAAF world championships.

READ MORE: Grant Holloway runs 12.81, just missed 110m WR at U.S. Olympic trials

But when we leave all the noise behind and look at the lineup in Tokyo, one cannot see past the reigning world champion Grant Holloway. This season has been something special for the USA star. In the Olympic trial, Holloway ran the second-fastest time ever clocking 12.81 seconds.

Holloway could face strong competition from Spaniard Orlando Ortega, former world champion Sergey Shubenkov, and Jamaican Commonwealth Games champion Ronald Levy, among others.

However, to break the world record, Holloway will have to leave the field behind. It will be interesting to watch whether he can create history come Tokyo 2020. 

  1. WOMEN’S 10000 METERS 

World Record holder- Letesenbet Gidley (Ethiopia) – 29:01.03

Defending champion- Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia)

Women’s 10000 meters at Tokyo is going to be like the epic finale of a blockbuster series. The centerstage of this absolute masterclass series is going to be taken by two headstrong women Sifan Hassan from The Netherlands and Letesenbet Gidley of Ethiopia. The latter took down the former’s 48-hour old 1000 meters world record in Ethiopian trials.

It would be interesting to see whether these two shall take a shot at the world record in Tokyo. Usually, distance races in Olympic Games are not necessarily designed for world records and are often tactical. And there shall be no pacing lights to guide them through. These two top seeds shall be challenged by Kenya’s double world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri.

The final is scheduled at 4.15 pm (7th August) and it shall most likely be hot and humid. But given the talent in the field, we can expect the impossible. 


World record holder- Yang Jiayu (China) – 1:23:49

Defending champion- Liu Hong (China)

If there is ever an event that is dominated by Asians, it is none other than Race walks. The Chinese women swept the medals in the 2019 Doha World championships. Currently, Yang Jiayu is the topmost athlete in racewalking going around. The 2017 world champion cruised to a world record of 1:23:49 earlier this year, smashing defending champion Liu’s mark by 49 seconds. Yang Jiayu will be challenged by the defending champion Liu Hong and another Chinese athlete Qieyang Shijie.

Qiang is a consistent championships performer. She earned world bronze back in 2011, Olympic silver in 2012, and world silver in 2019. No country has ever swept the medals in the women’s race walks at the Olympics. Similarly, no Asian nation has achieved a medal sweep at the Games. It shall be interesting to see whether the history can be amended. But keep an eye on the world record. 


World record holder- Jan Železný (Czech Republic) – 98.48m

Defending champion- Thomas Röhler (Germany)

If the long-standing Javelin world record has to be rewritten, then Johannes Vetter (Germany) is the man for the job. Lately, Vetter is living in a parallel world with consistent throws over 90 meters. Earlier this month, at World continental tour at Silesia, Poland, Vetter came within a meter of the world record with a throw of 97.76 meters. It is unlikely that any of his competitors will throw 95m plus to fire him up. But in field events, it is just a matter of one throw, one perfect throw. Let’s cross our fingers that Vetter lands his perfect through in Tokyo. 

  1. MEN’S 5000 METERS 

World record holder- Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda) – 12:35.36

Defending Champion- Sir Mo Farah (Great Britain) 

The major reason for adding this event to a possibility of a world record is the sheer competitiveness of the event. Even though the world record holder Joshua Cheptagei himself is starting, a gold medal for him is unsure. Cheptegei could take away the gold only by speeding up the race and leaving the rest of the field behind.

If it comes to finishing kilometer Cheptegei’s speed might not hold up. Cheptegei knows this and will most likely turn this event into a burner. If that happens there is a possible threat to the world record. Even though the world leader of 12:48.45 by Jakob Ingebrigtsen is almost 13 seconds out of world record time, there is a very high possibility of a super-fast race.

Cheptegei’s countrymen Jacob Kiplimo and the ever-improving Mo Katir shall put tremendous pressure on the world record holder. The only hindrance to the record shall be the unmerciful conditions of Tokyo. 

Nilesh Beliraya

Nilesh Beliraya is a former middle distant athlete who ran in Indian circuits. Currently, pursuing law, he aspires to specialize in sports law. He takes great pleasure in following global athletics and closely analyze the same. His hobbies include debating, freelancing and catching up with books. You can reach him at @Nilesh Beliraya in Twitter and @Nilesh_bk on Instagram.