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Olympic magic moments will happen — even without the crowds

Tokyo will have no fans, but the athletes are what make the Games memorable.

Simone Biles competes on the vault during last month’s women's U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. Biles, who may be the greatest female gymnast of all time, will compete in the team event and four individual events at the Olympics. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

The Summer Olympics, which will officially start Friday in Tokyo, Japan, will be different. The organizers of the Games decided there will be no fans at most of the events due to the state of emergency declared in Japan because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be more than 11,000 athletes, however, competing in 33 sports and 339 events. It has always been the athletes and the magic moments that they create that make any Olympics fun to watch.

So let’s take a look at some of the athletes who may create the unforgettable moments of this year’s Olympics.

Simone Biles may be the greatest female gymnast of all time. The 4-foot-8-inch dynamo has won five Olympic medals, including four gold. She will be chasing more in five events in Tokyo — team competition, floor exercise, balance beam, vault and all-around.

Any time Biles is on the mats is must-see TV. Her leaps and somersaults are breathtaking.

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Swimmer Katie Ledecky of Bethesda, Maryland, has six Olympic medals (five gold, one silver). She may win as many as five more in Tokyo. Swimming in her specialty — long-distance freestyle events — Ledecky is not as explosive or exciting as Biles. But watching her slice through the water and pull away from her opponents is seeing greatness.

Sprinter Usain Bolt from Jamaica was about as great as any Olympian has ever been. He won the men’s 100-meter and 200-meter in three consecutive Olympics to claim the crown as the “world’s fastest human.”

Bolt will not compete at the Tokyo Games, having retired in 2017. But the 100- and 200-meter dashes — both men’s and women’s — are still among the most exciting events in any Summer Olympics. American Noah Lyles has the speed to win the 200.

Some American teams may have their golden moments. The U.S. women’s soccer team, with familiar players such as Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, were riding a 44-game unbeaten streak until Sweden stunned them, 3-0, in their Olympic opener. They will have to come back strong to medal.

A 44-game streak is no big deal for the U.S. women’s water polo team. The team had a 69-game winning streak from 2018 to 2020.

But it is not always the favorites or the famous who create the great moments at the Games. I remember watching the 10,000-meter race from the first Tokyo Games on a black-and-white television in 1964.

First modern Olympics was nothing like today’s huge spectacle

Billy Mills, a U.S. Marine who was also a member of the Oglala Lakota Native American tribe, was a little-known runner competing against the best in the world. Coming off the last turn of the race, Mills sprinted to the tape passing two runners to shock the sports world and win the gold.

Even now I can see him running. I can hear the announcer shouting “Look at Mills. Look at Mills.” It was magic.

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