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On your mark. Get set for Olympic track and field.

Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles and Gabby Thomas are some of the stars to watch in Tokyo.

Erriyon Knighton, left, and Noah Lyles compete in the men’s 200-meter final during the U.S. Olympic trials June 27 in Eugene, Oregon. Lyles and Knighton are two to watch as the track and field events begin at the Tokyo Olympics. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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“I’ll race you.”

It’s a sport that every kid has tried. The race to the street corner. The race to a tree in the backyard. The race to see who is the fastest.

The track events at the Tokyo Olympics begin Thursday. The races to see who is the fastest in the world.

The United States team is loaded with fast runners, especially for the shorter distances (100, 200, 400 and 800 meters as well as the hurdles and relays).

Allyson Felix is a familiar face at the Olympics. The 35-year-old American track star is competing at her fifth Summer Games. Felix will run in the 400 meters and perhaps a relay. If she can win one more medal, she will tie the legendary Carl Lewis as the American track athlete with the most medals (10).

There is one new thing for Felix this time around: It’s her first Olympics as a mom.

The United States has two good chances to win the men’s 200-meter race. Noah Lyles, a graduate of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, is the favorite, having won the event at the U.S. Olympic trials.

But Erriyon Knighton is coming on fast. At 17 years old, Knighton recently broke Usain Bolt’s record for the 200 for runners under 18 years old. He is also the youngest American track Olympian since Jim Ryun ran in the 1964 Tokyo Games.

An American is also a good bet in the women’s 200 meter. Gabby Thomas has run the second-fastest time ever for the event. But Thomas is a phenom off the track, too. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in neurobiology (the study of the body’s nervous system) and is studying for a master’s degree in public health.

Thomas, however, will be challenged by Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas. She has not lost a 200-meter race this season.

The men’s 400-meter hurdles could be another high-speed showdown. Karsten Warholm of Norway, who holds the world record, has won two world championships and has not lost a race since 2018. But Rai Benjamin of the United States may have the speed to spring an upset.

Matthew Centrowitz was the first American since 1908 to win the 1,500 meter when he grabbed the gold in 2016. Centrowitz is back, but Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya should be the favorite. Cheruiyot has finished second and first at the last two world championships.

Runners from African countries have starred in distance events ever since Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the 1960 Olympic marathon running barefoot!

All the track events are exciting. The sprints are decided by tenths and even hundredths of seconds, while the distance events involve strategies of when a runner holds back or makes a move.

Running is the most basic Olympic sport. And maybe the best.

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