SINGAPORE: The 32nd Olympic Games in Tokyo promises to be an edition unlike any other. Held amid a pandemic, in a city under a state of emergency, more than 11,000 international athletes will be competing in front of empty stands.
But the show must go on; the opening ceremony is slated for Jul 23, followed by 16 days of competition.
Team Singapore is sending 23 athletes across 12 sports, the highest number that Singapore has contested in at the Olympics. Before Tokyo 2020, the most sports Singapore had competed in at an Olympics was nine at the 2012 London Games.
Singapore's biggest contingent at the Olympics came in 1956 when 51 athletes represented the nation at the Melbourne Games.
Tokyo 2020 will also be the first time that a defending Olympic champion will be among Singapore’s ranks, as swimmer Joseph Schooling aims to defend his 100m butterfly title.
READ: No Olympic medal target set, 12 qualifying sports already a 'breakthrough': Singapore Sports Institute chief
Here's what we can look ahead to for Team Singapore at the Tokyo Olympics:
1. JOSEPH SCHOOLING’S TITLE DEFENCE
After his jaw-dropping, Olympic record-shattering swim at the last edition, all eyes will be on Schooling as he attempts to defend his 100m butterfly crown.
However, just like in 2016, Schooling will once again find himself in the position of underdog.
The hot favourite in the event is American Caeleb Dressel, who currently holds the world record in the event, clocking 49.50s at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. In contrast, Schooling touched home in 52.93s and crashed out in the heats at the same meet.
Now 26, Schooling's fastest time this year came when he clocked 52.93s at the ISCA International Senior Cup in March, finishing behind Dressel.
Dressel, who has already gone under the 50s mark five times, also has this year's fastest timing at 50.17s. It is not just Dressel that Schooling needs to keep an eye on - Hungary’s Kristof Milak clocked 50.18s earlier this year.
At a press conference last week, Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi noted that a medal target had not been set for Schooling or any members of Singapore's contingent competing at the Games.
"Joseph has already made history and this is something that nobody can take away from him. He will go down in history as that young man that won Singapore's first gold medal," said Mr Toh.
2. SINGAPORE’S DEBUTANTS TAKE CENTRE STAGE
Seventeen athletes will make their Olympic debuts for Singapore, and they are history makers in their own right.
Take Jonathan Chan and Freida Lim, the first two divers to qualify in the sport for Singapore; the same for Amita Berthier and Kiria Tikanah in fencing; Chantal Liew in open water swimming; and equestrienne Caroline Chew.
Sailor Ryan Lo is another who will make his first appearance at the Olympics. Lo is currently ranked 10th in the world in the men's laser class and finished seventh in the men’s laser event at the Allianz Regatta World Cup series last month.
Lo won gold at the 2019 and 2017 editions of the SEA Games in the men's laser. He also has two Asian Games bronzes - one from 2018 and one in the optimist class in 2010.
He is the second Olympian in his family after his half-sister Man Yi.
Another rising star is Berthier, who was once the world's top-ranked junior fencer. The 20-year-old will be competing in the women's individual foil event at Tokyo 2020.
Berthier was the first Singaporean fencer to win a Junior World Cup title, in Havana in 2017. She has since continued that form into her senior career, winning two consecutive golds in the women's individual foil at the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games. The youngster is currently ranked 60th in the world.
Berthier's fellow fencer Kiria qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by winning the women's epee event at the Asia-Oceania Olympic qualification tournament in Tashkent earlier this year. She is the reigning SEA Games gold medallist in the same event after winning in 2019 in the Philippines.
There is also Liew, who had decided that she was going to retire from open water swimming prior to her Olympic qualifier in Setubal, Portugal. But the former pool swimmer made the cut and will get one more race at the Olympics in Japan.
Liew made history for Singapore at the 2017 SEA Games when she became the first Singaporean to clinch a medal in the sport, taking silver.
3. CAN QUAH ZHENG WEN TAKE THE NEXT STEP?
Quah competed in three events at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, and qualified for the semi-finals in two. He finished 15th in the 100m butterfly and narrowly missed the final in the 200m butterfly, finishing 10th.
In more recent times, Quah has continued to show progress - he won six gold and two silver medals at the 2019 SEA Games and was named as the Most Valuable Male Athlete of the Games.
More importantly, while in the Philippines, he punched his ticket for Tokyo, clocking a personal best of 51.87s in the 100m butterfly, just 0.03s behind race winner Schooling.
He also made the cut in the 100m backstroke event with a national and SEA Games record time of 53.79s.
While Quah has shown that making the semi-finals is within his reach, can he now make the leap and become only the third Singapore swimmer to reach an Olympic final after Tao Li in 2008 and Schooling in 2016?
4. WILL THE TABLE TENNIS TEAM BOUNCE BACK?
Leading the charge in Japan will be Feng Tianwei in the singles event, as she aims to take home a second individual Olympic medal.
Feng, 34, who is currently ranked ninth in the world, is Singapore’s most bemedalled Olympian with three medals - a team silver (2008) and a team as well as singles bronze (2012).
In the women’s team event, Feng, Lin Ye and Yu Mengyu will be up against stiff competition with the usual suspects of China, Japan, Taipei and Hong Kong.
How far Singapore goes could hinge on their draw for the tournament.
READ: Singapore to go 'over and above' COVID-19 safety measures by Tokyo Olympics organisers: Chef de mission
5. COVID AND COMPETITION
COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have continued to rise in recent weeks, with the capital now registering an average of about 900 COVID-19 cases per day.
To cope with the increase in cases over the last few weeks, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency in the capital city on Jul 12.
As a result, organisers have been forced to reverse a decision to allow Japanese-based spectators to watch the Games. Foreign spectators had been barred earlier this year from attending events, as authorities in Japan moved to minimise the potential spread of COVID-19.
However, with more than 11,000 athletes and even more officials and members of the media descending on Tokyo, organisers have a massive task on their hands to ensure that the spread of the virus is limited.
And despite best efforts, we are likely to see athletes testing positive during the Games, and this could result in disruption to events as well as competition schedules.
As Singapore’s Olympics Network, Mediacorp will be bringing you the widest coverage of Tokyo 2020. Go to mediacorp.sg/tokyo2020 for more details.