Finally, a year after they were supposed to take place, the Summer Olympics are set to begin in Tokyo, with the opening ceremony on Friday.
Are you ready? If so, you’ll have to get up early.
For the first time, the ceremony will be broadcast live on NBC across the country, starting at 4 a.m. (gulp) Pacific. But if starting your morning well before sunrise isn’t your thing, don’t worry. It will be rebroadcast at 7:30 p.m.
As for the competition, a lot has been written about who won’t be there. That includes fans, because of COVID-19 restrictions in Japan, and American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, controversially excluded because she tested positive for marijuana.
But let’s focus on who will be there and why you might want to watch.
These Games will certainly have a different look with empty venues after Japan declared a state of emergency because of spiking numbers of coronavirus cases and banned fans. But the stars will be there, including gymnast Simone Biles, swimmer Katie Ledecky, OL Reign soccer player Megan Rapinoe and Storm guard Sue Bird, former Sonic Kevin Durant and golfer Bryson DeChambeau — and many more you might know about.
But the Olympics are also about the stars who emerge. They’re about cheering for your country — or a local hope — and getting emotionally invested in athletes you’ve often never heard of before competing in sports you know next to nothing about.
Speaking of local hopes, dozens of athletes have ties to the Seattle area.
Rapinoe, Bird and fellow Storm stars Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd might be the best known of that group — and they have a good chance to win a gold medal — but many others are worth knowing and watching.
Let’s start with rowing. Pick any event, and it’s likely to have a current or former Husky in it. Sixteen rowers have competed for UW, including Megan Kalmoe, who is appearing in her fourth Olympics after earning a spot in the women’s pairs.
The 16 Huskies will represent the United States, Netherlands, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain. UW rowers have earned at least one medal in each of the past four Olympics, and in five of the past six.
Biles might be the most-watched athlete at the Games, but also keep an eye on her friend and gymnastics teammate Jordan Chiles from Vancouver, Washington. Chiles, 20, has made a name with her superhero-themed routines and her talent — she was the 2018 Pacific Rim champion in vault and floor exercise.
Among the new sports to the Olympic Games are 3-on-3 basketball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing, surfing and women’s canoe. Returning this year are softball and baseball — but just for these Games — because of the popularity of the two sports in Japan.
Speaking of returning, former UW softball star Danielle Lawrie is back pitching with the Canadian national softball team. She pitched for Canada in the Beijing Games in 2008 before leading the Huskies to a national title in 2010.
Lawrie retired from softball and started a family — she and husband Drew Locke have daughters, 7 and 4 — but returned to playing in 2018 and earned her second Olympics berth. It’s possible that Lawrie could find herself matched up against a current Husky pitcher, Gabbie Plain, who is representing Australia.
Mariners fans will no doubt want to follow the baseball competition, with top prospect Julio Rodriguez playing for the Dominican Republic.
The timing of the addition of women’s canoe worked perfectly for 19-year-old Nevin Harrison, the 2019 world champion in the 200-meter sprint and a gold medal contender.
Another prodigy from the area also is set for the big stage. Auburn weightlifter Harrison Maurus, 21, who in 2017 became the first American man to earn a medal in the International Weightlifting Federation Championships, is a medal contender in the 81-kilogram (178.6 pound) weight class.
Platform diver Katrina Young from Shoreline missed qualifying for the Olympic finals by one spot in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and at 29, has earned another chance at a medal.
Basketball is always one of the most watched events in the Games. One of Durant’s USA teammates is former Bothell High School star Zach LaVine. Playing for Australia is Matisse Thybulle (a dual U.S. and Australian citizen), the former Husky and Eastside Catholic High School standout. Former UW star Kelsey Plum will compete in 3-on-3 basketball.
Track and field takes the spotlight in the second week of the Olympics, and several competitors have local ties. They include UW freshman Sam Tanner, a former surfer who is competing in the 1,500 meters for New Zealand, and Amy-Eloise (Neale) Markovc, who starred at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish and UW, and is running in the 5,000 for Great Britain.
With 11,500 athletes competing in 33 sports at 42 venues in just more than two weeks, it’s impossible to watch everything and everyone.
But, it’ll be fun trying. And if you get lost, don’t worry — we’ll be tracking all the action for you online at st.news/localolympians.
Correction: This story has been updated to take out a reference to Seattle Storm player Katie Lou Samuelson, who will miss the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19. She was to compete in 3-on-3 basketball.