7 Underdogs Who Could Win a Medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games

By Ben Morris in Olympics
| July 22, 2021 9:59 am PDT

Before the start of every Olympic Games, the focus is always on the gold medal favorites. Everybody wants to know who will win the main events, and that is totally understandable.

But what about the Olympics sleepers? Of course, we all want to see the top athletes performing to the best of their ability. But everybody loves a good underdog story, right?

Rather than looking at the obvious gold medal contenders, I thought it would be fun to profile seven of the best Tokyo Olympics sleepers to watch at this summer’s Games.

In this piece, I look at a 12-year-old Syrian table tennis player, a legendary Jamaican sprinter, a Dominican triple jumper, and others.

Joseph Fahnbulleh

  • Age: 19
  • Nation: Liberia
  • Event: Men’s 200m

Joseph Fahnbulleh gained global recognition when he came from nowhere to win the men’s 200m at last month’s NCAA Championships. The 19-year-old overtook multiple competitors to clock an outstanding time of 19.91, shocking the sprinting world.

The American-born Liberian citizen will now aim to become the first Liberian athlete to finish in the top eight of their event at the Olympics.

Noah Lyles (USA) is the clear favorite to win gold in the men’s 200m, while follow North Americans such as Andre De Graase (Canada), Erriyon Knighton (USA), and Kenneth Bednarek (USA) are also expected to challenge for a medal.

But if Fahnbulleh can emulate his NCCA Championship performance in Tokyo, he could surprise even more people on the biggest stage of all.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

  • Age: 34
  • Nation: Jamaica
  • Event: Women’s 200m

Now, I know what you’re thinking – Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is arguably one of the biggest stars at the Tokyo Olympics, so how can she be a Tokyo 2020 underdog?

Granted, the veteran Jamaican sprinter is the bookies’ favorite to win the women’s 100m, sitting at roughly 1.70 to win that race. But over in the 200m event, she is priced at around 7.00 to secure gold, with four athletes ahead of her in the pecking order.

At 2.50, Gabby Thomas (USA) is the women’s 200m favorite, while Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas), Dina Asher-Smith (Great Britain), and Elaine Thompson (Jamaica) are all expected to finish ahead of Fraser-Pryce.

Across the past three Games, the iconic sprinter has won two golds, three silvers, and one bronze. Yes, she is now 34. But you would be foolish to bet against her adding to her impressive Olympic medal tally this year.

Even at 34, Fraser-Pryce is nowhere near the oldest athletes in the Tokyo Olympics.

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Alex Rose

  • Age: 29
  • Nation: Samoa
  • Event: Men’s Discus

No Samoan athlete has ever reached an Olympic final before. But if Alex Rose’s recent displays are anything to go by, the 29-year-old could buck that trend this summer.

Rose has already set two national records this year, throwing 67.17m in March before breaking his own record with a 67.48m effort in May. On top of that, he placed third and second at recent European meets Sollentuna and Kladno, respectively.

The Samoan heads to Japan as an Olympics underdog, having finished 29 in qualifying at Rio 2016. However, he will be confident of ruffling some feathers this time around.

With odds of around 1.50, Daniel Stahl (Sweden) is the favorite to claim men’s discus gold at Tokyo 2020. If you’re feeling lucky, Rose is priced at roughly 101.00!

Thea LaFond

  • Age: 27
  • Nation: Dominica
  • Event: Women’s Triple Jump

After sustaining a hamstring injury just days before the last Olympic Games, Thea LaFond ended up finishing 37th and last in qualifying at Rio 2016. Needless to say, she will be desperate to prove her mettle this summer.

Since the previous Games, the triple jumper has enjoyed plenty of success. She secured bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and has extended both her outdoor and indoor national records.

At the recent Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha, LaFond finished fourth in a highly competitive event. If she can pick up where she left off in Qatar, she could find herself challenging for a medal in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old also has the incentive of becoming the first-ever Dominican athlete to win an Olympic medal of any color.

Kyron McMaster

  • Age: 24
  • Nation: British Virgin Islands
  • Event: Men’s 400m Hurdles

With three of the four fastest men’s 400m hurdlers of all time currently competing in the discipline, Kyron McMaster could be forgiven for thinking that he may never win an Olympic medal.

Sure, the British Virgin Islander heads to Japan as a Tokyo Olympics sleeper. But he has continuously upset the odds over the past few years, so there is no reason why he can’t battle for a spot on the podium this year.

After setting a national record back in 2017, McMaster won the Diamond League final before finishing third in Doha at the recent Wanda Diamond League meeting. He now stands a genuine chance of claiming his nation’s maiden Olympic medal.

The top Olympics betting apps have priced Karsten Warholm (Norway) at roughly 1.25 to win the men’s 400m hurdles, with Rai Benjamin (USA) at 2.60. Meanwhile, you can get odds of around 23.00 for McMaster to win gold.

Andrea Vargas

  • Age: 25
  • Nation: Costa Rica
  • Event: Women’s 100m Hurdles

It’s safe to say that Andrea Vargas is probably the only hurdler competing at the upcoming Games who trains on a cement track with homemade hurdles. For that alone, she has to be one of the best Olympics sleepers at Tokyo 2020.

The 25-year-old won Pan American gold in 2019 before setting numerous national records at the World Championship in Doha. But there is no denying that winning an Olympic medal would be her proudest achievement to date.

Although Keni Harrison (USA) and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (Puerto Rico) are the two clear frontrunners to clinch gold in the women’s 100m hurdles, Vargas could upset the Olympics odds and snatch a medal in Japan.

Funnily enough, Andrea’s younger sister, Noela, is also competing at Tokyo 2020. She will take part in the 20km race walk.

Hend Zaza

  • Age: 12
  • Nation: Syria
  • Event: Women’s Table Tennis

Believe it or not, Hend Zaza only recently turned 12. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that she is the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics, but that doesn’t mean to say that she can’t challenge for a medal.

I mean, the table tennis prodigy punched her ticket to Tokyo by winning four of her five matches at the Western Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan, winning the event in the process.

Zaza is the first Syrian table tennis player ever to qualify for the Olympics, and that is a remarkable achievement. Still, if the juvenile paddler can win a medal at the Games, here name will go down in history.

The Wrap-Up

That’s it for my look at the Olympics sleepers to watch at Tokyo 2020.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see world-class stars like Simone Biles, Kevin Durrant, and Naomi Osaka do their thing in Japan. But I’m also eager to see how the Tokyo Olympics underdogs fare this summer.

After all, it would be amazing if a 12-year-old won an Olympic table tennis medal, wouldn’t it?

If you enjoyed this post and want to check out more of the Tokyo Olympics content on our site, here are some of my favorite pieces.

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