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Your Guide to the Fastest and Most Exciting Track Events at the Tokyo Olympics

7 minute read

As the second week of the Tokyo Olympics approach, eyes will shift from gym and swim to the track, when the world’s fastest athletes will inherit the Olympic spotlight. This year’s competition kicked off at 9 a.m. Tokyo time Friday morning (8 p.m. EST on Thursday night), with heats in the women’s 100 m.

Befitting the pandemic Games, just a day before competition started, defending pole vault world champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of the meet. The Australian track and field team also went into brief isolation.

Barring further chaos, Team USA has high hopes that a fresh generation of runners will own the second week of the Games. “They want to be ready to send you to a retirement home,” says three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers, who won the 100 m in 1992 and 1996. “They’re willing to make their mark. And we benefit, as fans. We get to watch a great competition. That’s what track and field should always be about.”

Not sure where to turn or who to root for? Here’s a quick guide to some of track and field’s must-see events, especially for Team USA fans, through the last event at the track, the men’s 4×100 relay on Aug. 7. All dates and times listed in both Japan Standard Time (JST), and Eastern Standard Time (EST) for those in the United States.

Saturday, July 31

4×400 Mixed Relay final (9:35 p.m. JST, 8:35 a.m. EST)

In this new Olympic event, two women and two men each run a lap across the track; teams can choose their lineup order in any way they wish. If the veteran star Allyson Felix participates and wins a medal, that would give her 10 Olympic medals for her career, making her the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time, and tying her with Carl Lewis for most track medals ever won by an American.

Read more: Motherhood Could Have Cost Olympian Allyson Felix. She Wouldn’t Let It

Women’s 100-m final (9:50 p.m. JST; 8:50 a.m. EST)

This race is notable because of who’s not competing—American contender Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for marijuana during the Olympic trials, costing her a spot at the Olympics. But don’t miss watching Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 34, who is seeking to become the first woman to ever win three Olympic 100-m gold medals. Since Rio she’s given birth to a son, Zyon, and earned the nickname “Mommy Rocket.”

World Athletics Championships in Qatar
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica celebrates winning the women's 100m final during the IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019 at the Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 29 September 2019.Serhat Cagdas—Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Jenna Prandini—who also qualified for the 200 m—finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic trials; so she’s taking Richardson’s spot, joining Javianne Oliver and Teahna Daniels in the event.

Sunday, Aug. 1

Men’s 100-m final (9:50 p.m. JST; 8:50 a.m. EST)

It’s the fastest sub-10 seconds in sports and track’s marquee event. With Usain Bolt retired, Americans Trayvon Bromell, Ronnie Baker, and Fred Kerley, who finished 1-2-3 at Olympic Trials, will fight it out to take over a night that Bolt owned for the last three Games, Bolt shined. While Bromell has run the fastest 100-m in the world this year, 9.77 seconds, South Africa’s Akari Simbine clocked the second-fastest mark, 9.84 seconds, on July 6; proving he is, indeed, “dangerous.”

Muller British Grand Prix
Trayvon Bromell of Team USA wins in the men's 100 m during the Muller British Grand Prix, part of the Wanda Diamond League at Gateshead International Stadium on July 13, 2021 in Gateshead, England.Ashley Allen—Getty Images

Tuesday, Aug. 3

Men’s 400-m Hurdles final (12:20 p.m. JST, 11:20 p.m. EST on Monday, Aug. 2)

At this year’s U.S. Olympic trials, Rai Benjamin ran the second-fastest time in history, 46.83 seconds, announcing himself as the Olympic favorite. Five days later, however, Karesten Warholm of Norway did him better: Warholm broke the world record by running a 46.70 at a race in his home country. They’re set for a showdown in Tokyo.

Women’s 800-m final (9:25 p.m. JST, 8:25 a.m. EST)

Only one American woman has ever won this race; Madeline Mims, back in 1968. Athing Mu, however, could be the breakout Team USA middle-distance star of these games. Just 19, Mu has the top 800-m time in the world this year, 1:56:07. A native of Trenton, N.J., Mu starred at Texas A&M, where she set a slew of collegiate records before turning professional and signing a deal with Nike in June.

Women’s 200-m final (9:50 p.m. JST, 8:50 a.m. EST)

When American Gabby Thomas, who studied neurobiology at Harvard, isn’t busy pursuing graduate work in epidemiology at the University of Texas, she’s running the fastest 200-m time in the world this year. Jamaica’s Fraser-Pryce is doubling up in Tokyo; she’s also a contender in the 200 m.

2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials - Day 9
Gabby Thomas celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the Women's 200-m Final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon.Steph Chambers—Getty Images

Wednesday, Aug. 4

Women’s 400-m hurdles final (11:30 a.m. JST, 10:30 p.m. EST on Aug. 3)

Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in this race at the U.S. Olympic trials, clocking a 51.90 and becoming the first woman to run it in under 52 seconds. If she does that again in Tokyo, she’ll cement her status as one of track’s biggest stars, with the marketing deals to boot. Her American teammate Dalilah Muhammad is the defending world champ and owns the second-fastest time in history. On the East Coast, this race is a prime-time affair.

Men’s 200-m final (9:55 p.m. JST , 8:55 a.m. EST)

American Noah Lyles, the defending world champion, has guaranteed he’ll win gold the 200 m. To do so, he’ll need to beat Canada’s Andre de Grasse, who won silver behind Bolt in Rio, and Team USA’s Erriyon Knighton, a 17-year-old rising high school senior who recently broke Bolt’s under 20 record in the event.

Thursday, Aug. 5

Men’s 110-m hurdles final (11:55 a.m. JST, 10:55 p.m. EST on Aug. 4)

American Grant Holloway, defending world champ, is favored to win the high hurdles. He won the 2019 World Championships with a time of 13.10 seconds and clinched his spot to Tokyo with an even faster time—running 12.96 seconds in the U.S. Track and Field Trials in June.

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Six
Grant Holloway of the Team USA competes in the Men's 110-m hurdles final during day six of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on October 02, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.Matthias Hangst—Getty Images

Men’s 400-m final (9 p.m. JST, 8 a.m. EST)

For Michael Norman of Team USA, these Games are a homecoming of sorts; his mother was born in Japan and once set a middle school sprint record. He has tried to learn Japanese before the Games.

Friday, Aug. 6

Women’s 400-m final (9:35 p.m. JST, 8:35 a.m. EST)

Felix had to charge hard at the Olympic Trials to qualify for this event, which will be the last individual race of her career. Expect it to be the beginning of a well-deserved Olympic curtain call.

Women’s 1,500-m final (9:50 p.m. JST, 8:50 a.m. EST)

No U.S. woman has ever medaled in this middle-distance race. Elle Purrier St. Pierre, a Vermont dairy farmer, has the sixth fastest time in the world this year. There’s hope she could make history.

Saturday, Aug. 7

Women’s 4×400-m relay final (9:30 p.m. JST, 8:30 EST)

The women’s 4×400-m relay will likely be a golden sendoff for Felix. The U.S. women have won this event at every Olympics dating back to the 1996 Atlanta Games and they are favored to keep the streak alive in Tokyo.

Read more about the Tokyo Olympics:

  • Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.K. to Not Be O.K.’
  • Simone Biles’ Olympic Team Final Withdrawal Could Help Athletes Put Their Mental Health First
  • ‘Unapologetic and Unafraid.’ Sue Bird Stares Down Olympic Glory in Tokyo and Equity Off the Court
  • Meet 6 Heroes Who Helped Battle COVID-19 Before Competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
  • Here’s How Many Medals Every Country Has Won at the Tokyo Summer Olympics So Far
  • 48 Athletes to Watch at the Tokyo Olympics
  • The Olympic Refugee Team Was Created to Offer Hope. Some Athletes Are Running Away From It
  • More Must-Reads from TIME

    Write to Sean Gregory/Tokyo at sean.gregory@time.com