From a global perspective, the international sports calendar was about as good as it gets this summer. The Women's World Cup. The ICC Cricket World Cup. The International Champions Cup. And some all-time performances at the tennis and golf majors. But today the calendar reminds us that one year from now kicks off perhaps the largest sports spectacle of them all: the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
It is at this 365 days-out marker where the stories begin about not only excitement, exuberance and anticipation, but also uneasiness, distress and outright fear. The past several Olympic cycles have been marred by concerns about terrorism, Zika, street crime, geopolitical warfare and the long-term financial, social and environmental impact of the Games. It has often all but overshadowed the original purpose of the Olympics: to peacefully bring the world together in celebration of athletic achievement.
But with one year to go until Tokyo welcomes the world next July, the narrative feels different this time. There are no stories about athletes being told to keep their mouths closed while competing in feces-contaminated waters. Or concerns about suicide bombers infiltrating the opening ceremonies. These Games aren't being held 40 miles from one of the most tension-filled strips of land in the world.
Instead, the chatter is about Japanese technology. More cost overruns. And the athletes. The Olympic spotlight will be there for the taking for anyone who wants it, as these will be the first Summer Olympics in 20 years without Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. It is once again likely to be an Olympics dominated with stories of the American female, be it Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, or the U.S. women's soccer, basketball and softball teams. Tokyo will bring the return of baseball and softball. And with it the introduction of new competitions in karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.
In addition to the U.S. men's basketball team filled with NBA stars, Tokyo will debut a half-court 3-on-3 competition. But don't dream about LeBron, Steph and Anthony Davis destroying the world. The U.S. squad that won the first 3-on-3 World Cup in June was led by two-time Purdue All-American Robbie Hummel.
As for the host city, Tokyo isn't immune from concerns. Yes, it is one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, but there are worries about not having enough accommodations for visitors. And earlier this month Tokyo experienced a heat wave of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), killing more than 30 people and hospitalizing thousands more. There is concern that with humidity levels that often approach 55 to 60 percent on summer afternoons, Tokyo might be the hottest Summer Games in history.
Beyond that is a problem that seemingly no Olympic host in recent history has figured out how to avoid: cost overruns. Even amidst cuts, the budget has reportedly ballooned to more than $25 billion, four times what was originally proposed.
Still, the Japanese are buying in. Literally. While numerous events in Brazil in 2016 and Pyeongchang in 2018 were plagued by an embarrassing amount of empty seats, Japanese residents scooped up more than 3.2 million tickets for 2020 events during the initial ticket release earlier this month, prompting officials to plan another release of tickets in August. Unlike Brazil and Russia from Olympics past, the Japanese aren't using the Olympics as some sort of chest puffing political propaganda to prove their strength as a global player. Instead, they want to show the world how the country is recovering from the devastating 2011 tsunamis and use their legendary hospitality to show off a unique, busting, world-class city that looks nothing like it did the last time the Games were there, 56 years ago.
We asked ESPN reporters from around the world to address key questions one year out from the Tokyo 2020 Games. You can read more from our global writers below and from our U.S. writers here.
Organizers expect the Games will cost around $15 billion. In the end, some estimates say it could balloon to $25 billion. Does this model have a long future?
Eric Gomez, ESPN Mexico: No. The negative economic impact of the Games on past cities such as Athens and Rio de Janeiro is a grim reminder of what hosting the Olympics on an inflated budget can do. Going forward, there are only a limited number of cities and regions that can host the event -- most likely those with an existing infrastructure dedicated to a wide array of sports, not to mention hospitality, transportation options and accessibility for visitors.
Andrew Withers, ESPN Africa: We might already have seen the model's end days after the IOC named Paris and Los Angeles as 2024 and 2028 venues simultaneously in 2017 once other prospective hosts had withdrawn their candidacy, citing higher-than-expected costs. We can only hope in the future that more prospective host cities practice fiscal responsibility and follow the lead of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who refused to "mortgage the future of the city away" in pursuit of the 2024 Games. The Games certainly won't be coming to Africa without a changed model.
Wayne Drehs, ESPN Sr. Writer: Of course not -- and the IOC knows this. It's the reason why the IOC awarded both Paris (2024) and Los Angeles (2028) Summer Games at the same time two years ago. It's the reason they are accepting joint bids from multiple cities or even countries for future Games. It isn't a surprise that Tokyo is over budget. Expect the same from Beijing for the 2022 Winter Games. But if LA can't keep its costs down leading up to 2028, the Olympics will have a serious problem.
Mark Woods, ESPN UK: If you speak to people within the events business, there is a growing attraction toward regional events where the wealth is spread, the financial burden is shared, and more existing venues can be brought into play to reduce costs.
Stuart Randall, ESPN Australia: It would seem that the traditional model is broken. Spending vast amounts of, often public, money on a single location appears to be unsustainable, with recent "legacy" proclamations proving to be hollow words once the five-ringed circus leaves town and the host cities are left to pick up the pieces. Smaller and sustainable need to be the watch words for the future.
Sharda Ugra, ESPN India: You would hope not. Candidate cities have kept dropping every year. The IOC shared the next two Games with their last bidders left for 2024. Everyone knows now that the megaspin over hosting Olympics rings hollow once the event ends.
There isn't a Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in these Games. In your eyes, what athlete or event is going to capture the spotlight in Tokyo?
Withers: Caster Semenya. She will be a headline act for all manner of good reasons whether she runs in her pet event, the 800m, in which she is the two-time reigning champion or over longer distances. The IAAF's proposed rules, if passed, will require female athletes with high levels of natural testosterone to lower them through medication or surgery to be eligible to contest the shorter races. Indeed, she could be the story of the Games.
Ugra: A fresh-faced successor to Bolt will own Tokyo, but first Justin Gatlin will have to be beaten. Kliment Kolesnikov could make the backstroke sexy and Eluid Kipchoge's marathon timing will keep us hooked till the last day. Japan could spring many surprises.
Jesse Washington, ESPN/The Undefeated Sr. Writer: Dominant women will play out many compelling storylines in Tokyo. Simone Biles wants to seal her incredible legacy in her final Olympic Games. So does the sprinter Allyson Felix. The U.S. women's soccer team is a hashtag waiting to happen. For the men, swimmer Ryan Lochte, infamous for his Rio misbehavior, returns to the water. And if the young sprinter Matthew Boling makes it to Tokyo, he will be the first white American athlete in recent memory in one of the world's marquee sporting events.
Woods: American sprinter Noah Lyles hasn't yet obtained the consistency in the 100 and 200 meters that Usain Bolt enjoyed, and he's still behind world champion Justin Gatlin in the pecking order. But give the 22-year-old American another year, and who knows what he might achieve.
Randall: For Australian eyes, the pool will be a huge focus as ever, with teenage sensation Ariarne Titmus out to challenge Katie Ledecky. Team sports will be big in 2020, too, with both basketball competitions and women's soccer expected to be fiercely contested.
Ricardo Zanei, ESPN Brazil: There's a good chance this could be the final Olympics for Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Teddy Riner, Alex Morgan, Marta, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Same with LeBron James and Allyson Felix. Surely, those names are going to steal some headlines.
Gomez: As the de facto Under-23 World Championship, soccer is always a big draw for fans around the globe at the Olympics -- even if their nation isn't in the running. Stars such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and a host of others have competed in the Games over the course of the century. It bodes well for 2020 that the last three World Cup winners (France, Germany and Spain) have already qualified for Tokyo.
After a scandal-ridden four years that nearly collapsed USA Gymnastics, how will the U.S. team respond when it returns to their sport's biggest stage?
Gomez: There's little argument the United States still boasts the greatest collection of gymnasts around the world. Even when the discussion in Japan inevitably pivots to the aforementioned scandals before and during the events, it's still a good bet that athletes from the country will contend for the lion's share of the medal haul as they did four years ago in Rio.
Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN Sr. Writer: The U.S. will still field the best team in the world, anchored by the best gymnast on the planet, and be heavy favorites for gold. Under new national team coordinator Tom Forster, they also might do something the U.S. women weren't known for under the Karolyi regime: enjoy the experience.
Withers: The scandals undeniably will be a big and emotional part of the gymnastics storyline, but multiple champion Simone Biles is box-office theater. Her greatest individual rivals in Tokyo could come from her American compatriots in Riley McCusker, Kara Eaker, Morgan Hurd, Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum. They each performed strongly at the U.S. Classic in Kentucky, and they can be expected to be medal contenders.
Woods: The reality is the athletes have compartmentalized and blocked out the noise and kept performing at the highest level, on the women's side at least. Hurd, who just turned 18, has emerged as a leading all-rounder. Ragan Smith and Jade Carey contend for apparatus podiums. And, of course, that's before we even mention Biles, who won six medals at last year's world championships. She'll be only 23 in Tokyo and remains hungry to add to the four Olympic golds she earned in Rio.
Zanei: The U.S. team will always be potent in gymnastics. The scandal rocked the sports world, but the talent and hard work is still there. The U.S. will lead the medal table.
Baseball and softball return to the Olympic program for the first time in 16 years. Will the sports stick and why or why not?
Gomez: For the sake of baseball's oft-mentioned declining popularity in the United States, let's hope it sticks around. Places such as Latin America and East Asia remain a haven for both sports, which means big crowds in Tokyo this time around. The big question is: Will MLB one day want to potentially attract more fans around the globe, even if it means guys leaving their teams in North America once every four summers?
Withers: Neither has "stuck" in the Olympic program to this point, and it's hard to see why either will do so again in the future at anything other than a Games with a keen local interest in the sports. Paris in 2024 likely won't have an interest, but L.A. in 2028? Yes. They're just not "sexy sports," and apart from hardcore fans, the pool games are likely just a "cheaper" ticket for spectators to say they've attended an Olympics.
Woods: Softball is played to a high standard in even fewer countries than baseball is. There are plenty of sports in the Olympic program that aren't global at a competitive level (field hockey, rowing, to name just two), but softball is seriously niche and, like baseball, it's likely to remain a Games-by-Games decision.
Randall: It's a tough one. There are a million reasons it makes sense for them to be back for Tokyo. But another million they might not make Paris. With L.A. next in line, you would hope baseball and softball get a full run of re-establishing themselves. However, without the MLB's best players, you can't help but feel that the they are fighting a losing battle.
Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN Sr. Writer: Absolutely. Japan is the perfect place to showcase baseball and the ambience will be nuts. Softball, like most women's team sports, will have improved in depth and quality since its last appearance. I think they stick this time.
Ugra: Baseball and softball need to get a wider amateur audience globally to have a chance of sticking. My guess is that those numbers outside of the U.S., Cuba and Japan are relatively small.
Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all will debut with the goal of energizing and entertaining a new, younger Olympic audience. Which will have the biggest impact in your part of the world?
Randall: Undoubtedly surfing. Australia has a rich tradition in the sport, and the chance to compete for an Olympic medal has energized the surf community here. Seventeen of the past 21 women's world champions have been Australian, and the focus will be on Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbon and Tyler Wright in Tokyo.
Woods: None. And all. How they'll fare is anyone's guess, given the time difference in the U.S. and Europe, and with TV rights restrictions that will keep them away from a viral YouTube audience.
Zanei: Skateboarding could bring a new way to see Olympic sports, combining street, pop and cultural elements. Climbing and karate are more obscure, and it's hard to know how the crowd will engage with surfing.
Gomez: Martial arts and combat sports in general are big in Latin America. Argentina, Cuba and Colombia all medaled in Rio for judo. Mexico and the Dominican Republic were on the podium for taekwondo. Brazil won for both sports. Adding karate to the lineup means a bigger chance for all of these nations to strive for glory at the Games.
Ugra: Karate and sport climbing. Karate's many schools have thousands of followers in India, far more than in taekwondo or judo, the other two Olympic martial arts. Sport climbing is catching on and featured in the 2018 Asian Games.
We've learned not to be surprised by much covering the Olympics. What would actually surprise you next summer?
Drehs: An Olympics where the main storylines are the performance of the athletes, not the scandals swirling all around them. The Tokyo Games are off to a good start with little talk about terrorism, security, government corruption or the human rights issues that plagued previous recent hosts. But at the Olympics, it only takes one Ryan Lochte, one corrupt Olympic official, one athlete caught doping, to take the spotlight away from those who deserve it most: the athletes. An Olympics about the actual Games? That would be a surprise.
Ford: Climate change, environmental impact and sustainable events will be front and center. Athletes rights' issues are coming to a head. The IOC has two solid host cities lined up in Paris and Los Angeles, but bids are getting more problematic. I will be surprised if these Olympics don't turn into a referendum on what future Games should look like.
Withers: East Africans have dominated the men's Olympic marathon this century, winning four races and 10 of 15 medals. The continent will be banking on another title in Tokyo, if not a third medal sweep. A repeat of Athens 2004, when only two-time previous medalist Erick Wainaina (seventh) and Paul Tergat (10th) of Kenya finished in the top 10 is surely inconceivable.
Randall: If we manage to go the full two weeks without any horror stories of the village or transport or doping. The Olympic movement is at a crossroads, and it needs a controversy-free Games, and a Games that emboldens the famed Olympic Spirit, if it is going to stay relevant in a vastly changing sporting era.
Zanei: Technology. Japan is known worldwide with its innovations. How will the country cover the Olympics? More than that: How will Japan help advance future Olympics? Whatever it does, we'll be pleasantly surprised.
Gomez: Quite frankly, anyone knocking the United States off atop the medal table. Since 2000, it's happened only once, in Beijing, when the hosts won 48 gold medals to the United States' 36. There are always amazing storylines developing throughout the Games, with a counterbalance of economic, political and social issues to expect. But once the events are actually held, the least surprising thing is always American dominance.
Ugra: Less surprise, more delight would be to see a Japanese gold medalist in an athletics glamour event. India winning its second individual gold will turn the country upside down.