Watching the 2021 Olympic track and field competition will be easy, but not necessarily simple.
It will be easy in that NBC plans to air 5,500 hours of live coverage from Tokyo, including all qualifying rounds and finals of all track events. Track and field starts on Friday, July 30, and continues daily through the end of the Olympics on Sunday, August 8.
Watching what you want when you want might not be simple, because NBC’s coverage will be spread across several of the network’s channels and properties, including Peacock, USA, NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com, NBCSports.com, and, for good measure, the NBC Sports app.
If you don’t have a cable subscription, it will still be possible to watch almost everything. (See our guide to streaming coverage here.)
Also, local time in Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern time and 16 hours ahead of Pacific time in the United States. As you’ll see in the examples of our must-watch races below, the time differences will make for some early morning or late evening viewing if you want to see events live.
Your best bet to knowing what will be shown where and when is to check NBCOlympics.com daily. The schedule there will be regularly updated. If you are like us and would like calendar reminders to know what is on live, you’ll appreciate this free downloadable Google and Apple calendar put together by The Harrier.
Each day, Runner’s World will also keep this page updated with the best races of the day.
📺 What to Watch Today at the Olympics
The final day of Olympic action (August 8 in Tokyo) has only one race, but what a race it should be. The men’s marathon (7 a.m. Sunday Tokyo/6 p.m. Saturday Eastern/3 p.m. Saturday Pacific) will be run over a multi-loop course in Sapporo, 500 miles north of Tokyo, to avoid the heat and humidity of Tokyo. (The weather was still plenty oppressive during the women’s marathon.)
Defending champion and world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya has lost just a bit of his aura of invincibility over the past year. He finished eighth at the London Marathon in October, only the second defeat in his eight-year marathon career. The Olympic field includes two of the men who beat Kipchoge in London, Shura Kitata and Sissay Lemma of Ethiopia.
U.S. Trials champ Galen Rupp already owns two Olympic medals, silver at 10,000 meters in 2012 and bronze in the marathon in 2016, and must be considered a strong contender to win another in Japan. American Jake Riley will do best by running a controlled race early on and picking off stragglers over the last 10K. The third American, 44-year-old Abdi Abdirahman, will mark an amazing achievement just by starting. Doing so will make him a five-time Olympian, the only male U.S. distance runner in history who can make that claim.
Below are five Olympic running events we recommend you do whatever you can to watch live, so now is a great time to put a reminder in your phone.
Women’s 800 Meters
First round: 10:25 a.m. local, Friday, 7/30; 9:25 p.m. Eastern/ 6:25 p.m. Pacific, Thursday, 7/29
Semifinals: 8:50 p.m. local, Saturday, 7/31; 7:50 a.m. Eastern/4:50 a.m. Pacific
Final: 9:25 p.m. local, Tuesday, 8/3; 8:25 a.m. Eastern/5:25 a.m. Pacific
The women’s 800 is one of the deepest events in track these days. Just making the final will be an accomplishment in a year when 12 women have already broken 1:58, all faster than the reigning world champion, Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda.
At age 19, Athing Mu has the fastest time in the world this year, the 1:56.07 PR she set to win the U.S. trials. She’s untested at this level of competition. She’s also a potential once-in-a-generation talent who looks like she can run significantly faster if that’s what it takes to win.
The other two Americans, 2019 world silver medalist Raevyn Rogers, and U.S. record-holder Ajee' Wilson, are also solid medal contenders. They’re likely to be challenged by the second and third fastest women of the year, Rose Mary Almanza of Cuba and Natoya Goule of Jamaica, as well as Ethiopian Werkwuha Getachew.
Women’s 400-Meter Hurdles
First round: 9 a.m. local, Saturday, 7/31; 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific, Friday, 7/30
Semifinals: 8:35 p.m. local, Monday, 8/2; 7:35 a.m. Eastern/4:35 a.m. Pacific
Final: 11:30 a.m. local, Wednesday, 8/4; 10:30 p.m. Eastern/7:30 p.m. Pacific, Tuesday, 8/3
Special things happen when Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin race each other. At the 2019 World Championships, Muhammad needed a world record to edge out McLaughlin. At last month’s Olympic Trials, McLaughlin flipped the script, breaking Muhammad’s record with a 51.90 win that made her the first woman to go under 52 seconds in the event.
What will happen in Tokyo? Has Muhammad, the defending Olympic champion, advanced her fitness since the Trials? Did McLaughlin, who spent much of the spring honing her speed in 100-meter hurdle races, peak too soon? And what of Femke Bol of Holland, who won a key Diamond League meet on July 4 in 52.37, the second fastest time in the world this year? This final should be one of the highlights of the Games.
Men’s 1500 Meters
First round: 9:05 a.m. local, Tuesday, 8/3; 8:05 p.m. Eastern/5:05 p.m. Pacific, Monday, 8/2
Semifinals: 8:00 p.m. local, Thursday, 8/5; 7:00 a.m. Eastern/4:00 a.m. Pacific
Final: 8:40 p.m. local, Saturday, 8/7; 7:40 a.m. Eastern/4:40 p.m. Pacific
This is always one of the most unpredictable events at championships. Sometimes the early pace is borderline-silly slow, followed by an all-out last lap. That was the case when American Matthew Centrowitz won the 2016 Olympic title. Other times, the fastest guys in the field set tactics aside and go hard from the start, as Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot did to win the 2019 world title.
Cheruiyot is in peak form again and has the fastest time in the world this year. He would be foolish not to force others to run up to his level. But more often than not, strange things happen in Olympic 1500-meter finals.
Mohamed Katir of Spain, second fastest in the world this year, is the find of the season, and could challenge Cheruiyot in a fast race. Centrowitz is a superb tactician who will be in the thick of things in almost any sort of race. The other two Americans, Cole Hocker and Yared Nuguse, went 1-2 in the NCAA championships and will do well to make the final.
Women’s 10,000 Meters
Final: 7:45 p.m. local, Saturday, 8/7; 6:45 a.m. Eastern/3:45 a.m. Pacific
We try to use the word “epic” sparingly, but it’s fair to say this race should be one of the epic match-ups in any sport of the Games. The top two contenders: Reigning world champion Sifan Hassan of Holland, who ran 29:06.82 on June 6 to break the world record, and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who broke Hassan’s record just two days later in 29:01.03.
The two met have met before at the distance, in the 2019 World Championships. There, Hassan seemed on another level from the rest of the world and easily handled Gidey’s attempt to break her over the final four laps. (At that meet, Hassan also won the 1500, an unprecedented double-gold haul in modern times.) But Gidey was 21 at that time, and now has another two years of international experience. Given Hassan’s prowess at 1500 meters, Gidey will likely try the same tactic as in 2019, a long drive over the last four or five laps. Hassan needed a 4:18 final mile last time to beat Gidey. Will they close even faster in Tokyo?
U.S. Trials champion Emily Sisson is unlikely to get caught up in Hassan-Gidey fireworks. But if the weather cooperates, she could threaten the American record of 30:13.17 that her occasional training partner, Molly Huddle, set while finishing sixth at the 2016 Games.
Final: 7 a.m. local, Sunday, 8/8; 6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific, Saturday, 8/7
A day after the women’s marathon concludes—another highly-anticipated event that takes place at 6 p.m. Eastern on Friday, August 6—the men’s marathon is the final running event of the Games. This race is either one of the most predictable or most unpredictable.
On the predictable hand, there’s the defending champion, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, the most accomplished marathoner in history. Did you know that Kipchoge won a marathon in April in 2:04:30? Don’t feel bad if not—the world record-holder and only person to break 2:00 in any conditions is also the first person in history to make a 2:04 marathon unremarkable. Kipchoge has lost only two marathons since taking up the event in 2013.
On the unpredictable hand, consider: One of those losses occurred at London last October. Kipchoge not only lost, but, by his exalted standards, bombed, finishing eighth, more than a minute behind the winner. Kipchoge, age 36, suddenly seemed mortal. There’s built-in unpredictability concerning anyone’s body on marathon day—Kipchoge was undone last fall in London by a clogged ear.
Also, knowing who is in great shape is always difficult because the top marathoners race so seldom. That said, don’t be surprised to see U.S. champion and defending bronze medalist Galen Rupp vie for a medal. And most definitely keep an eye out for one or both of Kengo Suzuki and Suguru Osaka, who hope to give marathon-mad Japan hometown heroes to cheer for late in the race.
Scott is a veteran running, fitness, and health journalist who has held senior editorial positions at Runner’s World and Running Times. Much of his writing translates sport science research and elite best practices into practical guidance for everyday athletes. He is the author or coauthor of several running books, including Running Is My Therapy, Advanced Marathoning, and Meb for Mortals. Scott has also written about running for Slate, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and other members of the sedentary media. His lifetime running odometer is past 110,000 miles, but he’s as much in love as ever.