The Team USA Olympic Athletes Everyone Will Be Talking About Next Month
It's official: The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are happening this July. Of course there's the G.O.A.T. Simone Biles' performance to look forward to in the gym… but what about the other athletes who are where Biles once was just five years ago at the 2016 Olympics? For many of them, their Olympic moment has yet to happen.
Even more exciting than the fact that the Olympics are simply able to take place, 2021 has a new array of sports, including skateboarding, surfing, karate, and sport climbing. There are some up-and-comers from those new sports as well as new (and some returning) faces in the sports you already love to watch, like gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. (I don't know about you, but I'm so pumped to watch the Team USA surfers hit the waves for the first time in Olympic history and relive my Blue Crush-era fantasies of being a cool surfer girl.)
These top contenders are not going to be unknown names for long. Here are some of the top 15 Team USA Olympic athletes to watch this year.
Brooke Raboutou, Sport Climbing
The first rock climber from the U.S. to ever qualify for the Olympics, Brooke Raboutou is one of the faces of sport climbing's Olympic debut. Raboutou, 20, from Boulder, Colorado (how appropriate) became a rock climbing influencer when her at-home climbing videos went viral during the pandemic. Climbing also runs in the family: Her parents, Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou and Didier Raboutou, are both climbing World Cup champions, and her brother, Shawn Raboutou, is a pro outdoor climber. She's joining three other climbers from Team USA in July.
Sakura Kokumai, Karate
Another first: Sakura Kokumai was the first U.S. karate athlete to qualify for the new Olympic sport, back in March 2020. Born in Hawaii, she's competed in both Hawaii and Japan, where her parents are from. She practices the Japanese kata discipline of karate, for which she's ranked fourth in the world. Kokumai has won *tons* of medals already (way too many to name), and has her sights set on even more in Tokyo.
Sha'Carri Richardson, Track and Field
Sha'Carri Richarson has been all over your social media feed in the past couple of weeks, mostly because she's the youngest of Team USA 100-meter qualifiers at age 21 and has major star power. And the Dallas native is also one of the fastest women in the world. A video of her hugging her grandmother after winning the Olympic Trials made everyone cry, and she now has over a million followers on Instagram. Richardson's mantra, "I'm that girl," will continue into her Olympic journey.
Caroline Marks, Surfing
Caroline Marks is about to make major waves (sorry) at the Olympics. First of all, the 19-year-old was one of the only four Americans to qualify for Team USA surfing, and was the youngest surfer ever to make the women's Championship Tour at age 15. She's from Florida, which makes sense because you can surf all the time there, but completed much of her Olympic training in Australia this past spring.
Sunisa Lee, Gymnastics
Though she literally just went to prom, graduated high school in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is getting ready to attend Auburn University, 18-year-old Sunisa Lee is about to embark on an even bigger journey at the 2021 Olympics. Lee finished second behind Simone Biles at the 2019 Nationals, so she's definitely going places. Her big event is the uneven bars, and we can't wait to watch.
Bryce Wettstein, Skateboarding
More tricks! Bryce Wettstein, a 16-year-old high school student from Encinitas, California, is headed to Tokyo to compete in the Women's Park Skateboarding format, another new sport this Olympics. She's coming off of a 2019 USA National Championship victory in that same division. In the spare time that she does find, she writes songs on her ukelele and surfs. Can we be friends?!
Sam and Kristie Mewis, Soccer
Sisters Sam and Kristie Mewis from Massachusetts are making Olympic history as the first pair of siblings on the U.S. Women's Soccer team competing on the world stage. Sam (the 2020 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year), who's actually younger, has already been on the World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team and went to the 2016 Olympics as an alternate. Kristie more recently joined the U.S. Women's National Team after playing for the Houston Dash and becoming team MVP. The sisters are planning to defend the 2019 World Cup title and take the Olympics by storm, which they definitely will.
Carissa Moore, Surfing
Let this sink in: Carissa Moore is the top-ranked female surfer in the world by the World Surf League going into the Olympics. Moore, who's Native Hawaiian, has been surfing the beaches of Hawaii since age 5 and has been winning Women's Championship Tours since 2011. She's pretty much the one to beat in Tokyo.
Jordan Chiles, Gymnastics
Jordan Chiles, 20, has told reporters that she's named after Michael Jordan, and it looks like she's destined for the same greatness. She just nabbed the all-around bronze medal at the 2021 U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Chiles is originally from Washington, but moved to Texas to train with Simone Biles at her facility (they were roommates at a training camp and became good friends). Tokyo will be her first shot at the Olympics.
Nevin Harrison, Canoeing
Nevin Harrison is currently the first person from the U.S. to win a World Championship in sprint canoeing in 2019, which is when she secured a spot in the 2021 Olympics. Btw, Harrison just graduated from high school last year in her hometown of Seattle, Washington. It's not only Harrison's Olympic debut, but it's also the sport of women's canoeing's debut this summer.
Perris Benegas, BMX Freestyle
Get ready to watch Perris Benegas, originally from Reno, Nevada, land some awesome stunts in the brand new sport, BMX Freestyle (which is basically all the fun flips, jumps, and ramps, as opposed to BMX Racing, which has been a sport since the Beijing Olympics in 2008). Even after sustaining a back disc injury, Benegas took the gold medal in the 2018 Urban Cycling World Championships in the BMX Freestyle Park division. She's going for another gold this summer.
Simone Manuel, Swimming
This isn't Simone Manuel's first Olympics, but the Houston native, a 2016 two-time gold and two-time silver medal winner, is about to become an even bigger star. And this is all before she turns 25. Her big swimming events are the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle, and the 4 x 100-meter freestyle, and she's expected to be just as fierce a medal competitor as she was in Rio in 2016.
Kyra Condie, Sport Climbing
Kyra Condie rounds out the USA women's sport climbing team. She's a graduate of the University of Minnesota, her home state, but moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to pursue professional climbing. Condie has had severe scoliosis and also had spinal fusion surgery in order to keep herself in competitive climbing. She was a Bouldering World Cup finalist and qualified for the Tokyo Games soon after.
Ajee' Wilson, Track and Field
Ajee' Wilson, of Neptune, New Jersey, was also a Rio Olympics competitor, right after she graduated from Temple University. And now she's back for round two in Tokyo. Ajee's main event is the 800-meter sprint, and she's ready to bring home a medal.
Hannah Roberts, BMX Freestyle
Another BMX Freestyler, Hannah Roberts is just 19 and already known for her multiple MBX World Cup and National Championship titles. Fun fact: Her cousin, Brett Banasiewicz, is a well-known BMX rider and introduced her to the sport at age 9 (yup, just 10 years ago). Her signature move, which she was the first female to ever land in competition, is a 360-tailwhip - just look up the jump on YouTube, because it's pretty wild.