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American athletes to watch as Tokyo Olympics draw near

·10 min read
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Every four years, the world watches as the Olympics provides the best athletes in the world an international platform to showcase their talents.

The United States will have stars from Summer Games past wearing the country’s colors once again. There will be the obvious names such as Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky. First-timers such as Noah Lyles appear primed to make themselves known to the world.

Soon, the competitors will be heading to Tokyo for an Olympics that will be quite different from any other as it is played during a global pandemic. But before they do, here are the Team USA athletes to know prior to the opening ceremonies on July 23 — from the beach volleyball court to the pool to the balance beam.

A’ja Wilson, women's basketball

Twitter: @_ajawilson22

Instagram: aja22wilson

There are a handful of U.S. teams that are almost sure locks to win gold, and women’s basketball is at the top of that list. The squad has won six gold medals in a row with 49 consecutive wins along the way. Adding Las Vegas Aces guard A’ja Wilson to the mix should only stretch those unfathomable records.

Wilson, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick after leading the South Carolina Gamecocks to a national championship in 2017, is the reigning WNBA MVP. With Team USA, she’d be playing for college coach Dawn Staley once again.

Internationally, she’s been a member of Team USA since 2017 and was the youngest member of the team that won the 2018 FIBA World Cup.

Heimana Reynolds, men's skateboarding (park)

Instagram: heimana_reynolds

With skateboarding making its debut on the Olympic program in Tokyo, any athlete to stand highest on the podium will be a first-time winner.

Heimana Reynolds has the chance to make history with a gold in men’s park. Growing up, his family operated a skatepark in his native Honolulu, Hawaii. The 23-year-old broke out in 2019, winning the Park World Championship a year after finishing second.

Allyson Felix, women’s track and field

Allyson Felix has racked up nine medals in her Olympic career.
Allyson Felix has racked up nine medals in her Olympic career.

Twitter: @allysonfelix

Instagram: allysonfelix

Tokyo will mark Felix’s fifth Games, and she’s racked up nine medals (six gold, three silver) in a variety of events. She’ll be competing in the 400, which she placed second in during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, but missed qualifying for the 200, an event she won gold in nine years ago.

At 35, Felix will be one of the more well-known names in the American delegation, having reached the podium at four straight Olympics as the most decorated female track and field athlete in U.S. history.

Caeleb Dressel, men’s swimming

YouTube: Caeleb Dressel

Instagram: caelebdressel

Only two swimmers have won three individual golds at a single Olympics: Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps. With no Phelps as part of the delegation for the first time this century, Dressel – a freestyle and butterfly specialist -- will garner a lot of attention on the men’s swimming side and could swim up to seven events (including relays). The 24-year-old led off the gold-medal 4x100 freestyle relay five years ago, but doesn’t have an individual medal of his own yet.

During the U.S. swimming trials, Dressel nearly broke his own 100-meter butterfly record and will also swim the 50 and 100 freestyle in Tokyo.

Simone Biles, women’s gymnastics

Twitter: @Simone_Biles

Instagram: simonebiles

At this point – and Biles has said this – “the GOAT” isn’t so much competing against others as she is competing against herself. The past accolades speak for themselves: five Olympic medals (four gold, one bronze) from Rio and 25 world championship medals (19 gold). The dominance is as simple as the fact that she hasn’t lost an all-around competition she entered 2013. Biles, 24, is expected to lead the women’s team to an all-around title, secure an all-around victory for herself and will surely dazzle in the individual events, particularly the vault and floor exercise. How the judges score what has never been done before will be a story to watch in Tokyo.

Katie Ledecky, women’s swimming

Twitter: @katieledecky

Instagram: katieledecky

Facebook: Katie Ledecky

Ledecky burst onto the Olympic scene as a 15-year-old at the 2012 Games in London and is the back-to-back 800-meter freestyle champion. The introduction of the 1500-meter freestyle for women at the Olympics, an event Ledecky also dominates, opens up another gold-medal possibility. And if Ledecky is at the top of her form, world records – some already hers – could fall.

The freestyle (200, 400, 800 and 1,500) will provide Ledecky the chance for four individual golds. She won all four at the U.S. swimming trials.

Sydney McLaughlin, women’s track and field

Twitter: @GoSydGo

Instagram: sydneymclaughlin16

The 21-year-old smashed the world record in the 400 hurdles with a time of 51.90. In the process, she defeated Dalilah Muhammad, the previous record holder, and positioned herself as a favorite for gold

After setting the NCAA record in the 400 hurdles for the Kentucky Wildcats in 2018, McLaughlin turned pro and placed second in the event at the 2019 World Championships, where she was a member of the victorious 4x400-meter relay.

Collin Morikawa, men’s golf

Twitter: @collin_morikawa

Instagram: collin_morikawa

Morikawa, 24, is one of four Americans to qualify for the Games, joining Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Xander Shauffele. The fourth-ranked player in the world and the 2020 PGA Championship winner, Morikawa has a chance to rise to the medal stand.

Megan Rapinoe, women’s soccer

Twitter: @mPinoe

Instagram: mrapinoe

Facebook: Megan Rapinoe

Perhaps no team in the American delegation has more established success than the women’s soccer team, and Rapinoe is among the most decorated (two World Cup golds, one Olympic gold) on the world stage. But the squad will be looking to avenge a disappointing fifth-place finish in Rio.

Diana Taurasi, women’s basketball

Twitter: @DianaTaurasi

Instagram: dianataurasi

Taurasi, 39, has never lost a game at the Olympics and already has four gold medals. The WNBA’s all-time leading scorer is currently nursing a fractured sternum but should be good to go for Tokyo, where she’ll be the veteran for a women’s basketball program looking to continue its international dominance.

Nyjah Huston, men's skateboarding (street)

Nyjah Huston is a four-time world champion in skateboarding.
Nyjah Huston is a four-time world champion in skateboarding.

Instagram: nyjah

A four-time world champion, Nyjah Huston clinched his spot in the Olympics with a second-place finish at the 2021 World Street Championships in Rome in early June. Yuto Horigome, the world No. 2 who bested Huston in Rome, should be his primary competition. According to NBC, Huston is skateboarding’s all-time leader in prize money earned.

Noah Lyles, men's track and field

Twitter: @LylesNoah

Instagram: nojo18

Facebook: Noah Lyles

Barely missing the 2016 Olympic roster out of high school, Noah Lyles will enter the 2020 Games with high expectations in an Olympic staple, track and field. At the 2019 World Championships, he won gold in the 200 and ran a leg of the 4x100-relay that won gold.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100 is 9.86 seconds, but a time two-tenths of a second slower at trials led to a seventh-place finish and a failure to qualify. He will be a favorite to win the 200 in Tokyo, especially after a world-leading 19.74 to finish first. He'd be the first American to win the 200 at the Olympics since Shawn Crawford in 2004.

Cat Osterman, softball

Twitter: @catosterman

Instagram: catosterman

Facebook: Cat Osterman

As softball returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008, Osterman has the chance to return to the Games for a third time. In 2004 Athens, she was the lone collegiate player to join the gold-medal-winning Team USA. Four years later, the U.S. fell short in the gold-medal game to Japan; Osterman was also part of that squad. Now 38 years old, the former Texas Longhorn will be the oldest member of the team.

Grant Holloway, men's track and field

Twitter: @Flaamingoo_

Instagram: flaamingoo_

Grant Holloway is currently the No. 1-ranked men’s 110-meter hurdler in the world. He won the 2019 World Championships in Doha, and in Tokyo, the 21-year-old University of Florida product will be the guy to beat. Earlier this year, Holloway set the 60-meter world record (7.29 seconds), breaking a mark that had stood for 27 years. At the track and field trials, Holloway nearly beat the world record – missing the mark by one-hundredth of a second – with a personal best of 12.81 seconds.

Carissa Moore, women's surfing

Carissa Moore shown competing in the semifinal of the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic.
Carissa Moore shown competing in the semifinal of the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic.

Instagram: rissmoore10

Carissa Moore is a four-time world champion and Hawaii native who attended the same high school as President Barack Obama (Punahou High). A strong 2021 season in the World Surf League has her ranked No. 1, and she’s the reigning world champion from 2019.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock, women's wrestling

Twitter: @MensahTamStock

Instagram: mensahtamyrastock

The U.S. trials champion in 2016, Tamyra Mensah-Stock did not go to Rio because the team as a whole failed to qualify for the 150-pound weight class. That’s not an issue for Team USA or Mensah-Stock in these Olympics. Fresh off a world championship in 2019 and the reigning Trials winner once again, Mensah-Stock, 29, should be a contender for gold.

Alix Klineman, women's beach volleyball

Twitter: @alixklineman

Instagram: alixklineman

Alix Klineman has represented the U.S. on the volleyball court for nearly a decade, but this will be her first Olympics. Since leaving the indoor game to focus on beach volleyball full-time in 2017, she’s found success with partner April Ross, who won bronze alongside Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio five years ago.

Sunisa Lee, women's gymnastics

Twitter: @sunisalee_

Instagram: sunisalee_

Every member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team other than Simone Biles could be on this list, as they are near locks to win the overall team gold. The roster won’t be formally set until late June, but Lee could take an individual gold home on the uneven bars.

Nevin Harrison, canoe, kayak

Twitter: @nevin_harrison

Instagram: nevinharrison

Harrison became the first C1 200-meter sprint canoe champion at the age of 17 two years ago. In May, she won the event again at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup with a time of 47.59 seconds – two seconds faster than her world championship time. Both victories are signs that Harrison portends to be a gold medal contender in Tokyo, where women’s canoeing is making its Olympic program debut. Team USA has not won a canoeing medal since 1992.

April Ross, women’s beach volleyball

Twitter: @AprilRossBeach

Instagram: aprilrossbeach

Facebook: April Ross

A two-time Olympic medalist (2012 silver, 2016 bronze), Ross will be working with her third teammate at the Games in Klineman. The duo is coming off a silver medal at the 2019 world championship. Klineman and Ross have combined for four gold and a silver on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour since 2018 and finished second at the World Championships in 2019. Can this be the Games Ross reaches the top of the podium?

Eddy Alvarez, baseball

Twitter: @eddyalvarez90

An infielder with the Miami Marlins organization, Alvarez has an Olympic past -- from the Winter Games. At Sochi 2014, the Miami-born Alvarez won a silver medal in the 5,000-meter speed skating relay. His baseball career picked up after that, and now he's looking for gold on the diamond in baseball's return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008 in a country that is passionate about the sport.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympics 2021: Top US athletes to watch at Tokyo summer games