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Olympics 2021 — The Team USA athletes to watch in Tokyo

After an unprecedented pandemic delay, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics will finally begin on Friday. And while there are many superstars competing (Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Allyson Felix, to name three), there also are other names you might not know yet — but should. Here, 25 of the most compelling Olympians this year:

Simone Biles, gymnastics

Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Biles, 24, is a five-time world all-around champion and the defending Olympic champ. She was the best gymnast on the competition floor in Rio in 2016, and four years later, she is only more dominant.

One thing to know: Widely considered the gymnastics GOAT, Biles could win as many as five gold medals in Tokyo. If she does, it would tie the record (held by Soviet legend Larisa Latynina) for the most Olympic gold medals earned by a female gymnast. Biles has already won 10 more world championship gold medals than any other female gymnast in history.

One thing to watch: If she competes the much-talked-about Yurchenko double pike vault, it would be the second vault to be named “the Biles.” You might also see Biles’ own skills on beam (double-twisting double-back dismount) and floor (double layout with a half-twist and triple-twisting double-back).

Tweet worth seeing:

.@Simone_Biles rocked the GOAT slides last night 🐐 pic.twitter.com/p6pvdFKO7j

β€” SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 26, 2021

Sunisa Lee, gymnastics

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Lee, 18, finished second to Biles at the Olympic trials, and had a higher four-event total on Day 2 — the first time any gymnast has topped Biles on any day of competition in more than eight years.

One thing to know: Lee is the first Hmong American to qualify for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Her parents, John and Yeev, emigrated from Laos to the U.S. as children.

One thing to watch: Her bar routine is one of the toughest in the world and puts her in contention for a medal — possibly gold — on that event.

Tweet worth seeing:

The Hardest Bar Routine In The Worldℒ️@sunisalee_ x #GymTrials21 pic.twitter.com/2S6ZjcEyeF

β€” Team USA (@TeamUSA) June 28, 2021

Brody Malone, gymnastics

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

A two-time NCAA all-around champion, Malone, 21, defeated six-time national champion Sam Mikulak in June to win his first senior all-around title. Malone backed up his win at trials and clinched an automatic spot on the Olympic team.

One thing to know: As a kid in northern Georgia, Malone hunted, fished and competed in rodeo, where he excelled in roping events.

One thing to watch: Malone’s high-flying high bar routine, which earned the top score at trials, makes him a medal contender in Tokyo.

Tweet worth seeing:

statement = MADE

Brody Malone is bringing the heat with this incredible high bar routine. πŸ”₯@brody1700 // #USGymChamps pic.twitter.com/bW5uktYFjT

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 6, 2021

Allyson Felix, track and field

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The nine-time Olympic medalist will make one last Olympic appearance in Tokyo, competing in the 400 meters and possibly the women’s 4×400 and the mixed gender 4×400, a new event.

One thing to know: Tokyo will be Felix’s fifth Olympics, and her first as a mother. Felix, 35, gave birth to her daughter, Camryn, via emergency C-section at 32 weeks in 2018, and criticized then-sponsor Nike the year after for its poor maternity policies. She recently announced she and her new partner, Athleta, along with the Women’s Sports Foundation, would be funding a $200,000 grant program to help fund child care costs for mothers who are athletes.

One thing to watch: If Felix medals in Tokyo, she would equal Carl Lewis’ record for the most Olympic medals by an American track and field athlete.

Tweet worth seeing:

“SUPERMOMMIES! YEAH!”

Quanera Hayes’ son and @allysonfelix’s daughter met after their moms qualified for the #TokyoOlympics. The moment speaks for itself.@usatf | #TokyoOlympics x #TrackFieldTrials21 pic.twitter.com/MCrlvJ7G9e

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 21, 2021

Noah Lyles, track and field

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Lyles, 23, will be making his Olympic debut. He’s the reigning world champion in the 200 meters and won the race at the U.S. Olympic trials in June.

One thing to know: Lyles is the top-ranked sprinter in the world in the 200 meters and has recorded the fastest time this season at 19.74 seconds. Once hoping to compete in the 100 meters as well, he didn’t qualify for the shorter distance but is the favorite to take home gold in his lone race.

One thing to watch: As he did during the Olympic trials, Lyles sometimes wears a fingerless black glove on his left hand and raises his gloved fist when introduced before races, in homage to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and to raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tweet worth seeing:

That’s how you claim your ticket to Tokyo – @LylesNoah everybody. πŸ‘
#TokyoOlympics x #TrackFieldTrials21 pic.twitter.com/XsMFAjBF4T

β€” Team USA (@TeamUSA) June 28, 2021

Sydney McLaughlin, track and field

Ashley Landis/AP

The women’s 400-meter hurdles will be one of the most anticipated races at these Olympics, with McLaughlin, 21, going head-to-head against Rio gold medalist (and U.S. teammate) Dalilah Muhammad.

One thing to know: McLaughlin was just 16 at the Rio Games, the youngest American to compete in Olympic track and field since 1972.

One thing to watch: At the U.S. track and field Olympic trials in June, McLaughlin set a world record and became the first woman to break the 52-second barrier with a time of 51.90 seconds. Whose record did she break? Muhammad, who outraced McLaughlin at the 2019 world championships.

Tweet worth seeing:

.@GoSydGo sets the WORLD RECORD and is going to the #TokyoOlympics! ⚑️@usatf | #TrackFieldTrials21 pic.twitter.com/K0WYmiHiSn

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 28, 2021

Gwen Berry, track and field

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Berry, 32, is appearing in her second Olympic Games after finishing third in the hammer throw at last month’s Olympic trials.

One thing to know: Entering the Games, Berry has the world’s fourth-best mark of the year at 76.79 meters and looks to improve upon her 14th-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

One thing to watch: Berry, a vocal racial and social justice advocate, made headlines for turning away from the U.S. flag while the national anthem played during the medal ceremony at Olympic trials, telling CNN she “will not stand for any type of symbol or song that does not stand for all people in America.” She had previously raised her fist on the podium at the 2019 Pan American Games and had received a 12-month probation from the USOPC for the act. In July, the IOC announced that protests would be allowed in Tokyo only “prior to the start of the competition” and not on the podium at medal ceremonies.

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Carli Lloyd, soccer

Elsa/Getty Images

Thirteen years after Lloyd made her Olympic debut in Beijing, she’s on the hunt for her third gold medal. A two-time World Cup champ, she is also only the third player in international soccer history to reach 300 caps.

One thing to know: At 39, Lloyd is the oldest player to ever represent the USWNT at an Olympics.

One thing to watch: The U.S. women’s national team will kick off its Olympic campaign on July 21 against a familiar foe: Sweden, which knocked the U.S. out in Rio.

Tweet worth seeing:

We think she’s pretty excited for her fourth Olympics πŸ˜πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

Like a fine wine, @CarliLloyd! pic.twitter.com/lRTk8RKGjN

β€” U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) July 5, 2021

Megan Rapinoe, soccer

Megan RapinoeΒ Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The USWNT star, with her pink hair and iconic pose, will be playing in her third Olympics. Rapinoe was named the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year in 2019, and has helped lead the U.S. team to two World Cup titles.

One thing to know: It’s no coincidence that the USWNT’s worst-ever result in a major tournament — losing in the quarterfinals to Sweden at the 2016 Olympics — happened when Rapinoe was struggling to recover from an ACL injury.

One thing to watch: An outspoken advocate for equal pay, the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ rights and other social justice issues, Rapinoe, 36, will make news on and off the pitch.

Tweet worth seeing:

Megan Rapinoe hit back at a series of tweets by Draymond Green in which he, in part, blamed women for making “complaints” rather than taking action over disparities in pay and investment in women’s sports. https://t.co/wdoed4TsBc pic.twitter.com/EJYv7qvpvV

β€” ESPN (@espn) April 7, 2021

Kevin Durant, basketball

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Durant, 32, won back-to-back NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and 2018, and now plays for the Brooklyn Nets. He earned gold with the U.S. team at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

One thing to know: Durant first made his mark for Team USA more than a decade ago, when he led the U.S. to the 2010 FIBA world championship title — the first for the team since 1994. At the 2012 Olympics, Durant set the U.S. record for total points scored in an Olympic basketball tournament (156), then nearly matched his record in 2016, with 155.

One thing to watch: He enters the Olympic Games ranked second in U.S. men’s Olympic basketball history with 311 career points, needing 25 points to match Carmelo Anthony’s record of 336.

Tweet worth seeing:

.@KDTrey5 on the glass, @Dame_Lillard loading up at the arc. You gotta love it.

πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ #USABMNT pic.twitter.com/gTY0f22gnU

β€” USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 8, 2021

Sue Bird, basketball

Eric Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

At 40, Bird — who has won four championships with the Seattle Storm — is the oldest current player in the WNBA. She is engaged to Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion soccer player Megan Rapinoe, making them a true Olympic power couple.

One thing to know: Bird is the only WNBA player to win a championship in three different decades. Her combined nine Olympic and FIBA World Cup medals is the most of any basketball player, male or female, worldwide.

One thing to watch: Bird will lead the U.S. team in its pursuit of a seventh straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. She has been on the team for its past four Olympic gold medals, dating back to 2004.

Tweet worth seeing:

.@S10Bird, the #WNBA all-time assists leader, is now the first player in league history to reach 3,000 career AST πŸŽ‰

Take a look back at some of Bird’s dimes from over the years πŸ‘#CountIt pic.twitter.com/7wUlpw84s8

β€” WNBA (@WNBA) July 10, 2021

Diana Taurasi, basketball

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Taurasi, 39, is a three-time WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury, and has four Olympic gold medals. She is married to two-time Australian Olympic medalist Penny Taylor — and the couple have a son, Leo, born in 2018.

One thing to know: Taurasi became the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader in 2017. In June of this year, she reached another huge milestone, earning her 9,000th career point.

One thing to watch: Taurasi has missed the majority of the WNBA season and three Team USA exhibition games because of injuries. First, a sternum fracture kept her out for more than a month in late May, then a hip injury sidelined her after that. She hasn’t played in a game since July 3, and all eyes will be on her to see if she’s back and healthy in Tokyo.

Tweet worth seeing:

Only fitting 9,000 was in front of a full capacity X-Factor crowd πŸ™…β€β™€οΈ pic.twitter.com/uoY4JPUCuN

β€” Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) June 28, 2021

Katie Ledecky, swimming

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Ledecky, 24, is a five-time Olympic gold medalist and is the defending Olympic champion in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle. She is also the hands-down favorite to win the 1,500-meter freestyle, which is debuting in Tokyo this year.

One thing to know: On July 30, Ledecky will seek a three-peat in the 800-meter freestyle. If she wins her third consecutive gold in the event — which she is favored to — she will join Dawn Fraser (100-meter free) and Krisztina Egerszegi (200-meter backstroke) as the only women to win the same event at three straight Olympic Games.

One thing to watch: Ledecky will also aim to accomplish something that no woman, and very few men, have managed: She will look to win the 200- and the 1,500-meter freestyle on the same day (July 27). The prelims of both events will take place in one session, as will the finals of the events. Why is this so impressive? In the history of the modern Olympics, only five men have won the 200- and the 1,500-meter freestyle, and the two events have never taken place in the same session.

Tweet worth seeing:

Katie Ledecky doing what she does best: Being Katie Ledecky.#SwimTrials21 (πŸ“½οΈ @NBCOlympics)pic.twitter.com/0fcyrXH9IH

β€” NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 18, 2021

Simone Manuel, swimming

Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Manuel, 24, won four medals — two golds and two silvers — in her first Olympic Games at age 20 in 2016.

One thing to know: Manuel won the 100-meter freestyle in Rio, making history by becoming the first Black woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. She also set an Olympic and American record in the process.

One thing to watch: This year at trials, she failed to earn an Olympic berth in the 100 meters, but came back to win the 50-meter freestyle. If she goes on to win the 50 in Tokyo — which she very well could, even though it’s not her marquee event — it would be one of the biggest comeback stories in Olympic swimming.

Tweet worth seeing:

SIMONE MANUEL EVERYBODY.@USASwimming | #SwimTrials21 x #TokyoOlympics

πŸ“Ί CNBC
πŸ’» https://t.co/3ALK1g9Nqi pic.twitter.com/wFrwIFSplq

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 21, 2021

Caeleb Dressel, swimming

Caeleb Dressel takes home six golds and two silvers in his record eight-medal haul at the world championships.Β Xinhua/Imago/Icon Sportswire

Widely considered to be the “next Michael Phelps,” sprint superstar Dressel is a six-time world champion and the world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter individual medley and 50-meter freestyle.

One thing to know: In Rio, Dressel went largely under the radar — winning two golds in relays but no individual medals. Since then, he has shot to fame by winning a record eight medals, including six golds, at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships. He also won every event he participated in at the Olympic trials last month, solidifying his dominance in the sprint events.

One thing to watch: Dressel will compete in three individual events — 50- and 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly — and four relays, and is favored to win golds in all of his individual races. Could he walk away with seven Olympic golds?

Tweet worth seeing:

“This guy’s a beast and I’m excited to be on a team with him representing the best country in the world.”@SwimmerMichael about Caeleb Dressel after the men’s 50m final. #SwimTrials21

πŸ“Ί CNBC
πŸ’» https://t.co/3ALK1g9Nqi pic.twitter.com/EtRE2HH6UC

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 21, 2021

Cat Osterman, softball

Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images

A star of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams that brought home gold and silver, respectively, the southpaw makes her five-ring return in Tokyo.

One thing to know: Softball has not been an Olympic sport since 2008, and the U.S. is a medal favorite once again in the sport’s return to the Olympic stage. The U.S. team opens against Italy on July 20 at 11 p.m. ET — before the opening ceremony officially kicks off the Olympics. Osterman, 38, said she plans to retire for good after the Tokyo Games.

One thing to watch: The spin on her curveball, changeup and rise ball … if you can see it, that is.

Tweet worth seeing:

“Softball has been waiting 12 years so now it’s going to be 13 but at the same time, when you have this dream at your fingertips, I think you’ll do anything to make sure it happens.”

Olympic gold medalist @catosterman’s interview with @miketirico: https://t.co/rzph9NcImC pic.twitter.com/GNjBbwtJm0

β€” #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) March 24, 2020

Todd Frazier, baseball

Mark Brown/Getty Images

Frazier, 35, is a two-time All-Star who hit 218 home runs in the majors and won the 2015 Home Run Derby. A dad of three, he lives in his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey, where he’s a legend for leading his team to the 1998 Little League World Series title as a 12-year-old.

One thing to know: Frazier began the 2021 season with the Pirates, but Pittsburgh released him after he went 3-for-35, and no other team signed him. He hooked up with Team USA during the qualifying tournament and has played a few games for the Sussex County Miners of the independent Frontier League to get some reps in.

One thing to watch: Only players not on major league 40-man rosters were eligible for the Olympic team, so the roster is a mix of younger prospects like shortstop Nick Allen of the A’s and pitchers Shane Baz of the Rays and Simeon Woods Richardson of the Blue Jays, plus older players with MLB experience like Frazier, Scott Kazmir, David Robertson and Edwin Jackson. Baseball is in the Olympics for the first time since 2008, when South Korea won gold. The U.S. last won in 2000.

Post worth seeing:

Bryson DeChambeau, golf

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

DeChambeau, 27, is an eight-time PGA Tour winner who captured the 2020 U.S. Open. Though he is the sixth-ranked player in the world, he barely qualified for the American team because only four among the top 15 can qualify, and three other Americans were ahead of him.

One thing to know: For more than a year, DeChambeau has been golf’s lightning rod: He has been in a running feud with fellow American Brooks Koepka, split with his caddie on the eve of a tournament, melted down on the back nine at the U.S. Open and publicly fought with his own equipment sponsor.

One thing to watch: DeChambeau leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, and his strategy most times is to bomb tee shots and go find them. Although the rough is not expected to be overly deep at the tournament venue, Kasumigaseki Country Club’s East Course, the course is tree-lined, which might lead DeChambeau to think twice about hitting all those drivers.

Tweet worth seeing:

Pushed the limit on things I wasn’t sure about this week @apinv and it paid off. It means the world to me to win this event. Mr. Palmer inspired my game and how I live my life, and I owe a lot to him for what he’s done for golf. Thank you Sam and Amy for keeping his traditions. pic.twitter.com/RShIHiM9LJ

β€” Bryson DeChambeau (@b_dechambeau) March 8, 2021

Jessica and Nelly Korda, golf

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Nelly, 22, is the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world and recently won her first major at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Older sister Jessica, 28, is currently ranked No. 13 and has won six titles on the LPGA Tour. This is the first Olympic appearance for both.

One thing to know: Jessica and Nelly are part of sporting legacy — their father, Petr, is a former No. 2 on the ATP Tour and won the 1998 Australian Open; their mother, Regina, reached a high of No. 26 on the WTA Tour; and their younger brother, Sebastian, is a rising tennis star who also qualified for the Olympics but opted out. One thing no one in the family has yet to achieve? An Olympic medal.

One thing to watch: Nelly is averaging a tour-best sub-69 scoring average this season, and Jessica is right behind her at 69.650. They are two of just seven women who have been averaging under the 70-mark in 2021.

Post worth seeing:

April Ross, beach volleyball

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

An Olympic silver and bronze medalist, Ross, 39, competed in Rio with three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings. In Tokyo, Ross is teamed with Olympic rookie Alix Klineman and the duo is favored to become only the second U.S. team to win gold. (Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won in 2004, 2008 and 2012.)

One thing to know: Ross is one of only four U.S. volleyball players to win multiple Olympic medals.

One thing to watch: Her serve. Ross is one of the most powerful and feared servers in the sport.

Tweet worth seeing:

QUALIFIED FOR TOKYO!πŸ‘―β€β™€οΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
So proud, grateful, & excited to have mathematically qualified for my third Olympic Games!πŸŽ‰ & so so happy that I’ve gotten to help @alixklineman achieve her goal she worked so hard & risked so much for!❀️ TY to everyone who has helped & supported us! πŸ™πŸΌ pic.twitter.com/mA6HvdJucJ

β€” April Ross (@AprilRossBeach) March 27, 2021

John John Florence, surfing

Courtesy Parallel Sea

Born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Florence, 28, grew up surfing the famed Banzai Pipeline. In December 2019, the two-time world champion clinched his Olympic spot at the same break. Surfing makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

One thing to know: Florence underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in May, less than three months ago.

One thing to watch: Florence is one of the best aerialists in the sport — and if the conditions are right, he might even attempt an ultra-rare backflip.

Tweet worth seeing:

It’s been non-stop on the North Shore and the Digital #VTCS has kicked into gear. Here’s John John Florence’s first entry from Haleiwa.

Hit https://t.co/lUt6GrR7nz for an influx of clips. pic.twitter.com/Cbz1ZFKGnv

β€” Vans Surf Team (@vanssurf) January 2, 2021

Adeline Gray, wrestling

AP Photo/Anvar Ilyasov

An alternate at the 2012 Games in London, Gray made her Olympic debut in 2016 but struggled with a shoulder injury and lost in the quarterfinals. This summer, she is a gold-medal favorite at 76 kg.

One thing to know: Gray is the only American wrestler to win five world championships, and one of only two U.S. women to win back-to-back titles. Even more impressive: She did it twice, in 2014-2015 and 2018-2019.

One thing to watch: Gray’s postmatch interviews. She is outspoken about equal representation for women in the sport of wrestling.

Post worth seeing:

Nyjah Huston, skateboarding

Rick Kern/WireImage

The most successful contest street skater in history, Huston is a 12-time X Games gold medalist, the No. 1-ranked street skater in the world and the hands-down favorite for gold in the sport’s debut in Tokyo.

One thing to know: Despite participating in a sport where slams are a consistent part of the job, Huston, 26, has never broken a bone.

One thing to watch: Huston’s attacking style on the biggest obstacles on the course. He has said he is eyeing the extra-long rails on the Tokyo course.

Tweet worth seeing:

First contest back and got the win. Big couple months comin up let’s gooooo!!!πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ pic.twitter.com/hIzhGnbuYH

β€” Nyjah Huston (@nyjah) May 25, 2021

Kanak Jha, table tennis

At 16, Kanak Jha became the youngest American — and the first to be born in the 21st century — to become an Olympian (Rio Olympics).Β Courtesy of Kanak Jha

Jha, 21, won the men’s singles and doubles gold medals at the 2019 U.S. national championships, and is a Youth Olympics bronze medalist.

One thing to know: Jha is considered the best table tennis player in the United States and has won every single national title since he began competing in the tournament in 2016.

One thing to watch: An American has never won an Olympic gold medal in table tennis, and Jha could well be the first.

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