(NEW YORK) — Let’s face it, a lot of Americans who love the Olympics don’t sit glued to our seats watching swimming, track and field or cycling in the years between each games. But when the flame is lit in Tokyo on July 23, we still want to sound like we did.
So, if you’re going to watch the Tokyo Summer Games, it’s good to know who you should be paying attention to over the course of the two weeks.
The U.S. has led the overall medal count in six straight summer games, essentially every year since Soviet athletes competed together, but China has put the pressure on recently and even bested them in golds at the 2008 Beijing Games.
So who are the Americans who will be charged with keeping the medal streak alive?
ABC News takes a look at some of the best:
Simone Biles — 24 — Gymnastics
OK, so this is the name you probably do know. Biles, unquestionably the most successful gymnast in history, will likely be a bigger favorite than any athlete at the games. After winning three individual golds, including the all-around, and a team gold in Rio, she may actually be expected to do better in 2021. After all, the bronze she won in beam in 2016 simply won’t cut it for one of the most determined athletes ever.
No woman has won back-to-back individual all-around titles since Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska in 1964 and ’68. But Biles has never lost an all-around competition in the Olympics or World Championships, winning all six times she competed. Presuming she does hang up her leotard after Tokyo, fans should enjoy watching the greatest of all time while they still can.
Trayvon Bromell — 26 — Track
Like Michael Phelps in the pool, Usain Bolt will be missed on the track in 2021. The greatest sprinter of all time swept the 100- and 200-meter sprints in each of the last three Olympics. His exit opens up a spot on the podium for a new fastest man on the planet — just maybe the United States’ Bromell. Coming off a world championship in the 100 meters in 2019, Christian Coleman was expected to be the top sprinter on the American team, and the gold medal favorite. Instead, Coleman missed three drug tests over a 12-month period in 2018 and 2019 and was banned from competition for two years.
Bromell has starred this year in Coleman’s absence. He was a junior sensation, predicted to ascend to the fastest in the world, but injuries waylaid that promise — until now. He blew out his Achilles tendon at the Rio Olympics during the 4×100-meter relay and spent most of the last few years sitting out from the sport. Back to full health, he has the fastest time in the world in 2021 (9.77 seconds) and cruised to victory at the U.S. Olympic trials (9.8 seconds).
Ryan Crouser — 28 — Shot put
Everything about Crouser is big — including, of course, his 6-foot-7, 320-pound frame. But most importantly, his throws in shot put competition are very, very big. He came out firing in 2021 after a largely lost pandemic season. Crouser threw for an indoor world record (22.82 meters) on literally his first competitive throw of 2021. After he moved outdoors, he broke a near-mythic 31-year-old world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June by throwing 23.37 meters. In fact, all five of his qualifying throws at the trials would have won the competition.
Crouser won the gold in 2016 and set an Olympic record at the same time. Look for him to be gunning for the gold and another world record in Tokyo. There’s a chance the U.S. could sweep the podium with Joe Kovacs (who edged out Crouser at the 2019 World Championships and took silver in Rio) and Payton Otterdahl finishing second and third at U.S. trials. Kovacs has the second-longest throw in the world this season by someone not named Crouser.
Caeleb Dressel — 24 — Swimming
For the first time since 1996, Phelps will not be competing at the Summer Olympics. Dressel is no Phelps, but he will be the biggest name on the U.S. team in Tokyo. Dressel already owns two gold medals from Rio (he can thank Phelps, in part, as he won two relay golds with the legend). All he’s done since 2016 is keep improving. He won seven golds in an unbelievable performance at the 2017 World Championships and then six more at the 2019 World Championships (along with two silvers).
The freestyle and butterfly, both at short distances, are Dressel’s two specialties. He’s the favorite in the 100-meter butterfly in 2021 as the current world record holder. But he will be tested in several events by Australian star Kyle Chalmers, who won the gold in Rio in the 100-meter freestyle at just 17.
Adeline Gray — 30 — Wrestling
Gray may be the greatest women’s freestyle wrestler of all time. There’s just one problem: In her only Olympic appearance, in Rio, she suffered a shocking upset in the quarterfinals coming off back-to-back world championships at 75kg. Gray didn’t let the disappointment hold her down. The Denver native bounced back with two more world titles in 2018 and 2019. She’s taken the one-year delay in stride and is in good form this year, coming off a gold at the Pan American Championships in late May.
She’ll be the favorite at 76kg in Tokyo against a strong contingent of Japanese women, but you can bet she won’t take that for granted.
Nyjah Huston — 26 — Skateboarding
Biles may be the most well-known athlete in Tokyo, but she will not be the athlete with the most Instagram followers. That designation goes to Huston — with his 4.6 million followers — as skateboarding makes its debut at the Olympics. After all, there’s a reason the sport is making its first appearance — its popularity with young fans. Huston, who will be competing in street skateboarding — one of two skating competitions in Tokyo — has had more competition success than anyone in history. He’s won 12 X Games gold medals and four world championships.
Huston has literally been ripping up the ramps and rails of street competitions since he was a child. He lost his signature dreadlocks some years back, but it was only this year that he was knocked off the world title podium’s top step after three straight wins. In June, he was upset at the world championships by Yuto Horigome, who will have the strength of an entire nation behind him in Tokyo.
Katie Ledecky — 24 — Swimming
Ledecky is quite simply the best freestyle distance swimmer ever. She already holds five gold medals (one from 2012 and four from 2016) and owns the world record in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle. It kinda feels like Ledecky has been on swimming’s global stage forever, but that may be because she burst on the scene as a 15-year-old prodigy in 2012 when she won the 800-meter freestyle in London. In Rio, she beat the silver medalist by over 11 seconds in the 800 meters.
She is a big favorite, especially in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters (being contested for the first time by women), but it’s been a while since she swam against top competition globally after an illness forced her to pull out of several events at the 2019 World Championships. She won the 800 meters, but only barely after years of dominating the race. She took silver in the 400 and 4×200, but dropped out of her two other races.
With a performance like 2016, Ledecky could become the record holder for most gold medals by any woman in Olympics history (summer or winter). Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina currently holds the record with nine, so wins in the 200, 400, 800, 1,500 and 4×200 would give her the solo record with 10 golds.
Sydney McLaughlin — 21 — Track
The biggest head-to-head showdown on the track in Tokyo will likely be won by an American — the question is just which one. Dalilah Muhammad stood atop the podium in Rio for the women’s 400-meter hurdles, and she spent most of the last four years ascending to the same spot in competitions around the globe. She won gold in the 2019 world championships in world record time (52.16 seconds) and would’ve been a heavy favorite to win if the Olympics had taken place in 2020. But McLaughlin, the youngest track athlete on the Olympic team in 2016, hit her peak at the perfect time.
Muhammad has struggled in 2021 at the same time McLaughlin has exploded onto the scene. The rivalry came to a head at the U.S. Olympic trials in June when the two faced off in the 400 hurdles final. Not only did McLaughlin dust her, she set a new world record at 51.90 seconds. Stunned, McLaughlin crouched to the track after the win and covered her mouth. Muhammad finished second, more than a half second back, but she’ll be in Tokyo, too. And the rivalry will be back on.
Carissa Moore — 28 — Surfing
Life is pretty good when you’re 28 years old and already in the Hall of Fame. Oh, and you get to spend your life at the beach. For all the success Moore has had in surfing — and it’s a lot — winning a gold medal in the sport’s Olympic debut would be especially sweet. Moore, unsurprisingly, was born and raised in Hawaii and began surfing as a toddler. Now, she’s a four-time world champion, including in 2019.
Moore is currently leading the World Surf League point standings, but she’s being hunted by the same Aussies who will be her main competition in Tokyo: Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore. Gilmore is the winningest woman in surfing history with seven world championships (in a tie with countrywoman Layne Beachley).
Hannah Roberts — 19 — Freestyle BMX
The teenager from South Bend, Indiana, is the favorite to win gold in freestyle BMX as it debuts at the Tokyo Games. But even if she does, it’ll probably only rank second in biggest moments in 2021. Roberts married her fiancee, Kelsey Miller, in January, writing on Instagram, “With everything going on and everything coming up we decided to have a small ceremony.” Nothing like downplaying a trip to the biggest competition of your life.
Women have long been fighting for a spot in major competitions for freestyle BMX, which features athletes flipping, spinning and tricking their way across a ramp-filled course. The X Games, the largest action sports competition for decades, relegated women’s BMX to a non-medal, demonstration sport in 2019 — the last time the games were held due to COVID — which brought protests and a holdout from athletes. On the global scene, however, world championships have been held in 2017, 2019 and 2021. All Roberts has done is win gold all three times.
Kyle Snyder — 25 — Wrestling
Snyder leads a U.S. freestyle wrestling team that is expected to have plenty of success in Tokyo. The 2016 gold medalist at 97kg — at just 20 years old and fresh off his sophomore season at Ohio State — will be looking to repeat after cruising through the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials in April. After winning in Rio, he defeated legend Abdulrashid Sadulaev to win gold at the 2017 World Championships to break a four-year undefeated streak for the Russian. But he lost the rematch in 2018 and won only bronze in 2019.
Two-time world champion Kyle Dake, Gable Steveson — who just won an NCAA title in March — and David Taylor, the 2018 world champion at 86kg, are all expected to contend for gold in freestyle wrestling in Tokyo.
Jordan Windle — 22 — Diving
Windle is not expected to medal in Tokyo, but he might have the best story of any American athlete. The University of Texas diver was born in Cambodia and his parents died when he was an infant. He was adopted at 2 from an orphanage in Phnom Penh by an American father and grew up in the U.S. Five years ago, he was featured in a TD Ameritrade commercial pegging him as a future Olympian. After a strong performance on the 10-meter platform at the 2021 Olympic trials in early June, it’s come true.
He has an impressive college resume, winning the NCAA 1-meter title this spring as well as the 2019 NCAA title on the platform in 2019. China has largely dominated Olympic diving in recent years, but American David Boudia did break through for a gold on the platform in 2012 and bronze in 2016. And we know Windle has overcome bigger odds before.
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