The United States Olympic team is expected to include over 500 athletes for the Tokyo Olympics. Below we've highlighted some of the Americans who you'll want to have on your radar during this Olympic season.
Looking for learn more about the top athletes of the Tokyo Olympics? Be sure to check out our lists of Japanese athletes to watch and international athletes to watch.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
In what could be her final Olympic Games, Simone Biles is set to headline another elite U.S. women’s team. Expectations are somehow even higher than they were in 2016, when Biles won four gold medals, including in the individual all-around competition. She’ll now take the stage with four signature moves in her name, potentially in addition to the Yurchenko double pike vault, which she became the first woman to ever perform in competition earlier this year. Biles has also emerged as perhaps the most powerful voice in women’s gymnastics, calling for reform in the wake of the revelations surrounding Larry Nassar.
Katie Ledecky, Swimming
Swimming has simply never seen an athlete like Ledecky. The former Stanford Cardinal holds active world records in the women’s 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle events and is also the defending Olympic champion in the 200m free. With the addition of the women’s 1500m free to the Olympic program, Ledecky has the potential for an unprecedented distance sweep in Tokyo. A four-gold medal performance this summer would make her, at just 24 years old, the most decorated female Olympic swimmer of all time.
Caeleb Dressel, Swimming
U.S. men’s swimming could have its next global Olympic superstar in Dressel, who enters the summer with the potential to win a half-dozen gold medals or more in Tokyo. Since winning a pair of relay golds at Rio 2016, Dressel has become a 13-time world champion and the prohibitive favorite in every freestyle and butterfly sprint event he enters. By his own admission, Dressel’s low-key personality might clash with the enormity of the Olympic stage, but if things go according to plan in Tokyo, he’ll reach Phelpsian heights of stardom whether he likes it or not.
Noah Lyles, Track & Field
The reigning 200m world champion is the favorite to, in some respects, “replace” Jamaican legend Usain Bolt at the top of the podiums in that event. Lyles’ time of 19.50 in July 2019 was the best run since Usain Bolt (19.32) and Yohan Blake (19.44) at the 2012 Olympics and good for fourth all-time, and his time of 19.74 in the Olympic Trials final gave him the world lead for this current season. That Trials win was a much-needed statement run from Lyles, who missed out on qualifying for the 100m. Tokyo will be the first Olympics for the Florida native turning 24 just a few days before the Opening Ceremony.
Sydney McLaughlin, Track & Field
Any time Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad line up for a 400m hurdles race, a world record is in danger of falling. Muhammad, the defending Olympic and reigning world champion, cemented her dominance in the event by taking down its world record twice in 2019 — first at the USA Outdoors Championships, then again at worlds. The runner-up at that world championships, McLaughlin, finished just seven-hundredths of a second behind her to move into No. 2 all-time. But at this year's Olympic Trials, McLaughlin overtook Muhammad and set a new record when she became the first woman to run the event in under 52 seconds. McLaughlin finished 16th at the 2016 Rio Games at age 16 but will return to the Olympics this year, days shy of turning 22, to challenge Muhammad for her Olympic title.
April Ross & Alix Klineman, Beach Volleyball
April Ross will be returning to the Olympics this summer, but she’ll have a new partner this time around. Instead of lining up alongside Kerri Walsh Jennings, she’ll be pairing with Alix Klineman with hopes of giving Team USA its first beach volleyball gold medal since the London Games in 2012. Ross and Klineman have already earned some hardware together, taking home a silver medal at the 2019 World Championships.
Megan Rapinoe, Soccer
Not only is Megan Rapinoe the vocal, emotional leader of the U.S. Women’s National Team off the field, she remains one of the best players in the world on it as well. With 59 goals and 69 assists in 177 career matches with Team USA, Rapinoe is the creative catalyst in attack for the defending FIFA Women’s World Cup champions. Along with her talented strike partners — Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press were all named to the team as well — Rapinoe will look to power the USWNT far past the Olympic quarterfinal round where it exited in disappointing fashion at Rio 2016.
Rose Lavelle, Soccer
The U.S. Women’s National Team’s breakout star at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Rose Lavelle is now firmly entrenched as one of the most important players for Vlatko Andonovski’s Team USA squad. Lavelle is a constant goal and assist threat from midfield. She enters her first Olympic Games at 26 years old and looking to further a rapidly growing legacy.
Sue Bird, Basketball
Another Olympics, another appearance by Sue Bird on sports’ biggest stage. Bird, who turns 41 in October, already has four Olympic gold medals under her belt, and she could be coming home with a fifth after the Tokyo Games conclude. The four-time WNBA champion and 11-time WNBA All-Star is one of the most accomplished basketball players of the modern era, and if this ends up being her last Olympics, she certainly won’t be lacking in career accolades on the international stage.
Cat Osterman, Softball
American softball icon Cat Osterman had already retired and moved into coaching when softball was reinstated to the Olympics, but came out of retirement to chase a third Games in Tokyo. Osterman was the youngest member of Team USA during the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she picked up two wins and one save and led the U.S. in strikeouts en route to the gold medal. Four years later, she started the gold medal game against Japan in Beijing but took the loss in a heartbreaking end to the tournament for the U.S. At age 38, she hopes to avenge that loss and lead the Americans back to the top of the podium in softball’s Olympic return this summer.
Justin Thomas, Golf
Justin Thomas is the highest-ranked men’s golfer on the planet not named Dustin Johnson or Jon Rahm, and it appears he’ll be making the trip to Tokyo to represent the United States. The 28-year-old Louisville native won the PGA Championship in 2017 and was named the PGA Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season. With Johnson opting not to participate in the Tokyo Games, Thomas will immediately become the headliner on Team USA’s crop of men’s golfers.
Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding
One of the most decorated athletes in skateboarding history, Nyjah Huston is the presumptive frontrunner for a gold medal in the men’s street contest when the sport makes its Olympic debut. Since his first appearance in 2006 (as an 11-year-old), Huston has racked up 13 X Games gold medals, and he’s also won the men’s street title at three consecutive world skateboarding championships. In 2012, Huston became the first skater to surpass $1 million in career contest earnings, and he hasn’t slowed down since.
Brighton Zeuner, Skateboarding
Brighton Zeuner became the youngest champion in X Games history when she won gold in women’s park in 2017 at age 13, after first competing in the event as an 11-year-old. She added a second X Games title in 2018. Despite an ankle injury that kept her out of qualifying events for much of 2019, Zeuner’s ascent has enabled her to qualify for skateboarding’s Olympic debut.
John John Florence, Surfing
Two-time world champion John John Florence, the current world No. 3, rushed a comeback from tearing his ACL to make the Olympic team. Florence was Team USA’s final qualifier, edging out 11-time world champion Kelly Slater at the 2019 Pipe Masters. Florence made his professional debut at age 13 and later signed with Hurley in surfing’s biggest deal ever – though the brand let him walk ahead of schedule in early 2020. Florence is known for valuing his privacy but is nonetheless said to be the most marketable surfer in the world.
Carissa Moore, Surfing
Four-time world champion Carissa Moore recently regained her world No. 1 ranking after landing a historic air reverse at a competition in Australia. A media and fan favorite since she hit the professional scene in 2008, Moore is set to vie for a medal in Tokyo as one of Team USA’s four qualifiers for surfing’s Olympic debut.
Maggie Steffens, Water Polo
The captain of the U.S. women’s water polo team, Maggie Steffens enters her third Olympics this summer as the unquestioned greatest female water polo player in history. Steffens’ Olympic goals-per-game record is unmatched at 3.1, a full goal more per game than any woman ever. She needs 10 more Olympic goals in Tokyo to set the record total, though her priority will be leading Team USA to a third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Kyle Snyder, Wrestling
With Jordan Burroughs not making the trip to Tokyo, all eyes will shift to Kyle Snyder as one of the can’t-miss wrestlers set to represent the United States in Japan. The 25-year-old won a gold medal at the Rio Games and is one of the favorites to compete for gold again in the 97-kilogram class, but he may need to go through Abdulrashid Sadulaev, one of the top pound-for-pound wrestlers on the planet, to defend his title.
Brady Ellison, Archery
Three-time Olympic medalist Brady Ellison is headed to his fourth consecutive Games but still in the hunt for his first gold medal. Ellison had a career year in 2019 and made the podium – including two wins – at every World Cup event and currently sits atop the world rankings. He and teenager Casey Kaufhold are also likely to be frontrunners when the mixed team event makes its Olympic debut, as the duo won the event at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Hannah Roberts, BMX Freestyle
The 19-year-old Michigan native is favored to become BMX freestyle's first female Olympic champion when the discipline makes its debut in Tokyo. Roberts has won gold at three of the four world championships that have taken place (the inaugural event was held in 2017), and she was the top-ranked rider in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Alise Willougby, BMX Racing
The 2016 Olympic BMX racing silver medalist won her first world title on home soil less than a year after the Rio Games when South Carolina hosted the UCI BMX World Championships in 2017. In the final, Willoughby, née Post, finished in 33.235 seconds to edge Australian Caroline Buchanan by eight milliseconds. Her UCI individual ranking has gradually increased since Rio: third in 2016, second in 2019, and first in 2020. Willoughby, 30, is a Minnesota native and University of San Diego alumna.
Chloe Dygert, Track/Road Cycling
The versatile cyclist has shown success both on the track and road, winning a combined eight elite world titles since 2016. On the track, she’s the reigning world champion in the non-Olympic individual pursuit, an event she also won in 2017 and 2018, as well as a member of the U.S. team pursuit squad. Dygert and Team USA won silver in the team pursuit at the 2016 Olympics and are currently the reigning world champions in the event. On the road, she won the 2019 world time trial title, beating a pair of Dutch powerhouses. Dygert crashed in the time trial at the 2020 Road World Championships and underwent emergency surgery for a laceration to her left leg, but reports of her prognosis have been positive, and the 24-year-old is expected to make a full recovery by Tokyo.
Katie Zaferes, Triathlon
The reigning world champion will be the highest-ranked female triathlete at the Tokyo Games and a medal contender there. (As of June 2021, she's ranked No. 2 in the world behind fellow American Taylor Spivey, who is not on the Olympic team.) After finishing 18th at the 2016 Rio Games, more than four and a half minutes behind compatriot and winner Gwen Jorgensen, Zafares gradually emerged as the sport’s new frontrunner, moving up one spot every season in the final ITU World Triathlon series standings which determine each year’s world champion. Since Rio she was fourth in 2016, third in 2017, second in 2018 and first in 2019 — she won five of the eight 2019 races upon which the standings are based.
Matt Anderson, Volleyball
The 6-foot-8 star outside hitter helped Team USA win volleyball bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, scoring the second-most points (128) and averaging the fourth-best serve efficiency (0.32) of the tournament. He was also on the Olympic team in 2012 that lost to Italy in the quarterfinals. Since Rio he helped the U.S. team claim bronze at the 2018 World Championship – scoring the second-most points and posting the second-best spiking percentage and serving efficiency – and take third place at the 2019 FIVB World Cup. A Buffalo-area native and Penn State alumnus, Anderson, 33, has played professionally in South Korea, Italy, Russia and China, most recently playing for Shanghai Golden Age. He’s expected to help the U.S. again contend for a medal.
Kanak Jha, Table Tennis
Kanak Jha, the youngest American athlete to participate in the Rio 2016 Games, is set to return to the Olympic stage in Tokyo. Jha, now 20 years old and ranked No. 26 in the world, is over 150 spots ahead of the next American player, Nikhil Kumar (who is qualified for Tokyo in men’s doubles). Jha earned a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 – the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic medal ever for the U.S. in table tennis – then took bronze at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Jade Carey, Gymnastics
Although she still competed at U.S. Olympic Team Trials in June, Jade Carey had already taken a new route to locking up her individual spot in Tokyo ahead of time. A three-time world medalist (twice on vault, once on floor), she qualified for the Tokyo women's individual competition in 2019 by earning a nominative berth based on results from the FIG Apparatus World Cup Series. Carey has reportedly been working on a new floor skill — a laid-out triple-double.
Sam Mikulak, Gymnastics
In his third and final Olympics, Sam Mikulak – long the top name in a relatively lackluster U.S men’s gymnastics program – is seeking his elusive first medal. He nearly accomplished the feat in 2016, finishing fourth on the horizontal bar after finishing fifth in the team contest. Mikulak also took fifth on vault and in the team contest at the London 2012 Games.
Simone Manuel, Swimming
Manuel earned instant superstardom five years ago when she tied for gold in the 100m freestyle at the Rio Olympics. She has only gotten faster in the time since, but after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier this year, she had to spend several weeks out of the pool and was then surprisingly eliminated in the 100m free semifinal at Olympic Trials. Although she will not defend her Olympic title in that event, Manuel did bounce back to win the 50m freestyle final at Trials and claim her spot on Team USA. She took silver in the 50m free in Rio and will be a top contender for gold in Tokyo.
Regan Smith, Swimming
One-meet wonder or superstar in the making? Regan Smith will have that narrative on the line this summer as the 19-year-old looks to back up her scintillating performance at the 2019 World Swimming Championships, where she set world records in both the 100m and 200m backstroke. (She recently lost the 100m record, but still holds the top 200m time.) Smith made the Olympic team in two events (and two different strokes) — the 100m backstroke and 200m butterfly — but surprisingly missed the cut in the 200m back. She could potentially feature on a relay team in Tokyo as well.
Ryan Murphy, Swimming
The United States has not lost an Olympic men’s backstroke event in nearly 30 years. Ryan Murphy was responsible for keeping that streak alive in 2016 and will be asked to do so again in Tokyo. The Ponte Vedra, Florida, native is coming off a pair of disappointing world championship performances in 2017 and 2019 but appeared to be regaining his world-class form before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 season prematurely.
Keni Harrison, Track & Field
The 100m hurdler broke her event’s world record less than a month after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016. That time, which took down a 28-year-old mark from 1988, still stands five years later. Harrison had to watch from home as her U.S. teammates swept the podium at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and three years later was runner-up at 2019 Worlds to Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali. Harrison recorded the world’s top time in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the fourth-best time in 2019 and then didn’t compete in a 100m hurdles race until April 2021. She also won the non-Olympic 60m hurdles world indoor title in 2018.
Ryan Crouser, Track & Field
The defending Olympic shot put champion broke his event’s indoor world record in January with a 22.82m heave, besting a record that had stood since 1989. He then broke the outdoor record in June at Olympic Trials with a 23.37m throw that toppled a mark from 1990 and smashed his previous personal best. That performance installs Crouser as the favorite heading into Tokyo, but he's not the only one with world-record aspirations. At 2019 Worlds, Crouser took silver behind teammate Joe Kovacs, who now has two world titles and also recorded the world’s top throw in 2016, 2017 and 2020. Crouser, Kovacs and New Zealander Tom Walsh were all within a centimeter of one another at that last world championships and are among the top six shot putters to ever compete.
Athletes to watch from other countries
During every Olympics, the host nation always garners extra attention, and that will certainly be the case again this year with Japan, a country that has global stars, Olympic legends and exciting youngsters among its ranks. Here we've highlighted some of the top Japanese athletes expected to compete at the Tokyo Games.
With over 11,000 athletes expected to take part in the Tokyo Olympics, there are bound to be quite a few that turn in star performances. Here we've highlighted a few athletes from around the globe and across various sports that deserve to be on your radar during the upcoming Games.
Matchups to Watch
Athletic competition is at the heart of the Olympic Games, and there's nothing like a good head-to-head matchup to really make things interesting. Here are 10 highly anticipated matchups that would make for must-watch viewing.