After years of planning and months of anticipation, the 2016 Summer Games finally kicked off in Brazil on August 5. The beautiful opening ceremony, held at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, featured lots of great music and dancing, and even a supermodel. The highlight of the evening, however, was the over 10,000 athletes from 207 countries that marched across the stadium, proud to represent their respective nations at the world’s most prestigious sporting event. Though they are all champions in their own right, here are few youngsters that are expected to leave their mark at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.
Simone Biles — US Gymnast
19-year-old Simone Biles took the gymnastics world by storm at the 2013 World Championships when she won the world all-around title by almost a full point. She also took the gold in the floor routine, silver in the vault, and bronze in the balance beam competition. Since then, Simone has earned two new world all-around titles and two world floor championships. She is also a two-time world balance beam champion (2014, 2015) and has dominated the US national all-around championships for four years in a row. With a total of 14 medals, ten of them gold, Simone holds the record for the most number of gold medals won by a female gymnast in World Championship history. She is also the first African American to be a world all-around champion and the first woman to win three consecutive world all-around titles!
With all these achievements, the “World’s Best Gymnast” is coming to the Rio Games with a lot of expectations. The pressure to excel is not lost upon Simone. However, the young athlete, who has one of the most challenging routines of any gymnast competing at Rio, refuses to stress herself out. Instead, she is just focusing on enjoying the experience and doing her best. If history is any indication, this means some outstanding gymnastic routines and, most likely, a few more gold medals!
Usain Bolt — Jamaican Sprinter
Usain Bolt, better known as “The Lightning Bolt,” jolted the track and field world at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when he took home three gold medals. More impressively, he became the first athlete in Olympic history to win both the 100m (9.69 seconds) and 200m (19.30 seconds) races in world record times. Usain also helped Jamaica smash the 4x100m relay record (37.10 seconds).
To prove that he was just not a “flash (or should we say “lightning”) in the pan,” Usain repeated the feat at the 2012 London Games, becoming the first man to win gold medals in the two events at consecutive Olympic Games. Given that this will be the running phenom’s final Olympics, the world is eagerly waiting to see what happens. However, the 29-year-old, who says he was “too lazy” to attend Friday’s opening ceremony, is not concerned. He has promised that “This is where history will be made.” So be sure to not even blink when Usain’s lightning strikes — For you may miss what could be the highlight of the 2016 Rio Games!
David Rudisha — Kenyan Middle Distance Runner
David Rudisha made his mark at the 2012 London Olympics when he dominated the 800-meter race from start to finish, completing the distance in 1:40.91. In doing so, he became the first human to break 1:41-time barrier. To get a perspective on how amazing the time was, consider this — Britain’s Andrew Osagie, who came in last in the same race, had a time that would have won him a gold medal in any of the previous Games! It is no wonder that the race is now often referred to as “The greatest 800-meter race ever.”
After spending 2013 and 2014 battling injuries, David came back strong in 2016. He not only won a second world title but also regained his status as the world’s fastest 800-meter runner. Whether the athlete is able to run another history-making race will be revealed in a few days — but one thing is for sure, it will not be for lack of trying!
Katie Ledecky — US Swimmer
15-year-old Katie Ledecky became an overnight sensation at the 2012 Olympic Games after winning the gold medal in the 800m freestyle with an impressive time of 8:19.78. At the 2015 World Championships, the talented swimmer stole the thunder again with five gold medals and three world records. Now, the nineteen-year-old who will be a freshman at the prestigious Stanford University this fall, hopes to repeat her magic at Rio and earn the title of “the greatest female swimmer of all time.”
Lelia, Lula And Lily Luik – Estonian Marathon Runners
Fans of the Olympic marathon may think their eyes are deceiving them when they spot not one or two, but three identical runners at the starting line. Meet the “Trio to Rio” — Leila, Lula, and Lilly Luik. Believed to be the first set of triplets to compete at the Olympic Games, the Estonian residents took up long-distance running just six years ago and have been hooked on the sport since. Though they may not dazzle you with a record-breaking time, the “Trio to Rio” will be a rare sight — One that we may never encounter again.
Sydney McLaughlin — US Hurdler
When this New Jersey resident was competing at the 400m hurdle tryouts in July, her mind was not on trying to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. Instead, the 16-year-old was thinking about treating herself to a cheeseburger after the race. The quest to get the treat must have been so urgent that the hurdle phenom completed the course in a speedy quick time of 54.15. In doing so, she not only established a new world junior record but also became the youngest US track athlete to qualify for the Olympics since 1972. Sydney who turned 17 on Aug 7, said that though she had always dreamed of competing in the Olympics, she had not expected it to happen for at least another four years.
Though Sydney comes from a family of hurdlers – Her brother is on the University of Michigan hurdles team, and her father made it to the semifinals in the same sport at the 1984 Olympic trials — Sydney has always needed a food “bribe” to motivate her to run. When she was younger it was chocolate with almonds; at the Olympic trials, a cheeseburger appeared to do the trick. We wonder what treat Sydney will have in mind when she is running for gold in Rio!
Yusra Mardini — Refugee Team Swimmer
The road to the Olympics is not easy for any athlete. But it has been particularly hard for Yusra Mardini who is a member of the world’s first “Olympic Refugee Team.” The 19-year-old always dreamed of swimming for Syria at the Olympic Games. However, in August 2015, after losing her home in the conflict that has embroiled Syria since 2011, she and her sister decided to flee the country. The siblings along with a few other Syrian nationals made their way to Turkey via Lebanon. They then set sail on a small boat to their final destination — Greece.
Unfortunately, thirty minutes after leaving Turkey, the motor on the ship which was meant to hold six passengers but was instead carrying twenty, failed. Yusra, her sister Sarah, and the only two other strong swimmers aboard the boat had no choice but to dive into the ocean and use their superior swimming skills to push the boat and its occupants all the way to Lesbos, Greece – A journey that took three hours.
While her dream of representing her country was shattered, Yusra did not have to forgo her desire to compete in the Olympics. In March 2016, she was one of ten athletes selected and funded by the Olympic Committee to form the first-ever “Refugee Team.” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach believes that Yusra and her teammates, who have also had to flee their countries, “Will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can compete, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skill, and strength of the human spirit.”
Michael Phelps — US Swimmer
With 22 medals, 18 of which are gold, under his belt, US swimming sensation Michael Phelps says that this time around, acquiring medals is not his prime motivation. Instead, Michael who is competing at his fifth Olympic Games, quips, “This time, it’s about trying my hardest, giving it my all.” Whether he wins medals or not, one thing is for sure: Michael will give his competitors a run for their money. Given that this will be the last time we will see the amazing swimmer in action, Phelps is definitely a star to watch at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Resources: theguardian.co.uk, cnn.com,wikipedia.org, news.yahoo.com