100 days to the Tokyo Olympics: Twenty-five US athletes to watch

·11 min read
<span>Composite: Getty</span>
Composite: Getty

Simone Biles, Gymnastics

The 24-year-old from suburban Houston, who has won every major team and individual all-around competition she’s entered since her senior debut in 2013, is favored to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion in 53 years. The 19-time world champion will also take a second crack at becoming the first US woman in any sport to win five golds at a single Olympics (team, all-around, vault, floor and beam), a feat she came within a momentary slip of achieving in Rio.

David Boudia, Diving

A four-time Olympic medalist on the 10m platform including an individual gold at the London Games, the 31-year-old Indianan switched to the 3m springboard after suffering a concussion on a badly missed training dive in February 2018, when he crashed into the water head-first from the height of a three-story building. A fifth career Olympic medal in Tokyo would move him level with Greg Louganis for most ever by an American diver.

Donavan Brazier, Track and Field

The 23-year-old from Michigan overcame a series of early-career setbacks and injuries to emerge as the clear Olympic favorite in the 800m after becoming the first American man or woman to win a world title at the distance at the 2019 world championships. His winning time of 1:42.34 in Doha eclipsed Johnny Gray’s 34-year-old national record of 1:42.60. After Tokyo, he’s hinted at trying to make an NFL roster.

Donavan Brazier
Donavan Brazier became the first American to win a world title in the 800m at the 2019 world championships in Doha. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Ashley Carroll, Shooting

In 2019, the southern Californian became the first American woman in two decades to win a trap title at the world shotgun championships. It marked the 26-year-old’s first individual medal in seven appearances at worlds and came on the heels of a World Cup win in Guadalajara where she set a world record with 48 hits out of 50 to see off the reigning Olympic champion, Catherine Skinner of Australia.

Caeleb Dressel, Swimming

The freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly sprint specialist has been cast as the heir to Michael Phelps as the face of swimming in the US and, potentially, the world. Dressel equaled Phelps’s world championships record with seven gold medals in Budapest in 2016, followed by six golds and two silvers at the most recent worlds in Gwangju. The 24-year-old from Florida will enter Tokyo as the favorite in the 50m free, 100m free and 100m fly with a chance for as many as seven golds after relays.

Brady Ellison, Archery

The three-time Olympic medalist was on a head of steam after a 2019 season that saw him regain world No 1 ranking for the first time in six years and become the first American to win an individual world title in recurve since 1985. All that’s left for the 32-year-old Arizonan to win is the Olympic gold that’s eluded him in three previous appearances, which would be the first by an American since Justin Huish swept the individual and team titles at Atlanta 1996.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field

The only female track and field athlete in history to win six Olympic golds, the 35-year-old LA native has nothing left to prove after rewriting the record books since first reaching the podium as a teenager at Athens 2004. Felix will try to make her fifth Olympic team anyway; she plans on running the 200m and 400m at the US trials in June. Another medal in Tokyo would move her level with Carl Lewis’s record as the most decorated US Olympic track and field athlete ever, man or woman. Two more would break it.

Adeline Gray, Wrestling

The first wrestler from the US to win five world titles, Gray was tipped for gold in the freestyle 75kg event at the Rio Games until a shock quarter-final defeat. After booking a return Olympic trip by winning the 76kg tournament at US trials earlier this month, the 30-year-old will try to become the second-ever American woman to win Olympic gold after US team-mate Helen Maroulis.

Adeline Gray
Adeline Gray is the first American male or female wrestler to win five world championships. Photograph: Anvar Ilyasov/AP

Nevin Harrison, Canoe Sprint

The 18-year-old, who took up the paddle after hip dysplasia ended her track career in 2016, became the first American to win a world title in the sport previously known as flatwater at the 2019 world championships. Now the Seattle teenager can become the first Olympic champion from the United States in sprint canoe or kayak since Greg Barton won double gold in 1988.

Grant Holloway, Track and Field

The reigning world champion in the 110m hurdles was a four-star wide receiver in high school who chose track over the gridiron despite recruiting interest from college football powers like Georgia, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Smart move. A promising indoor campaign augurs well for the 23-year-old Virginian as US trials draw near: Holloway pipped Colin Jackson’s 27-year-old world record in the 60m hurdles at the final meet of the World Indoor Tour in February.

Grant Holloway
Grant Holloway sprang a major upset in winning the 110m hurdles at the 2019 world championships. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding

Skateboarding debuts as a medal event in Tokyo and the four-time world champion from Laguna Beach is widely regarded as the gold medal favorite in men’s street. The 26-year-old is a long-established star in the skate world, having amassed more than 4.5m Instagram followers, 18 X Games medals, a signature Nike shoe and more prize money than any other skateboarder in history since winning his first major competition aged 10.

Lilly King, Swimming

The double Olympic champion from Indiana, who has unapologetically called out drug cheats at home and abroad, will be favored to repeat in the 100m breaststroke after winning back-to-back 50m breast, 100m breast and 4x100m medley relay titles at the last two world championships. At 23 and in her prime of her career, she will touch down in Tokyo as the clear favorite in the sprint breaststrokes.

Rose Lavelle, Soccer

A stylish playmaker and future Ballon d’Or contender adept at breaking opponents’ back lines with her creativity, vision and technical skill, Lavelle was the breakout star of the 2019 Women’s World Cup after scoring three goals, including a left-footed strike in the final against the Netherlands that was hailed as an instant classic, and winning the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the competition. The USWNT are seeking to become the first team to immediately follow a World Cup title with an Olympic gold.

Katie Ledecky, Swimming

Since bursting on to the scene at 15 at the London Games as a distance specialist, the five-time Olympic champion has extended her dominance into the shorter races. She ​lay a compelling claim to the title of world’s most dominant athlete at Rio, winning the 800m freestyle by an astonishing 11.38 seconds en route to the first 200-400-800 treble in 48 years. With the addition of the 1500 free to the Olympic program in Tokyo for the first time as a women’s event, the 24-year-old could bring home as many as five golds.

Noah Lyles, Track and Field

The reigning 200m world champion, who turns 24 the week of the opening ceremony, became the Olympic 100m favorite after the suspension of team-mate Christian Coleman. Whether he can match the retired Usain Bolt’s feat of sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles will be one of the juiciest plotlines of the Tokyo Games. The talent is there: his times in both the 100 and 200 are faster than Bolt’s at the same age.

Simone Manuel, Swimming

The reigning Olympic champion and two-time defending world champion in the 100m freestyle made history in Rio when she became the first African American woman to win an individual swimming gold medal, then backed it up (and then some) with eight more titles at the 2017 and 2019 world championships. The 24-year-old from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could vie for gold in up to six events in Tokyo including relays.

Simone Manuel
Simone Manuel piled up eight gold medals (five in 2017, three in 2019) at the most recent two world swimming championships. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Alexander Massialas, Fencing

No American man has managed to win an Olympic fencing title in the modern version of the sport. Massialas, then ranked No 1 in the world, nearly became the first in Rio only to be cruelly denied with a surprise defeat to Italy’s Daniele Garrozo in the individual foil final. That silver medal and a bronze in the team event made him the first US man in more than a century to win multiple fencing medals at the same Olympics. Now the 26-year-old from San Francisco will make a third attempt at a historic gold.

Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field

It’s been five years since McLaughlin, then a 16-year-old high-school student, became the youngest athlete to make the US Olympic track and field team in nearly 40 years. Now 21, the New Jersey phenom has since become a world champion in the 4x400m relay and a world silver medalist in the 400m hurdles (bested only by US team-mate Dalilah Muhammad), winning both medals in her world championship debut two years ago.

Carissa Moore, Surfing

The 28-year-old from Honolulu and four-time world champion will be among the hot favorites as surfing makes its Olympic debut at Shidashita Beach, known familiarly as Shida, about 40 miles outside of Tokyo in the Chiba prefecture. She will headline a US team that includes another gold medal contender in Caroline Marks, the Florida teenager who is the youngest surfer to ever qualify for the women’s championship tour.

Dalilah Muhammad, Track and Field

The 31-year-old Queens native and Los Angeles transplant smashed the world record in the 400m hurdles twice in 2019, adding a world title to go with her gold medal from the Rio Games. The prohibitive favorite to retain her Olympic title in Tokyo, Muhammad’s stiffest competition expects to come from US team-mate Sydney McLaughlin, whose personal-best time of 52.23 in their memorable Doha showdown is the second-fastest in history.

Hannah Roberts, BMX

The 19-year-old two-time world champion from the southeast corner of Michigan, who is the gold medal favorite in the new event of BMX freestyle, can become the youngest US Olympic cycling medalist in 109 years and the first teenage woman to win an Olympic cycling title from any country. The fresh-faced newlywed has also emerged as a gender-equality pioneer in a traditionally male-dominated sport.

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo

The double Olympic gold medalist and two-time Fina player of the year from California is the captain of a US women’s water polo squad that might be the world’s most dominant team in any sport. Since the 27-year-old Stanford alumna joined the team, they have won every major tournament they have entered, including two straight Olympic golds, three straight world titles, three straight World Cup titles and and six straight World League titles. They will attempt to become the third nation to win three straight Olympic water polo titles after the Hungarian men (2000-08) and British men (1900-20).

Maggie Steffens
Maggie Steffens ranks second on the all-time scoring list in Olympic women’s water polo history with 38 goals. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

Christian Taylor, Track and Field

The two-time Olympic and four-time triple jump world champion was forced to switch his takeoff leg at the height of his powers to combat a degenerative knee issue. Now the 30-year-old from outside Atlanta, who trains full-time at the British Athletics’ national performance centre in Loughborough, will take aim at a third straight Olympic gold and the 26-year-old world record of 18.29m held by Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards.

Serena Williams, Tennis

The 39-year-old Williams, who has won a combined four Olympic titles across singles (2012) and doubles (2000, 2008 and 2012), remains in dogged pursuit of her record-tying 24th grand slam title. But a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, following surprise early-round ousters in both singles and doubles at the Rio Games, would break a deadlock with older sister Venus for the most in history.

Katie Zaferes, Triathlon

The 31-year-old from Maryland didn’t compete in her first triathlon until after she graduated from Syracuse, where she was a 3000m steeplechase star for the track team. She’s gone on to emerge as the face of USA Triathlon following the retirement of 2016 Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen. Since going off in Rio as a medal contender but slipping to an 18th-place finish, she worked her way up to the No 1 in the world rankings and enters Tokyo as the favorite for gold.