(Clockwise, starting top left) Swimmer Caeleb Dressel, beach volleyball players Nicole Branagh and Kerri Walsh Jennings, wrestler Jordan Burroughs, and track and field athlete Allyson Felix are among the athletes who look to make history at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
When the Games of the XXXII Olympiad open in Tokyo on July 24, 2020, Team USA will march into the Opening Ceremony with a mix of promising young gold-medal hopefuls, as well as established stars.
Here’s a look at 16 of the many Team USA athletes and teams who could make history at the 2020 Games.
Simone Biles: Most Decorated U.S. Olympic Gymnast?
Four years ago in Rio, Simone Biles won four Olympic gold medals — setting the American record for most golds won by a female gymnast at a single Games — and five medals overall, including a bronze on balance beam. Should the 2016 Olympic all-around champion defend her individual title, Biles would be the first American gymnast to win two Olympic all-around titles and the first in 52 years (Vera Caslavska from what was then Czechoslovakia won back-to-back Olympic all-around gold medals in 1964 and 1968).
If Biles wins three more medals of any color in Tokyo, she would become the nation’s most decorated Olympic gymnast, surpassing Shannon Miller who won seven Olympic medals in two Games (but only two golds). Now 21, Biles resumed training a year ago, was named to the national team in March 2018. Her first competition will be July 28 at the U.S. Classic, which Biles won in 2014 and 2015. She tweeted that she plans to compete in the all-around competition at this one-day event.
David Boudia: Most Decorated U.S. Olympic Diver?
David Boudia has four Olympic medals in platform diving — a gold and bronze in 2012 and silver and bronze in 2016. Among Americans, only Greg Louganis has more with five (four golds and a silver). Boudia could tie or beat him in Tokyo. The 29-year-old diver said he would retire after Rio, then announced his comeback in September 2017. But in May, he tweeted that he was struggling with dizziness, numbness, blackouts and fatigue — unresolved symptoms from a concussion — and he would miss several major competitions this season. Still, he said on Instagram that he plans to “push on towards #tokyo2020.”
Jordan Burroughs: Most Decorated U.S. Wrestler?
With one Olympic gold medal and four world titles, Jordan Burroughs is currently the second-most decorated wrestler in U.S. history, tied for five with Bruce Baumgartner (two Olympic and three world gold medals). Should 30-year-old Burroughs win another Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, he will tie USA Wrestling’s John Smith, who won two Olympic gold medals (1988 and 1992 Games) and four consecutive world titles between 1987 and 1991. If Burroughs wins another world crown this year or next, then a gold medal in Tokyo in 2020, he will surpass Smith for the title of USA Wrestling’s most decorated wrestler.
Caeleb Dressel: Seven Gold Medals In One Games, Tying Mark Spitz?
At the 2017 FINA World Championships, Caeleb Dressel became only the second man ever to win seven medals at one championship (the first man to win seven medals? Michael Phelps). Dressel won gold medals in three individual races at worlds (50- and 100-meter free, 100 butterfly) and four relays, including two mixed relays. With the addition of the 4x100 mixed medley at the Tokyo Games, the 21-year-old Floridian could be a favorite to win six gold medals. If he adds the 200 individual medley to his repertoire, he stands a chance at tying Mark Spitz with seven gold medals at one Games. In February 2018, Dressel set the American record in the 200-yard IM.
Allyson Felix: Most Decorated U.S. Track And Field Olympian?
Allyson Felix is a four-time Olympian and track and field icon. Over those four Olympic Games, she has won nine medals, including six golds. She trails only Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn who won 12 medals at the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Games, and Carl Lewis with 10 medals (nine golds). Should Felix, now 32, qualify for the Tokyo Games and win one more medal, she will tie Lewis. Two medals, and she becomes the most decorated U.S. track and field Olympian.
At the 2017 world championships, Felix won three medals, giving her 16 total (two more than Usain Bolt), making her the most decorated track and field star in world championship history.
Men’s Golf: First U.S. Gold Medalist Since 1900?
After golf’s success at the Rio Games, many of the world’s top golfers will likely include the Tokyo Olympic tournament in their schedules. Currently, five of the world’s top ranked golfers are American. Dustin Johnson, who won the 2016 U.S. Open, is the number-one ranked golfer, followed by Justin Thomas in the No. 2 spot. Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship. Brooks Koepka is in fourth (right behind reigning Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose from Great Britain). Koepka won the 2018 U.S. Open. Former top-ranked player Jordan Spieth is currently sixth. Spieth has won three of the four major championships (The Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship). Rio Olympian Rickie Fowler is ranked seventh. He was runner-up at the Masters this year. As for Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar, he is currently ranked 27th. But he finished second at The Open Championship last summer.
Gwen Jorgensen: Olympic Medals In Two Different Sports?
Just over two months after winning America’s first Olympic gold medal in triathlon, Gwen Jorgensen entered the 2016 New York City Marathon. She had not specifically trained for the distance, yet she finished 14th in 2:41.01 (the winning time was 2:24.26). Ten months later, her son, Stanley Lemieux, was born. Then in November 2017, Jorgensen announced that she was switching from triathlon to running. Her stated goal: to win Olympic gold in the marathon. It would be the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. since Joan Benoit Samuelson won the event’s debut in 1984.
Now training with the Bowerman Track Club (with decorated marathoner Shalane Flanagan), Jorgensen, 32, is ramping up her mileage. In May, she finished fourth in the U.S. half-marathon championships. In June, she competed in her first USATF Outdoor Championships, finishing seventh in the 10,000. Then on July 4, she finished fifth in the 10K Peachtree Road Race. The clock is ticking to Tokyo, but she knows that she has to be patient and trust in her training.
Katie Ledecky: More Olympic Golds Than Any Woman?
At the 2012 London Games, Katie Ledecky shot onto the scene after winning the 800-meter freestyle as an unknown 15-year-old. Four years — and many world records — later, Ledecky won another five Olympic medals in Rio, including four more golds. In Tokyo, the 1,500-meter freestyle debuts for women, and Ledecky holds the six fastest times in the event. This means that the 21-year-old wunderkind is a strong favorite to win four more individual medals (most of them likely gold) and up to three relay medals. Should she win this many Olympic medals at the Tokyo Games, she will have a running total of 13 Olympic medals, and possibly 11 gold medals. With this tally, here are some records that she could break:
- Most Olympic medals for an American woman — 13 — surpassing the 12 won by swimmers Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin.
- First female swimmer in history to win seven Olympic medals at one Games.
- Most Olympic gold medals for an American woman. The current record is Jenny Thompson’s eight.
- If she wins five more Olympic gold medals (giving her 10 total), she would surpass everyone but Michael Phelps in most Olympic golds. Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Paavo Nurmi, and Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina each have nine.
- She would move into the top 10 of those who have won the most Olympic medals.
Noah Lyles: First American Since Carl Lewis To Win Gold In Both 100- And 200-meter?
Noah Lyles has run the fastest times in the world this season in both the 100- and 200-meter races. He sprinted 9.88 in the 100 at U.S. nationals in June (a time tied by American Ronnie Baker a week later). In that race, Lyles became the youngest 100-meter national champion in 34 years (in 1984 Sam Graddy won the 100 at age 20, then went on to win silver in the 100 at the 1984 Olympic Games). Lyles ran the 200 in 19.65 on July 20, which beat the previous world lead – also his – of 19.69. In outdoor competition, 21-year-old Lyles has won every 200 that he’s entered this season, and four of six 100s.
A gymnast as a child, Lyles, from Florida, took up track and field at age 12. He won gold at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in the 200 and gold in the 100 and 4x100 relay at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships. Now he’s a favorite to lead the American men in the 100 and 200 at the Tokyo Games.
Harrison Maurus: First American Man To Win A Weightlifting Medal Since 1984?
Harrison Maurus never expected to become one of the world’s best weightlifters. At age 12, he was a gymnast. But then five years later, in December 2017, he won bronze at weightlifting world championships (77 kg. division), setting an American record in the clean & jerk (193 kg). A U.S. weightlifter had not won a medal at world championships in a dozen years, and it had been 20 years since an American man had won a medal. Now 18 and in the 85 kg. weight class, if Maurus finishes top three in Tokyo, he will end a 36-year drought for USA Weightlifting. He would become the first American man to win an Olympic medal since 1984, when Mario Martinez won silver (super-heavyweight).
Kim Rhode: Seven Medals At Seven Olympics?
The 39-year-old double trap and skeet shooter has already competed in six Olympic Games, winning a medal in each one. From 1996-2004, she won two golds and a bronze in double trap. When women’s double trap was removed from the Olympic program, she switched to skeet shooting and won a medal of each color between 2008 and 2016. Can she become only the second American to ever compete in seven Olympic Games? If so, she will tie equestrian John Michael Plumb, who won six Olympic medals — but none in his first Games (1960) and his last (1992). He won two at the 1976 Games. Should Rhode qualify for Tokyo and win a medal, she will be the first athlete – regardless of gender and nation – to win a medal in each of seven consecutive Olympic Games.
Women’s Eight: First To Win Four Consecutive Olympic Golds?
In 2006, the U.S. women’s eight began a dynasty, winning every international championship for the next 11 years. This included eight world championship titles and three Olympic gold medals.
With only a few Olympians who rowed the Rio eight in the current crew, their reign ended last year, and it’s a rebuilding quadrennial for USRowing. The U.S. women’s eight finished fourth at the 2017 world championships. Now, they are climbing back toward the podium. At the World Rowing Cup III last weekend, the U.S. women’s eight finished third, just over a second behind Canada and three seconds behind New Zealand. Given that it was a new lineup in the boat, the women were happy with the result and said that they look forward to the 2018 world championships in Bulgaria in September.
Women’s Softball: Return To Olympic Gold After 12 Years?
At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the American softball team fell to Japan, 1-3, with no chance for redemption. The IOC had cut softball from the Olympic program. It had been part of the Olympic Games starting in 1996, with the U.S. winning gold in the first three Olympic tournaments. Now, suddenly they had silver.
With softball reinstated for the 2020 Games, can Team USA avenge the loss? It will be tough. The two countries have gone shared wins. In the four world championship tournaments since the Beijing Games (held biannually since the sport was cut from the Olympic program), the U.S. has won twice (2010 and 2016) and Japan has won twice (2012 and 2014). This season, Japan won the three-game Japan All-Star Series in June. Then at the USA Softball International Cup, held last week, the Americans beat the Japanese 10-5. It was the first time since 2013 that the U.S. had scored 10 runs on Japan and won.
And in 2020, Japan will play on the home diamond.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, Nicole Branagh: Oldest Olympic Beach Volleyball Players?
Kerri Walsh Jennings has won a medal in every Olympic beach volleyball tournament in which she has competed. She first won gold with Misty May Treanor in 2004. The duo successfully defended their Olympic title in 2008, then three-peated in 2012. May Treanor retired from competition, and Jennings paired with April Ross in 2016. The duo captured bronze medal in Rio.
Last year, Walsh Jennings paired with Nicole Branagh but only played until mid-July 2017, when she dislocated her right shoulder — and then underwent her sixth surgery on that shoulder (plus surgery on her left shoulder and right ankle). Competing again this season, Walsh Jennings and Branagh — both 39 years old, with five children between them — have competed in six tournaments, finishing as high as fifth. Their goal is to become the top-ranked beach volleyball team in the country, then compete in Tokyo. If they make it, they will be the oldest beach volleyball players ever to compete in the Olympic Games.
Shaun White: Second Athlete To Win Summer And Winter Olympic Golds?
Shaun White already has three Olympic gold medals — all won in snowboarding halfpipe. Now the 31-year-old Olympian is considering an attempt to add another, this one in skateboarding. White has long-ridden both a skateboard and snowboard. In fact, of his 23 X Games medals, five are for skateboard vert (similar to halfpipe but on a skateboard). The IOC added street and park skateboarding to the 2020 Olympic program; park is a hollowed-out course featuring vertical jumps and most closely resembles White’s forte.
“Just to get to the summer Olympics would be amazing, and it’s a big passion of mine,” he told reporters during the 2018 Winter Games. “I’d love to just give it my all and see what happens.”
It won’t be easy, though. White will be 33 by the Tokyo Games — more than twice as old as some of the competitors — and he won his last X Games skateboarding medal in 2011. Only one man has ever won Olympic gold medals at both the summer and winter editions of the Games. Eddie Eagan won a gold medal in light-heavyweight boxing in 1920. He competed again at the 1924 Games, tying for ninth as a heavyweight. Eight year later, he won a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, pushing Billy Fiske’s bobsled.
Should White win an Olympic medal of any color in skateboarding, he would become the sixth athlete — and second American — to win medals in both summer and winter, joining Eagan, ski jumper/sailor Jacob Tullin Thams from Norway, speedskaters/cyclists Christa Luding-Rothenburger from East Germany and Clara Hughes from Canada, and Team USA’s Lauryn Williams, the track sprinter and bobsledder who won Olympic medals at the 2012 and 2014 Games.
Katie Zaferes: First Two-Time U.S. Olympic Triathlon Medalist?
A 2016 Olympian, Katie Zaferes is currently the top ranked triathlete in the ITU World Triathlon Series standings, with four consecutive podium finishes this year. If she maintains her current results, the 29-year-old triathlete will be a medal favorite in Tokyo. Then she will likely compete in the mixed team relay as well. The triathlon mixed relay makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, giving top triathletes the chance to win two Olympic medals at the same Games. The format features two women and two men from each country competing in a super sprint (300-meter swim, 6.6-kilometer bike, 1 kilometer run). The U.S. has earned a medal in every mixed relay world championship since 2016, and they won gold in a mixed relay during the WTS in June.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.