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As the pieces of the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are put back into place, two of the bigger age-related questions were answered last week when gymnastics and soccer clarified their age restrictions for the now-2021 Games.
In gymnastics, where women must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible, the FIG determined that the same criteria will apply to 2021, meaning that anyone born in 2005 (as opposed to 2004) is now cleared to compete in the Tokyo Games.
Men’s soccer, meanwhile, stayed firm on its maximum age cutoff of Jan. 1, 1997, as a result turning the Olympic competition from a mostly 23-and-under tournament to 24-and-under.
The decisions will result in more gymnasts having an opportunity to qualify while ensuring that no soccer players will have to miss out due to the COVID-19-related delays. Here’s a look at some of the athletes who could be affected by the new rules.
The U.S. women’s program is famously deep, having won every global team championship in the sport since 2011. At the same time, it’s become almost a given that one member of the Olympic team is a first-year senior (e.g. Laurie Hernandez in 2016). While the decision to expand the field of eligible athletes hasn’t been without controversy, the change will no doubt add a few new names to the mix for the four-person Olympic team next year. Here are three on whom to keep an eye.
Sydney Barros: A member of the U.S. team at the inaugural junior world championships in 2019, Barros helped the three-person squad win a bronze medal and finished fifth in the all-around. The Lewisville, Texas, native is at her best on floor and vault.
Skye Blakely: Also part of the U.S. team that competed at the junior world championships, Blakely posted top-five scores on bars and floor exercise, and the Frisco, Texas, native followed that up by finishing fourth in the all-around at the U.S. junior championships. In two U.S. junior championships to date, she’s posted four top-three finishes in individual events.
Konnor McClain: The name many gymnastics fans are eyeing as the likeliest contender to step up, McClain combines top-level skills on the balance beam with a strong enough all-around répertoire that is needed for the unforgiving team format. Though the Cross Lanes, West Virginia, native was an alternate at the 2019 junior worlds, she later defended her U.S. junior title on beam and finished second in the all-around.
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First things first for men’s soccer, the team still has to earn qualification to Tokyo, which isn’t a given after the U.S. missed out on the 2012 and 2016 Games. The squad was gearing up to do just that when its March qualifying tournament was postponed due to COVID-19.
As for who would make up that team? The roster rules for Olympic soccer can be somewhat arcane. During qualifying, the entire team must abide by the age limit of 23, but at the Games three players on each team can be older. At the same time, professional clubs are not required to release players for the Olympic Games or Olympic qualifying, meaning some of the top 24-and-under players — which in the United States’ case includes standouts such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Sergiño Dest — were not released to take part in qualifying and would need special permission from their clubs to take part in Tokyo.
That said, nine of the players from the Olympic qualifying roster were born in 1997 — the most of any year — and now their Olympic dreams remain alive. Here’s a look at those nine players.
Hassani Dotson: An unexpectedly strong rookie season in 2019 saw Dotson, the 31st pick in the MLS draft, deploy both as a fullback and in his natural position of defensive midfielder for Minnesota United, where he showed a proclivity for scoring impressive goals, aka “bangers.”
Jeremy Ebobisse: As a third-year striker he appeared in all 34 league games last season for the Portland Timbers and shared the team lead with 11 goals.
Justen Glad: Glad has been a regular on Real Salt Lake’s back line since 2016, and though he’s primarily a center back he can play any position.
Aaron Herrera: Lining up alongside Glad as Real Salt Lake’s primary left back in 2019, Herrera played more minutes than anyone on the club and was named RSL defender of the year.
Jonathan Lewis: Lewis joined the Colorado Rapids in 2019 and showed his potential as a fast-paced attacking midfielder, starting a career-high 10 games and registering five goals and three assists.
JT Marcinkowski: Like many young goalies, Marcinkowski is still working his way up the depth charts professionally and spent the 2019 season at the San Jose Earthquakes’ minor league affiliate, where he was named team rookie of the year.
Erik Palmer-Brown: One of the few non-MLS players on the qualifying roster, Palmer-Brown came up with Sporting Kansas City but signed with Manchester City in 2018. Though he’s been on loan to smaller teams since, the center back was in the midst of a solid campaign for FK Austria Wien in Austria’s first division when the seasons were postponed.
Sebastian Saucedo: Another Real Salt Lake standout, Saucedo is a creative force in the midfield standing at just 5-foot-7. He made 26 appearances in 2019, half of them as a starter.
Jackson Yueill: A playmaking central midfielder, Yueill broke out for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2019, notching three goals and five assists across 32 games. All the while, he’s begun to establish himself as a regular presence for the senior national team starting lineup as well.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.