Christen Press, soccer
The U.S. women’s soccer team could make history in Tokyo by becoming the first squad to follow its World Cup victory (in 2019) with an Olympic gold medal. The deep and experienced squad features some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Press, a 32-year-old forward who entered the tournament with 149 appearances and 63 goals for the national team. She was on the World Cup-winning teams in 2015 and 2019 as well as the 2016 Olympic squad that suffered a quarterfinal loss to Sweden.
Nyjah Huston, skateboarding
Skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and Huston will be a medal favorite in the street discipline, which requires athletes to skate a course that resembles an urban environment. The 26-year-old already is a massive star in his sport; he has 4.7 million Instagram followers and won his first X Games gold medal in 2011. Huston is the winningest street skateboarder of all time, and the four-time world champion could become a household name with an impressive showing in Tokyo.
Katie Ledecky, swimming
Already with five Olympic titles to her name, Ledecky could match or even surpass Jenny Thompson’s record of eight career gold medals by a female swimmer. Ledecky, 24, is set to compete in five events in Tokyo — possibly six, depending on how the relay teams shake out — which means she’ll log at least 6,200 meters in a seven-day stretch, far more than anyone else in Tokyo. The freestyle specialist is still the world record holder at 400, 800 and 1,500 meters, but she surely will see fierce competition this time around at the shorter distances.
John John Florence, surfing
With surfing making its Olympic debut, the 28-year-old Florence — considered by many to be the world’s best surfer — is still recovering from a left knee injury. How that affects his status for Tokyo is unclear. Florence had surgery in May and said he hoped to still compete in the Games.
The two-time world champion has overcome a catastrophic injury before: He missed much of the 2019 World Surf League Men’s Championship Tour because of a right ACL injury suffered in June that year, only to come back five months later and qualify for the Olympics.
Simone Biles, gymnastics
Widely considered the world’s best gymnast, Biles will have a chance to win five gold medals in Tokyo — in the all-around and team competitions, and on vault, beam and floor. Biles, 24, won four golds and a bronze at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, and she has reached even greater heights since then. Biles has won every all-around competition she has entered since 2013, and she continues to challenge the boundaries of the sport with difficult new skills. If Biles successfully performs the Yurchenko double pike vault at these Games, it will become the fifth element that bears her name.
Clarence Cummings Jr., weightlifting
The 21-year-old has long been a prodigy. At 11, he became the youngest weightlifter ever to lift twice his body weight in the clean and jerk, and he has been racking up accolades ever since. The Beaufort, S.C., native is a four-time junior world champion. Cummings will arrive in Tokyo as a legitimate contender to become the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the event since 1984.
Caeleb Dressel, swimming
Five years ago in Rio, Dressel won a pair of relay gold medals, but this time he figures to be one of Team USA’s biggest stars. The swimmer could challenge world records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly, a mark he set at the 2019 world championships, where he won six gold and two silver medals. In Tokyo, the 24-year-old will swim in three — or possibly four — relays, which means he’ll be a near-nightly presence on TV broadcasts.
Naomi Graham, boxing
Army Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham, 32, will make history at the Tokyo Games as the first female active-duty service member to represent U.S. Boxing. The North Carolina native had a long and unorthodox journey to the Olympics, from experiencing homelessness for a time after high school to building her boxing résumé while working as an ammunition specialist. She is the top-ranked U.S. middleweight and sits eighth in the world.
Hannah Roberts, BMX freestyle
Fresh off winning a third world title in June, the 19-year-old is considered a gold medal favorite as BMX freestyle makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Roberts was the first American to qualify for the event back in 2019 — and she could become the youngest U.S. Olympic cycling medalist since 1912 and the first teenager from any country to win an Olympic women’s cycling medal.
Sydney McLaughlin, track
McLaughlin turned 17 during her first Olympics in 2016 in Rio, where she gained experience but only reached the semifinals. She will enter her second as the newly minted world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, having run it in 51.90 seconds at the Olympic trials to become the first woman to break 52 seconds. Having switched last summer to legendary coach Bob Kersee, McLaughlin is pushing her event forward. Women have long been taught to take 15 strides between hurdles, but McLaughlin has started taking 14, raising the ceiling on what times are possible.
Nevin Harrison, canoe
Men have raced canoes in the Summer Olympics since 1924, but this year, women’s canoeing will make its debut in two disciplines: slalom and sprint. Harrison, a 19-year-old from Seattle, is a favorite to take home gold in canoe sprint, where she will race for 200 meters on a flat water course to defend the world championship she won at 17. Harrison was such a surprise winner at the 2019 competition that her medal ceremony was delayed because event organizers couldn’t find the American flag to put atop the flagpole.
Noah Lyles, track
He may have lost his goal of three gold medals when he did not qualify in the 100 meters, but Lyles remains one of the most electric figures in sprinting. Lyles, who attended Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High, reestablished himself as the gold medal favorite in the 200 after a trying year by winning the U.S. trials in 19.74 seconds. He is the fourth-fastest man ever at the distance, which makes him a likely choice for the men’s 4x100 team, the other event in which he is a reigning world champion.
Delaney Schnell, diving
No American woman has won an individual diving medal at the Olympics since Laura Wilkinson at the 2000 Sydney Games. Schnell was 1½ years old at the time. Now 22, Schnell will compete in the 10-meter platform in Tokyo, two years after winning a bronze at the world championships. Keep an eye out for an electrifying dive known as 207C — 3½ somersaults in the tuck position.
Kyle Dake, wrestling
The most famous wrestler in America is probably 2012 gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, and the reason Burroughs will not be in Tokyo is Dake, who toppled him at the Olympic trials in the 74-kilogram (163-pound) weight class. Beating Burroughs — and therefore reaching the Olympics — had long been the missing item on Dake’s formidable résumé. At Cornell, he became the first collegian to claim four national titles at four different weight classes.
A’ja Wilson, basketball
Wilson is one of six first-time Olympians who will try to carry on the standard of excellence for the women’s basketball team as it pursues its seventh consecutive gold medal. Wilson, 24, has become one of the most prominent faces in the WNBA since she was drafted No. 1 out of South Carolina in 2018; she was the league MVP in 2020. At the Tokyo Games, she’ll reunite with her college coach, Dawn Staley, with whom she won the NCAA championship as a junior.