What Will Surprise You About the Tokyo Olympics: One of the World's Best Wrestlers, a Teen Skateboarder & More
This year's rescheduled Summer Olympics in Tokyo are — as of Friday — less than six months away, promising more gravity-defying gymnastics, friction-fighting track and field stars and almost certainly a bevy of big-name American athletes such as Serena Williams.
The next Games will see several firsts as well, with the addition of sports such as rock climbing, skateboarding and surfing.
Ahead of the Games — which were originally scheduled for July and August 2020, but moved to the same dates this summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — PEOPLE spoke with four Olympic hopefuls, some of whom are previous Olympic champions looking for a repeat trip to the podium.
They talked about the joys and challenges of competition, the "bliss" of overcoming what seemed impossible — and they gave a peek into their personal lives.
Here's what you need to know and what may surprise you.
The 32-year-old wrestler, from Sicklerville, New Jersey, already has a gold medal, a feat he accomplished at the London Summer Olympics in 2012.
Though he saw disappointment at the 2016 Games, failing to crack the top three, Burroughs says he has his sights set on a return to glory. (Should he make the cut for Team USA, his son and daughter, Beacon and Ora, will be with him with his wife, Lauren.)
"I don't want this to be the final chapter in my story," he tells PEOPLE. "This is a comma, not a period, so I wanted to come back and do things my own way."
Describing it as a "chance to redeem himself," Burroughs says he's also thinking of what kind of dad he is for his kids when he thinks about the kind of athlete he continues to be.
"I wanted to always embody the work ethic that they needed to see at home in order to be inspired to be their best when they have an opportunity to do so," he says.
He doesn't know yet if either Beacon or Ora will wrestle as they get older, though they both already have appropriately sized wrestling shoes and singlets. "I hope they wrestle, we'll see," he says.
Burroughs says he's thrilled wrestling continues to be a part of the Games, after a fear in recent years that the Olympics would drop it.
Of all the places he's competed around the world, he says it's actually Iran where he is most thrillingly received. (He has more Instagram followers from Tehran, the capital, than any other city on Earth.)
"I feel like the Beatles freaking getting off a plane in London back in the '60s when I go to Iran," he says.
Kynard, from Toledo, Ohio, was 21 years old when he won a silver medal in high jump at the 2012 Games.
But afterward, he was right back in school at Kansas State University, finishing up a business degree: an Olympic medalist standing out (and standing tall — Kynard is 6-foot-4) in the student body.
"When you are the Michael Jordan where you're from or at your university, you lose that anonymity associated with being 21 years old or 22 years old," he tells PEOPLE, "and it's a huge step into adulthood and the light of responsibility and not just representing your family or your own self but your country."
Four years later, in his return trip to the Summer Olympics, Kynard disappointed, placing sixth. But he doesn't see another shot at the Games as a comeback, exactly.
Asked what it would mean to be a three-time Olympian, he says this:
"It won't mean much, honestly, because I can't allow myself to be limited to even my own accomplishments. It's kind of like — you get the canvas, you draw the art and then there's the masterpiece, now I'm moving on, what's next? Because if not, you'll be sitting back talking about something you drew or something you did eight years ago or four years ago and you'll never accomplish anything else."
This summer's Games, he says, "is brand new."
"I'm like a grown man now," he jokes. "I got a little goatee going on, a little beard, got a little bass in my voice."
He's matured, he says — not quite the fiery Olympic newcomer he was years ago — but he's no less competitive (with the split-second ability to rattle off how many minutes and seconds he has in each day to work). His jumping he calls "a gift from God."
"We're kind of all like the test dummies here," Schaar, a 21-year-old X Games medalist in skateboarding, says of the class of top American skateboards now poised to compete in the Olympics for the first time.
But "first time" is not an unfamiliar description for Schaar: He was the first skateboarder to successfully land a 1080 — or three complete rotations in the air. He was 12. That same year, he became the youngest-ever X Games champion with a win in Shanghai.
Speaking about his accomplishments, Schaar, from Malibu, California, can sound amusingly low-key.
"I really didn't know what was going on, honestly, I was just skating," he says of his success as a 12-year-old. "I went to the contest and landed what I wanted to do, and they for some reason gave me first."
But even he admits that nailing the 1080, on his fifth try, was "the biggest shock." (The resulting appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show was a bit anxiety-inducing, he told ESPN at the time: "I was trying to get used to [being on national television]. It was weird though.")
Schaar says that when he's on a board, everything else kind of fades out — he doesn't listen to music; he doesn't have to cut through the chatter of his own thoughts. He's mild about a focus fellow skateboarding champion Bucky Lasek once called "second to none."
"I don't know why, but when I skate I can't really hear anything else," Schaar says.
"I feel pressure for every contest, but I think it's good," he says. "If you're not feeling any pressure, you probably shouldn't be a competitor. It's kind of the whole point."
It was 2017 and Brighton had just turned 13 (literally just — the day before) when she won her first X Games gold in skateboarding, in Minneapolis.
"I said, 'Alright, I'm not going to think about it,' and it happened," she tells PEOPLE.
The next year, at 14, she did it again.
Born in Encinitas, California, Brighton says she got "into skating because of my older brother, Jack. He was always skateboarding, and I just thought it looked really cool."
It was creative, it was fast and it drew her in.
At 8, "it first kind of clicked for me," she says. Three years later, she competed in her first X Games, earning fourth. In the intervening years, her family had moved to Southern California where she was energized by the skating scene.
Even with her wins since then, Brighton, now 16, says, "For me, contest skating isn't about winning."
"You have a whole audience watching … you should make it exciting, so my goal is to get a safety run first run and then try to put on a show for everyone — go as fast as you can and try your hardest tricks," she says.
Brighton has been skating for nearly half her life and she doesn't imagine she'll stop anytime soon. It's a competition and an outlet, but it's also opened up her life.
"Skateboarding's something I love and everything I do in the future, it's probably going to be because of skateboarding," she says.
"If I inspire girls or be a role model, it's great, because I know I was definitely under the influence of many, many older girls and I know how it felt to really look up to someone and still do," she says before adding, "But I try not to put myself over people."
"I just want to be Brighton."
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit Teamusa.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics this summer on NBC.