Remember Their Names! These Are the Athletes to Keep an Eye on Ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympics & Paralympics
GYMNAST SAM MIKULAK
"So many people retired after 2016 in their mid to early 20s and it's like, 'No, guys, we can do gymnastics beyond that. We can actually be better at gymnastics beyond that,' " the 27-year-old two-time Olympian tells PEOPLE. "That's the inspiration I'm trying to get going and putting in people's brains, because there's a lot more to the sport and it honestly gets more fun the older you get and people don't know that."
RUNNER SYDNEY McLAUGHLIN
"I think Rio is just the starting point and it definitely built the foundation for my future," says the 20-year-old, who in 2016 became the youngest U.S. Olympian to compete in track and field since 1972. "I feel good. It was a great year. A lot of adjustments to becoming pro, but I think we definitely learned what we need to fix for next year and hopefully we can execute. It's going to be a great year."
SOCCER PLAYER MEGAN RAPINOE
"For girls, I would just say to not limit yourself to anything. Dream way past beyond what we’re doing right now," the 34-year-old U.S. women's national team co-captain, who cemented her international stardom this year, says of her advice to her young fans.
SWIMMER NATHAN ADRIAN
"I still feel very blessed to wake up, go to a place, do the sport that I love and then also be surrounded by people that also enjoy the sport and people that I enjoy," says the Olympic gold-medalist, 31, who underwent two surgeries for testicular cancer.
VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS KERRI WALSH JENNINGS & BROOKE SWEAT
"I am a very competitive person. I'm very determined, very motivated for Tokyo. Kerri and I both experienced heartbreak in Rio, so I think we're both using that as motivation for Tokyo," Sweat, 33, says of new partner Jennings, 41, a legend in beach volleyball and a five-time Olympian.
RUNNER DAVID BROWN & JEROME AVERY
"When we get training in, the rest takes care of itself. Repetition, repetition, repetition. That's all we got to do is just continue to get the reps and continue to grind hard and the rest will take care of itself," paralympian Brown, 27, says of his training style with guide runner Avery.
SWIMMER KATIE LEDECKY
"I'm excited to have the opportunity again to represent my country," says the two-time Olympian, 22. "I've gotten older, I've gone to college, lots of different things happening in my life. So that's been exciting and fun. I feel like I've learned and grown."
BASKETBALL PLAYER SUE BIRD
"The last couple of years I really found a routine and a regimen that works for me. I'm the old dog not learning any new tricks, so just need to make sure my body's healthy," says the WNBA legend and four-time gold medalist, 39, who is dating fellow Olympian Rapinoe. "It's more about that than it is basketball. At this stage everyone could shoot, everyone could pass, everyone can dribble. But for me it's like my body has to be able to do the things I want it to do and that's what my focus lies."
SWIMMER RYAN LOCHTE
"I always pictured myself having kids but didn't think that was realistic. And definitely not having a wife," Lochte, 35, says of his life after the Rio Games. "I'm so happy with my life and the way things are going right now. If this all said and done now, I'd be happy."
GYMNAST SUNI LEE
"Nothing that I'm going through is as hard as what he's going through and it's just very difficult," says the 16-year-old, who is dedicating her Olympics dreams to her father after he became paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. "I really want my family to come to the Olympics."
SURFER KOLOHE ANDINO
"I think the waves in Japan will be pretty fun. It'll be a lot of aerial maneuvers, so it should be pretty exciting to watch," the 25-year-old says ahead of his sport's Olympic debut. "I've been in Japan a couple of times to surf. It's a great place, and I really like the culture there. It's rad."
SOCCER PLAYER CRYSTAL DUNN
"Everything about this year was winning a World Cup and then blink of an eye, now that's done and now our new focus is the Olympics," says the USWNT star and one-time Olympian, 27. "We feel like we're in a great place right now. But with that being said, when we step into a new tournament, it's a blank slate. Every team is going to want what we had and want to beat us."
TRIATHLETE MELISSA STOCKWELL
"When I did my rehab at Walter Reed, there were other soldiers missing two, three, four limbs. I thought, How can I complain when all I lost was one leg? When I'm out, when I'm doing the race, when it gets hard, when it gets tough, I realize I'm out there because I can be," says Stockwell, 39, who earned a Purple Heart. "I run or I race because I can, and kind of dig deep and realize I'm out there racing for those that gave that ultimate sacrifice, wanting to represent my country and just make them proud."
SKATEBOARDER HEIMANA REYNOLDS
"Definitely feels like I have this kind of momentum and motivation to just go into the next event and just strong and willing and ready," the 21-year-old says ahead of his sport's Olympic debut. "I never want to go into a contest like, 'Okay, I won the last one, whatever, I got this.' I go into every event thinking, 'I'm going to lose this contest. I don't want to get my hopes up, I just want to go in there, try my absolute best and hopefully be where I want to be.' "
KARATE FIGHTER SAKURA KOKUMAI
"My family is from Japan. And I've lived in Tokyo for a while, so it really means a lot for me to go back, to represent my family, but also my country," says the athlete, 27, ahead of karate's Olympic debut.
DIVER DAVID BOUDIA
"I'm going into my fourth Olympics. I feel very confident actually going into an Olympic game," the veteran medalist, 30, says. "I switched events last year to do the three meter springboard, it kind of rejuvenated my career a little bit. I think having kids helped, believe it or not, because they're nuts."
SOCCER PLAYER JULIE ERTZ
"I think it's no surprise that Rio wasn't a great finish for us, I don't think it's any secret," the USWNT star, 27, says of the team's fifth-place finish at the 2016 Games. "We want to go to the Olympics to win. That's obviously my goal. I'm excited for the new challenge. I'm excited for another opportunity. It's definitely an exciting time."
CLIMBER BROOKE RABOUTOU
"I want to be as prepared as I can be. That's why I'm taking the semester off so I can really focus on my training," says the 18-year-old, who qualified for her sport's Olympic debut in August. "I hope audiences will be inspired by climbing and the climbers who are in the Olympics. Hopefully they'll be inspired by me as well."
CYCLIST OKSANA MASTERS
"I don't feel myself as a veteran yet — because it's different sports every time, it feels like the first time every time. It's really cool," says the paralympian, who has competed in both the Summer and Winter Games for, respectively, rowing and cycling and then biathlon and skiing. "I want the U.S. Paralympic Team to be a force. It's really cool to be a physical example and have someone that somebody can relate to."
GYMNAST GRACE McCALLUM
"It's been amazing being with Simone [Biles] because she does know so much already," the 17-year-old says of learning from veteran medalist. "She's had so much experience. She really guides you and shows you the way."
RUNNER HUNTER WOODHALL
"I was born with a birth defect. I had my legs amputated when I was a year old. Shortly after, I started playing sports," says the Paralympic track and field medalist, 20, who is also a budding YouTube star. "I got to junior high, which is when I stopped being homeschooled and went through a lot of bullying. That's when I changed my life around and decided, 'Hey, I don't want to be seen as the kid without legs anymore. I want to be seen as an athlete.' "
SKATEBOARDER NYJAH HUSTON
"I'm stoked to go out there and represent the U.S.," the 25-year-old says ahead of his sport's Olympic debut. "I'm always trying to progress on my board and I always have new tricks on my mind. That's just how I've always been. I love the challenge of skateboarding. I definitely feel like I'm at a good point in my career to go out there and kill it."
SWIMMER SIMONE MANUEL
"I want to keep learning about swimming and learn what I need to improve on. And also just beyond that, I think it's really just what keeps me motivated is all the people who are supporting me on this journey," says the four-time Olympic medalist, 23. "I have so many fans who have really supported me and uplifted me, inspired me to keep pushing on this journey even when it's difficult."
RUNNER EMMA COBURN
"There's no better feeling than being on an Olympic podium and winning an Olympic medal. So I hope that I get to have that experience again," the track and field star, 29, says. "I'm coached by my husband. He's been coaching me since right after the Rio Olympics. I think there's just a lot of trust required for a husband-wife, athlete-coach relationship. We just trust that we're each going to do our job the best we can and love each other no matter what at the end of the day."
WATER POLO PLAYER JOHNNY HOOPER
"As a kid, you see guys like Michael Phelps and Tony Azevedo. They get up there and they get a medal, that's the coolest thing ever to watch. I'm so excited to be able to have the opportunity, and I'm going to try it, get a gold medal for the U.S.," says the 22-year-old, who survived a deadly balcony collapse in South Korea in 2019.
SKATEBOARDER BRIGHTON ZEUNER
"Skateboarding's something I love and everything I do in the future, it’s probably going to be because of skateboarding," Zeuner, 15, says of her Olympic dreams ahead of her sport's debut. "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. But I try not to put myself over people."