Four Absolutely Fabulous Women to Keep Your Eyes On in Rio

Four Absolutely Fabulous Women to Keep Your Eyes On in Rio

Now that it’s officially summer, the countdown to the 2016 Olympics in Rio begins with fervor. While there are a lot of familiar faces (Hello Missy Franklin! How you doing, Kerri Walsh-Jennings?), there are some real standouts in the freshmen-sophomore classes.

Here’s four of my favorites for these summer games:

Gymnastics as an event has had my heart ever since the Magnificent Seven in ’96. This year’s fan favorite is sure to be Simone Biles (Columbus, OH). In 2012, Simone missed the Summer Olympics due to a rule that required competitors turn 16 in the year of the games. Since then, Simone has won nearly every competition she’s been in, becoming the current World All-Around Champion, three times in a row, AND holding the record for most gold medals won in the World Championships.Trying to single out her best event is nearly impossible, because she is damn flawless at every one (see her appearance on The Ellen Show for some highlights). It’s clear the rest of the world is about to bear witness to what the gymnastics world has known for a while. Simone is about to dominate.

Katie Ledecky (Washington, D.C.) is considered something of an anomaly, even by her own preternaturally talented teammates. Her world records in freestyle swimming vary from what would be considered a sprint (400m), to what would be considered a marathon (1,500m). Generally for a swimmer, this just doesn’t happen. You’re either good at the shorter distances, or the longer ones. Katie appears to be master of both. She medaled in the 800m quiet unexpectedly in London in 2012 at the age of 15. This year, I expect she’ll add a few more to her mantel.

Ibtihaj Muhammad (Maplewood, NJ) will be making history this summer, regardless of whether or not she medals (but it’s likely she will). Ibtihaj will be the first women to compete wearing a hijab, the veil she observes daily according to her Muslim faith. Growing up in NJ, she participated in countless afterschool sports, as most American children are wont to do, but experienced a disheartening amount of bigotry. Enter: fencing. The sport’s uniform and helmet make her indistinguishable from any other participant, and this allowed her to fully flourish in the sport, finally free to be nothing but herself. Tasked (in person!) by President Obama to bring home the gold, Ibtihaj aims to do just that, all while acting as a positive symbol of hope for Muslim Americans, which is no easy task sadly in our current political climate.

Right now Claressa Shields (Flint, MI) is 1 for 1. In 2012, the first year the sport was included for women, she became the first American woman to win the gold in boxing. A Kickstarter-funded documentary, “T-REXabout Claressa’s rise and win at the 2012 games has been making its way around the country in festivals and limited-release screenings. It’s powerful stuff, watching a 16 year old girl truly come into her own, resplendently so, in a male-dominated sport. While she was introduced to boxing by her father, she largely credits her grandmother for encouraging her to pursue the sport. Claressa will be looking to add another gold to her collection this August.

Photo courtesy of GarciaHilton

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