Six Breakout Olympic Athletes

by Rob Joyce

The Rio Olympics has gone largely as expected in many respects. Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky stole the show in the pool, Simone Biles secured her status as most decorated U.S. gymnast ever, and Usain Bolt affirmed his title of “world’s fastest man”. In other words, ho-hum. But as there always is, there are some athletes who went from relative unknowns to frontpage headlines. For the Americans, who are dominating the medal count, here are those breakout athletes:

Michelle Carter:

Carter needed the throw of her life to become the first American woman to win gold in the shot put. And that’s exactly what she did, with a toss of 20.63 meters to secure first. Along with the gold medal comes some cool history – she became part of the first father-daughter duo from Team USA to earn Olympic medals after her father took silver in the shot put in 1984.

Laurie Hernandez & Madison Kocian:

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“The Final Five” took home another women’s team all-around gold as another set of gymnasts took America by storm. Going in everyone knew Simone Biles was the headliner, while Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas were on the 2012 squad that took London by storm. The other two members were Hernandez and Kocian. The 16-year-old Hernandez added a silver medal in the balance beam, while the 19-year-old Kocian took silver in the uneven bars.

Lilly King:

Take away Phelps and Ledecky and no one had more headlines than Lilly King. Her gold medals in the 100m breaststroke and the 4×100 medley relay would have been enough to garner attention. However, it was her calling out of Russian Yulia Efimova and other admitted dopers – including U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin – that had international pundits chattering. Some praised her for being so open against performance-enhancing drugs, while others have criticized her for being a poor sport, as she pretty openly had a dismissive attitude towards Efimova while in the pool. Regardless, she is now a household name, and at 19 should be back for more in 2020.

Simone Manuel:

Manuel returns home with plenty of hardware, winning a pair of golds (100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay) and a pair of silvers (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay). The gold in the relay was the 1,000th gold medal in U.S. Olympic history, while the freestyle gold made her the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. Between Manuel and Biles, it was a pretty good Olympics for those named “Simone”.

Ryan Murphy:

In all likelihood it was the final Olympic Games for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, for so long the faces of men’s U.S. swimming. But the future appears to be okay, as the 21-year-old from Chicago took home three gold medals himself. He won both the 100m and 200m backstroke and set a world-record pace in the backstroke portion of the 4×100 medley relay.

April Ross:

(Photo credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

For so long Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor were the pair in beach volleyball. For nearly a dozen years they dominated the sport in unprecedented fashion, taking gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012 before May-Treanor retired. Ross was the silver medalist in that ’12 Games, and teamed up with Walsh-Jennings in 2013. The pair haven’t appeared to skip a beat. Entering Tuesday they are in the semifinals, having dropped just one set all tournament.


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