Meet the Youngest Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, Most of Whom Are Women

What did you do when you were 13?

Jul 26 2021, 9:44am

Japanese skateboarder Momiji Nishiya won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. She turns 14 next month.

Among the trailblazers at the games are some of the youngest athletes in the world—most of them women—who are pushing the limits of what teenagers do at the highest level of sports. 

There’s no single age limit for the Olympics; each sport has its own rules. Skateboarding, which made its debut in Tokyo 2020, features some of the games’ youngest athletes.


At 13, Nishiya became the youngest gold medalist in her country with her Monday victory in women’s street.

At just 13 years old, Nishiya is the youngest Japanese Olympian to take home gold. Photo: Jeff PACHOUD / AFP

Sky Brown, another young skateboarder, celebrated her 13th birthday just before coming to Tokyo. She suffered a life-threatening skull fracture last year after taking a horrific fall, but still ranks third in the world. Of Japanese and British descent, Brown will skate for Great Britain’s team as the youngest-ever summer Olympian for her country. When she’s not dashing around skateparks, she also surfs and dances.

Sky Brown ranked number three in the world when she was 12. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, or sometimes known as 2015’s favorite “fairytale dress”-wearing skateboarder, is also one to watch. A day before her Olympic debut, Leal chatted with skateboarding star Tony Hawk, who coincidentally shared her dress-wearing video six years ago. 

Hend Zaza is not old enough to be called a teenager. At 12 years old, the table tennis player from Syria is the fifth-youngest Olympian ever. The sport has no minimum age requirement, and Zaza qualified when she was only 11. Besides the difficult task of breaking records, she’s also overcome interruptions in her training due to the continuing Syrian civil war. She’s out of the Tokyo Games after a loss during an opening match, but for this rookie Olympian, she has many years to take home gold. 

Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza is the fifth-youngest Olympian ever. Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

From the U.S. team, Katie Grimes is just 15, and will be swimming alongside her role model, Katie Ledecky. Ledecky was also just 15 when she won her first gold medal at London 2012. Grimes is expected to compete in the fourth heat for women’s 800 meter freestyle on Thursday

Katie Grimes will be competing in first heat on Thursday. Photo: Maddie Meyer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Quan Hongchan, a 14-year-old diver, is the youngest on China’s 431-person team this year.

She took up diving at the age of seven, and will make her international debut at these games. Quan is said to have taken up diving to help pay for her ill mother’s medical treatments, according to the South China Morning Post.

Quan Hongchan is China's youngest athlete this year. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Summer McIntosh is one of Canada’s youngest athletes at 14. The swimmer finished in fourth place at the women’s freestyle on Sunday, setting the Canadian record despite extreme difficulties in her personal life. Her longtime coach died in April 2020, months before her father was diagnosed with cancer—he’s now recovering. The support of her family has helped McIntosh get through these times, she told Canadian broadcaster CBC News. Her mother is Jill Horstead, who swam for Canada in the 1984 Olympics. 

One of the youngest Olympians competing this year is Romania’s swimmer David Popovici. At 16, he’s the world junior record holder in the 100-meter freestyle, which makes him the fastest under-18 swimmer in history. He came in second during the 200-meter freestyle semi-finals on Monday. 

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.


japan, olympics, Tokyo 2020, worldnews

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