Five Female American Athletes To Watch At The Rio Olympics

More than half of Team USA's 555-athlete roster for the Rio Games is female, the most women to ever represent a single country in the Olympics. Here are five faces to know.

by Michelle R. Martinelli
Aug 3 2016, 4:04pm

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

The women on Team USA have already made history, and the Rio Olympics haven't even started. A record 53 percent of the 555-athlete roster is female, and together, they're the most women to represent any nation in a single Games. And while there are plenty of headliners returning to the Olympic stage, the team also boasts a large group of soon-to-be marquee names.

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Here are five female American athletes to watch:

Katie Ledecky, swimming

Easily the most dominant female swimmer in the world right now—and maybe ever—the questions about Ledecky are not if she'll land on the podium. They're how many times will she medal? and will all of her hardware be gold? Ledecky shocked the world when she won the 800-meter freestyle in London as a Maryland high-schooler, but over the last four years, the 19-year-old has only further solidified herself as the woman to beat.

She enters the Olympics with two world records—in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle—and is poised to grab gold in those events, as well as the 200-meter freestyle. Throw in another gold medal in either the 4x200 or 4x100 free relay and she could become just the third American woman in history to win four golds in a single Games.

*She's also the world record holder for the 1,500-meter freestyle, which is not offered at the Olympics for women.

Adeline Gray, wrestling

Already a three-time world champion, the 25-year-old Denver native is Team USA's best shot at winning its first gold medal in women's wrestling. Currently riding a two-year, 38-match winning streak, Gray says that being the female role model she never had is just as important as winning gold, and she wants to show that women can succeed in combat sports.

"I never got to dream about the life I'm living right now, and that's unfortunate," said Gray, who wrestles at 75 kg/165 lbs. "There are so many young boys who get to dream about the idea of being a football player or an Olympic gold medalist, and I don't think girls have those same dreams, and it cuts us short."

America, fuck yeah! Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Laurie Hernandez, gymnastics

Although Hernandez is in her first year as a senior gymnast, the 16-year-old from New Jersey shouldn't be underestimated. She proved she can hang with the sport's biggest names by finishing third to Simone Biles—arguably the best gymnast in the world—and Olympian Aly Raisman at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships in June in St. Louis, and then followed up with a strong performance at the Olympic Trials.

If there was any doubt that Hernandez deserved to be on the five-member Olympic team, she erased it with her final trials routine. Hernandez earned a near-perfect 15.700 balance beam score—the highest of all 14 competing gymnasts—and finished second overall to Biles.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, fencing

Before the New Jersey native finishes her first fencing match in Rio, she'll already have made history as the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. Ranked No. 8 in the world and second in the U.S., the 30-year-old sabre fencer has long fought against negative Muslim stereotypes, hate, and bigotry. But she didn't realize her international impact until she was named to TIME's 100 most influential people.

"There are so many people around the globe who are doing amazing things to provide change to our global community, so to be named amongst so many amazing individuals, it was such an honor," Muhammad said. "I'm very thankful for this opportunity, and I hope to use my platform to continue to inspire."

Slashing stereotypes and opponents. Photo by Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Kelsi Worrell, swimming

The four-time NCAA champion for Louisville overcame her asthma—in a sport where breath control is crucial—to qualify for her first Olympics in the 100-meter butterfly. Despite growing up idolizing Olympians, the 22-year-old didn't realistically believe the Games were within reach until she won gold in the 100 fly and 4x100 medley relay at the 2015 Pan American Games last summer. After surpassing her own expectations, she takes nothing for granted.

"It's just looking at the sport of swimming and being a student of it, studying video and looking at each race as a privilege and something that's really fun," Worrell said. "Pressure is a privilege."

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