Summer Olympics 2016: 50 Names You Need to Know for Rio

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2016

Summer Olympics 2016: 50 Names You Need to Know for Rio

0 of 50

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    If the names of certain Olympians sound as unfamiliar as those of some members of Congress, it’s because many of these athletes live in anonymity until the Olympics begin. But every four years athletes in sports generally uncovered by mainstream media earn a chance to compete on the world’s stage.

    For a few darlings, the Olympics can be life-altering. Celebrity and endorsement dollars await those whose names are forever etched in the sports lexicon.

    Some athletes competing in the upcoming Rio Olympics have gained that fame and fortune in previous Games. Swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Gabby Douglas are two such examples, and they’re therefore left off this list of athletes you need to know heading into the Olympics. You already know them.

    Likewise, the professional basketball and soccer players who populate those competitions are largely known commodities. Many of them didn’t need to be included.

    Of course, sports like golf and tennis feature worldwide, well-covered tournaments weekly. It makes Olympic competition look like an identical twin, making any nods to those athletes unnecessarily repetitive.

    So consider this a list of 50 Olympic athletes you should know that you probably don't already know. There might be a few you'll remember long after Rio.

Haley Anderson, Swimming, United States

1 of 50

    Serge Grits/Associated Press

    Haley Anderson is a specialist in the distance swims, having won silver at the London Olympics in the 10-kilometer open water swim. She finished just 0.4 seconds behind Eva Risztov of Hungary.

    Anderson won the five-kilometer open water swim at the 2013 and 2015 FINA World Championships. By finishing ninth in the 10-kilometer open water swim at the 2015 event, Anderson qualified to chase gold in Rio.

    Anderson has also competed in various pool events as short as the 400-meter freestyle and individual medley, showcasing her range as a swimmer.

Cam Awesome, Boxing, United States

2 of 50

    Cathleen Allison/Associated Press

    The boxer formerly known as Lenroy Thompson changed his name to Cam Awesome after missing the 2012 Olympics because he failed to report his whereabouts to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Chavez.

    Awesome, who will turn 28 during the Games, is a favorite for the U.S. super heavyweight slot for Rio after taking the bronze medal in the 2015 Pan-Am Games.

    He might be among the most quotable athletes in the U.S. delegation, having called himself “the Taylor Swift of boxing,” according to Rolling Stone.

Matt Baranoski, Cycling, United States

3 of 50

    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    Matt Baranoski became the youngest U.S. Cycling Elite national champion when he earned the title at 17. Last August, he won a national title. Now 23, he is ranked 16th in the world in the keirin, per April’s Union Cycliste Internationale rankings.

    For the opening laps of the keirin, cyclists must stay behind a motorized bike that increases in speed each lap. With two-and-a-half laps to go, the race begins.

    At Rio, he’ll chase his first world championship podium.

    Baranoski has halted his electrical engineering studies at Penn State to train with his dad, Michael, but he plans to graduate, according to

Simone Biles, Gymnastics, United States

4 of 50

    Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

    The massive hype surrounding the U.S. women’s gymnastics team heading into Rio is largely thanks to Simone Biles.

    Biles was the first African-American to win the world all-around. She will compete in that event, floor exercise and beam for the U.S., which is favored to win the team championship in Rio, according to

    Biles has won 10 gold medals at various world championships—more than any gymnast in history, according to her profile.

    She is not just the favorite to win gold in the all-around, but has the kind of inspiring story the media loves: Her mother struggled with drug addiction, and she was adopted by her grandparents when she was three years old.

Bohdan Bondarenko, Track and Field, Ukraine

5 of 50

    FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

    The high jump will feature one of the best duels of any of the field events. Bohdan Bondarenko, one of two gold-medal favorites, won the 2014 European Championships in the event.

    The 26-year-old Ukrainian has a chance of breaking the 23-year-old world record of 2.45 meters set by Cuban Javier Sotomayor. His rival, Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim, also has a chance at the world record. Both athletes made a run at it in 2014.

    Bondarenko won the 2013 World Championships with a jump of 2.41 meters. He took second at the 2015 World Championships.

Trayvon Bromell, Track and Field, United States

6 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    A U.S. track and field prodigy, Trayvon Bromell was the first high school sprinter to break the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash, having run it in a wind-assisted 9.99 seconds at age 17.

    As a freshman at Baylor, he won the 100-meter title at the NCAA outdoor championships, and he holds the record for the 10 fastest 100-meter times in the school’s history, according to the Boston Globe. Having run a wind-aided 9.76 in the semifinals, Bromell was the first teenager to make the U.S. Men’s World Championship team when he qualified at 19, running 9.96 in the finals. He won a bronze medal in the 100 at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, finishing behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.

    Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Bromell is his size: He’s only 5'9", significantly smaller than most of the world’s elite sprinters.

    A February profile in the Boston Globe says Bromell, 20, has a chance to be a medalist and one of the U.S. team’s “breakout stars.”

Kadeisha Buchanan, Soccer, Canada

7 of 50

    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Only 20, Kadeisha Buchanan is among the best defenders in the world.

    Playing in her native Canada last year, Buchanan won the Young Player Award at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. She started every game in the tournament.

    She scored from close range in the group stage of Olympic qualifying against Trinidad and Tobago, proving that she can strategically and effectively attack gaps in the midfield. Having a defender with offensive capability will only strengthen the Canadian attack, putting pressure on opposing defenses.

    Buchanan’s first international goal came when she was 18 in a friendly against the U.S.

Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling, United States

8 of 50

    Matt Detrich-USA TODAY Sports

    Jordan Burroughs, considered the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world, won a gold medal in the 74-kilogram division at the London Games. At 27, he is attempting to become only the third U.S. male to win consecutive gold medals in wrestling.

    He has three world championships in the weight class, most recently in 2015. He's already one of only three U.S. wrestlers to win at least four combined Olympic and world titles.

Vashti Cunningham, Track and Field, United States

9 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Vashti Cunningham’s father, Randall, was an All-Pro NFL quarterback. But his daughter could reach a pinnacle of her sport, one that would rival her father’s illustrious career.

    At the Rio Olympics, Vashti is the favorite to win gold in the high jump. At the U.S. Indoor Championships in March, the 18-year-old jumped a height of 6' 6¼", the best in the world in 2016.

    A month later, with a jump of 6’5”, she became the youngest ever to win gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships.

Ashton Eaton, Track and Field, United States

10 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    If the winner of the decathlon earns the title, “World’s Greatest Athlete,” it bears watching what other monikers Ashton Eaton receives if he wins the event twice.

    Eaton is attempting to become the greatest of the greatest by being the first to win back-to-back gold medals in the hallmark Olympic event since Brit Daley Thompson did it in 1980 and 1984, and both of those Games were diminished by boycotts.

    Not only is Eaton the world record holder with a 9,045-point total at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, but he also owns the record for the decathlon 400 meters. Eaton ran the 100 meters in 10.23 seconds—a world championship best.

Jessica Ennis-Hill, Track and Field, Great Britain

11 of 50

    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    After winning the gold medal in the heptathlon at the London Olympics, Jessica Ennis-Hill gave birth to a son in 2014 and then won gold in the event at the 2015 World Championships.

    The 30-year-old missed all of the indoor season after suffering an Achilles injury in early 2016.

    The Press Association’s Eleanor Crooks (h/t/ the Mail Online) reported that as of late March, Ennis-Hill didn’t know when she would be able to return to full training. But the report indicates she's confident in her ability to return in time for Rio.

Mo Farah, Track and Field, Great Britain

12 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    A resident of Portland and training partner of American Galen Rupp, Mo Farah is the reigning Olympic champion in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters—a brutal distance double.

    Farah took eighth in the 2014 London marathon but his aspirations in the sport remain on the track. He is known for his outstanding kick at the end of races and superior speed for a distance athlete, making the shorter distances more suited to his strengths.

    In the 10,000 meters, Farah's biggest challenge figures to come from Rupp, who took silver at the London Games.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field, United States

13 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Expect Allyson Felix to set a U.S. women’s track and field record in Rio.

    Felix, who competes primarily in the 200- and 400-meter sprints, is tied with Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee with six Olympic medals—the most of any U.S. female track and field athlete. That mark sits three medals behind the world record, held by Jamaican Merlene Ottey.

    The reigning Olympic champion in the 200 and World Outdoor champ in the 400, Felix is coached by Joyner-Kersee’s husband, Bob Kersee.

    She will look to double in the 200 and 400 and could compete on U.S. relay teams.

Connor Fields, BMX, United States

14 of 50

    Harry How/Getty Images

    An Olympian in 2012, Connor Fields took silver in the first event of the 2016 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. It was the second career World Cup silver medal for Fields, who also has three gold and two bronze medals on the circuit.

    The 23-year-old finished a disappointing seventh at the 2012 Olympics after winning the U.S. national championship.

    Though only 19 at the London Games, Fields was a favorite. He remains a favorite heading into this year’s Olympics. And with his first Olympics behind him, Fields should perform to expectations in Rio.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Track and Field, Jamaica

15 of 50

    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    If she were a native of any other country, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce might be the darling of the track and field delegation.

    But she has been overshadowed by Usain Bolt’s record-breaking runs over the last two Olympiads. After Rio, however, Fraser-Pryce may command a share of the headlines in track and field’s unofficial capital.

    Fraser-Pryce, the fastest woman in the world, is attempting to win her third straight gold medal in the 100 meters. No woman has ever won three straight golds in the same track and field event.

    Bolt, meanwhile, is going for his third straight Olympic championship in both the 100 and 200 meters.

Justin Gatlin, Track and Field, United States

16 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    When Justin Gatlin was given an eight-year track and field suspension for doping in 2006—later reduced to four years—the thought was it would torpedo the career of one of America’s most promising sprinters.

    That amount of time away from competition would stunt the development of nearly any athlete. Gatlin pursued an NFL career, but his speed failed to translate to the gridiron.

    So instead he continued to train, and when he returned to competition in 2010, he began one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the career of any track and field athlete.

    At the 2012 Olympics he won a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash and silver in the 4x100-meter relay, though the U.S. was later stripped of that medal. In 2015 he won silver medals in the World Outdoor Championships in the 100 and 200 meters.

    Heading into Rio, Gatlin is a serious threat to Usain Bolt’s bid for a third straight gold medal in the 100 and 200 meters.

Laura Graves, Equestrian, United States

17 of 50

    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

    Laura Graves enjoyed some stability as a hairdresser in Boston but abandoned it to bet on an unknown horse named Verdades, nicknamed “Diddy,” and her talent as a horse trainer.

    With a relatively low budget, Graves bought Diddy after seeing him in a sales video. The temperamental horse was difficult to train when Graves first moved to Florida to pursue her dressage dream.

    She was fortunate to meet U.S. Olympian Debbie McDonald, who recognized the talent in both Diddy and Graves.

    The story of Graves' journey in the sport is detailed in this CNN feature.

    McDonald's coaching has Graves and Diddy heading into the Rio games poised to potentially win a medal.

    Graves' biggest break came at the 2014 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions where she came in second behind Olympian Steffen Peters. That earned her a spot on the U.S. equestrian team, where she and Diddy were given the opportunity to participate in worldwide competitions.

Adeline Gray, Wrestling, United States

18 of 50

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Adeline Gray was in attendance at the London Games as an alternate but did not compete. Now, she's a favorite to win a gold medal in the 75-kilogram division.

    She was named USA Wrestling’s Women’s Wrestler of the Year in 2015.

    The 25-year-old had an impressive 2015 with victories at the U.S. World Team Trials, U.S. Open and World Championships. To qualify for the Olympics, she beat fellow American Victoria Francis 11-0 and 10-0 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa, in early April.

Kosuke Hagino, Swimming, Japan

19 of 50

    Koki Nagahama/Getty Images

    The two biggest names in the sport will be hunting Kosuke Hagino.

    Hagino beat Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley final at the Pan Pacific Championships in August 2014. He made the final in both IM events at the 2012 Olympics, taking bronze in the 400 by edging Phelps.

    He could race against Lochte in the 200-meter freestyle and both medley events, and he figures to face Phelps in the 200-meter medley.

    At just 5'8 ½", Hagino is unusually diminutive for a world-class swimmer. Phelps and Lochte are 6’4” and 6’2”, respectively.

Sarah Hammer, Cycling, United States

20 of 50

    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Sarah Hammer moved to Colorado Springs and has been living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center since 2013 in pursuit of what has eluded her in the past two Olympics: a gold medal.

    She earned silver medals at the London Games in the omnium and team pursuit. She placed fifth in the individual pursuit at the Beijing Games.

    Now 32, Hammer will compete in the omnium and anchor the team pursuit for the U.S.

    She’s ranked third in the world in the omnium, a decathlon-like event that takes place over two days, spanning six events. Hammer is a seven-time world champion and won gold in the omnium at the Pan American Games in 2015.

Laurie Hernandez, Gymnastics, United States

21 of 50

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Laurie Hernandez will become age-eligible for the Olympics in June, when she turns 16. She could be among the first Olympic athletes born in the 2000s, pending the announcement of the official U.S. women’s team.

    With her ballet background, Hernandez will specialize in the floor exercise. She won the U.S. junior national championship in the all-around in 2015.

    Her 16th birthday will mark an official move to the senior team, though she has been under consideration for the Olympic team for about a year.

Ellen Hoog, Field Hockey, Netherlands

22 of 50

    Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

    You may recognize Ellen Hoog from the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but she's been a fixture in field hockey for far longer. Hoog has been on teams that have won two Olympics, two world championships and three European titles.

    In 2014, Hoog was named International Hockey Federation Player of the Year.

    Led by Hoog, the Netherlands is a favorite to repeat as Olympic champion in Rio.

Lindsey Horan, Soccer, United States

23 of 50

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    After signing a professional contract upon her high school graduation, Lindsey Horan has scored 46 goals in 58 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain.

    She also tallied twice against Canada in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship but figures to be less of a scoring threat in Rio, playing more of a midfield role. At 21, she's one of the bright young stars of American soccer.

    U.S. success in Rio could depend largely on Horan’s ability to create chances for forwards like Alex Morgan. Her ability to switch positions with the national team speaks to her growth as a player.

Carlin Isles, Rugby Sevens, United States

24 of 50

    David Becker/Getty Images

    Four years ago, Carlin Isles was readying for his chance to qualify for the London Olympics—as a sprinter. But he didn’t even make the U.S. trials.

    A week later he switched sports after watching rugby on the Internet, according to NBC.

    Now, not surprisingly, Isles is considered the fastest rugby player in the world. He is one of many American crossover athletes in a sport that seems to draw people from varied athletic backgrounds.

    He is part of an American renaissance in the sport, which has the U.S. inching closer to challenging the world’s traditional powers.

Kirani James, Track and Field, Grenada

25 of 50

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Kirani James won gold in the 400 meters at the 2012 Olympics when he was just 19.

    Now 23, James also specializes in the 200 meters. American LaShawn Merritt won gold in the 400 at the 2008 Olympics and is the primary threat to unseat James in Rio.

    At the Drake Relays in April 2015, James' 400-meter run of 44.22 seconds set the event record, breaking the previous record of 44.41 which American Michael Johnson set in 1996. Merritt also ran in that race.

    James, who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, won back-to-back NCAA outdoor championships in the 400 meters in 2010 and 2011 as a member of Alabama’s track and field team.

Gwen Jorgensen, Triathlon, United States

26 of 50

    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    Gwen Jorgensen is the two-time reigning ITU World Triathlon Series champion. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 she was the U.S. Triathlete of the Year. In the latter year she won all seven events she competed in.

    At the London Olympics, some unfortunate luck kept her off the podium. A flat tire in the bike portion of the race dropped her to 38th place. But the expectation in Rio is that she is among the favorites to win gold.

Joe Kovacs, Track and Field, United States

27 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps no other Olympic athlete has experienced a bigger ascent in his or her sport during this Olympic cycle than shot-putter Joe Kovacs.

    After finishing fourth at the U.S. team trials in 2012 and failing to qualify for the London Games, Kovacs is a candidate to break the shot put world record of 23.12 meters set by American Randy Barnes in 1990.

    Six months after failing to qualify for London, Kovacs moved to the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California. Dedicating himself full-time to the sport has helped tremendously.

    In July 2015, Kovacs had a throw of 22.56 meters at the Monaco Diamond League that ranked him No. 1 in the world that year. It was the longest throw since 2003, placing Kovacs among the favorites to win gold in Rio.

    He has won back-to-back national championships.

Jordan Larson, Volleyball, United States

28 of 50

    Ken Ishii/Getty Images

    Outside hitter Jordan Larson was named 2015 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year. She earned Best Spiker at the 2016 NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament, one in which the U.S. won gold.

    In 2015 she led Turkish club Eczacibasi to gold in the FIVB Club World Championship and CEV Championship League, earning MVP honors in both.

    This is the final year of her professional contract in Turkey, and she could command a large salary on the open market like other top American volleyball players competing overseas.

Katie Ledecky, Swimming, United States

29 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Katie Ledecky is a do-it-all freestyle swimmer.

    The world recorder holder in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle, Ledecky won five gold medals at the 2015 FINA World Championships. She is the first swimmer to win the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle in a major competition, according to Karen Crouse of the New York Times.

    Her international swimming career began at the 2012 Olympics in London, when she won gold in the 800-meter freestyle, upsetting the event’s former world record holder, Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington.

    She will enroll at Stanford, where she is committed to swim, after this summer’s Olympics conclude.

Holley Mangold, Weightlifting, United States

30 of 50

    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Holley Mangold is the sister of New York Jets center Nick Mangold. She appeared on The Biggest Loser in 2013, a year removed from competing in the 2012 Olympics.

    According to her Team USA bio, she had only been lifting for four years when she made the 2012 Olympic team.

    As a high school football player, she competed for the Ohio state championship.

    Mangold now competes in the 75-kilogram-plus division and is seeking an Olympic medal in Rio. In 2014 and 2015 Mangold won the U.S. national championship in her division.

Simone Manuel, Swimming, United States

31 of 50

    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    As a freshman at Stanford, Simone Manuel broke the American record in the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 46.62 seconds. She redshirted her sophomore year in order to prepare for Rio.

    Manuel, who will turn 20 on August 2, also competed in the 50 and 200 freestyle for the Cardinal. She anchored Stanford’s 400-meter freestyle relay team, too.

    At the 2013 World Championships, Manuel became the first junior swimmer to break the 25-second barrier in the 50-meter freestyle, according to SwimSwam.

Cameron McEvoy, Swimming, Australia

32 of 50

    DAVID MARIUZ/Getty Images

    Cameron McEvoy, 21, is trying to become the first Australian to win six medals at an Olympics. He's already made Aussie history as the first to win his country’s freestyle triple crown, claiming national championships in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter events at qualification for Rio in April, according to the Australian Associated Press (via ESPN).

    After the Olympics, McEvoy, who studies physics, may need to put off his dreams of being an astronaut. He has been linked to several high-profile sponsors, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing, United States

33 of 50

    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first Muslim woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team and will become the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab.

    Muhammad, who owns her own fashion brand, is ranked 12th in her discipline, the saber, according to the International Fencing Federation. She was part of the U.S. team that took gold at the 2014 World Fencing Championships. Muhammad took third at the USA Fencing National Championships in 2015.

    She attended Duke and graduated in 2007.

Maggie Nichols, Gymnastics, United States

34 of 50

    Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2015, Maggie Nichols placed second at the U.S. nationals in the all-around competition. She is known for performing the difficult Amanar vault and double-twisting, double back in the floor exercise, according to Amy Van Deusen of

    She was a member of the 2015 U.S. team that won world championship gold, competing in all four events in the team finals. Nichols won bronze in the floor exercise at the World Championships.

    With such a stellar 2015 campaign, Nichols is among the top candidates to make the five-person U.S. Olympic team.

Sally Pearson, Track and Field, Australia

35 of 50

    Masashi Hara/Getty Images

    Sally Pearson has one of the best comeback stories of the Rio Olympics.

    At the Diamond League meet in June 2015, the 100-meter hurdler fell and broke her lower arm. According to Reuters, via the Guardian, she suffered a “bone explosion” in her wrist and feared that she would have to have part of her arm amputated.

    But after surgery, she has recovered and is set to compete in the Rio Games.

    Pearson, who won gold in the 100-meter hurdles in London, is a favorite to repeat as Olympic champion. She won silver in the event at the 2008 Olympics.

Orbelin Pineda, Soccer, Mexico

36 of 50

    MARIA CALLS/Getty Images

    Orbelin Pineda, 20, is young even for the Olympics, a tournament that limits teams to three players older than 23.

    Pineda, who plays club soccer for Chivas, has the ability to play both wing and attacking midfield, giving the Mexican side versatility in late-game situations.

    Known for his creativity, Pineda is one of Mexico’s best young soccer players. Despite his age, he should be heavily involved come Rio. Mexico’s reliance on him speaks to his maturity and development as a player.

Jillion Potter, Rugby Sevens, United States

37 of 50

    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2014 Jillion Potter was diagnosed with Stage 3 synovial sarcoma. This came just four years after Potter broke her neck, after which she was told she would never play rugby again, according to John Meyer of the Denver Post. Her career was ultimately saved by surgery and rehabilitation.

    She has returned to the U.S. team, serving as captain, and is ready to realize her Olympic dream.

    Potter plays prop in rugby sevens. She won bronze with the Women’s Eagles Sevens at the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow.

    Potter began playing the sport at the University of New Mexico after her high school basketball career ended. Six months later she was selected to the Women’s Junior All-Americans.

Mallory Pugh, Soccer, United States

38 of 50

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    During her career with the national team, Mallory Pugh has always had a little more luggage than her U.S. teammates.

    As a teenager playing with the senior team during Olympic qualifying, Pugh would study calculus after games. This was in an effort to maintain her 3.68 grade-point average while on the road, according to Laura Vecsey of Fox Sports.

    But Pugh, who turns 18 on April 29, has managed to shine as much on the field as she does in the classroom.

    The midfielder started all but one Olympic qualifying match for the U.S.

Aly Raisman, Gymnastics, United States

39 of 50

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Aly Raisman is a returning member of the “Fierce Five,” the moniker given to the U.S. women’s gymnastics team that won gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. She served as team captain in London.

    Her three medals were the most by an American gymnast at the 2012 Games. In addition to the gold she won in the team competition, Raisman won gold in the floor exercise and bronze in the balance beam. She finished third in the all-around but lost the tiebreaker.

    A feature in ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” details Raisman’s daily workout regime, which lasts seven hours.

David Rudisha, Track and Field, Kenya

40 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    David Rudisha is the best 800-meter runner in the world. But in recent months he has earned headlines as much for being outspoken off the track as for his work on it.

    Rudisha has been critical of the Kenyan delegation after allegations of doping and corruption surfaced. In March, Reuters, via the Guardian, delved deep into issues surrounding Kenya’s athletics program and Rudisha’s response.

    Come Rio, though, Rudisha will be focused on his individual performance. He will attempt to win back-to-back Olympic golds in the 800 meters after winning the event at the London Games in world-record time.

Taylor Sander, Volleyball, United States

41 of 50

    Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

    Though the sport is dominated by the Brazilians, American Taylor Sander is among the best young volleyball players in the world.

    The 24-year-old outside hitter was named 2014 American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year, the most prestigious award given to any volleyball player. That same year, Sander led the U.S. team to a gold-medal upset win over Brazil at the FIVB World League.

    Sander won MVP honors for his efforts.

    While Brazil is the favorite to win gold at home, any chance the U.S. team has rests largely on the ability of Sander to be the tournament’s breakout star.

Dafne Schippers, Track and Field, Netherlands

42 of 50

    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    By 23, Dafne Schippers was on the heels of two U.S. track and field legends. At the 2015 World Championships, Schippers ran the 200 meters in 21.63 seconds, making her the third-fastest ever to run the event.

    That’s dangerously close to Marion Jones’ best time of 21.62 seconds. Given Schippers’ age—she will have turned 24 by the time the Rio Olympics begin—Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record of 21.34 is within sight.

    Schippers also took second in the 100 meters at the 2015 World Championships with a time of 10.81 seconds.

    She is among the top female sprinters heading into Rio.

Claressa Shields, Boxing, United States

43 of 50

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Becoming the first U.S. woman to win Olympic gold in boxing didn’t net Claressa Shields otherworldly celebrity. Endorsement deals didn’t pile up for the middleweight.

    Instead, Shields returned to her normal life in Flint, Michigan, moving back in with her parents and continuing to train, according to Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal. According to Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole, Shields had a rough childhood: She grew up in poverty with a drug-addicted mother, and she says she was sexually abused by three different men. She didn’t speak until she was five.

    Other Olympic athletes, who grew up with more stability, may have benefited from more high-level coaching.

    But those circumstances didn’t stunt her growth as a boxer. Shields is undefeated since the London Games and, at 21, is a favorite to win gold again. And according to Iole, she has an endorsement deal from Audi with others in the works.

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo, United States

44 of 50

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Set to graduate from Stanford this year, Maggie Steffens won gold with the U.S. women’s water polo team in London.

    At the time she was only 19 years old.

    Four years later, she will be a key component to the team’s chances of repeating in Rio. Steffens, a defender, scored 17 goals in the team’s qualification for the upcoming Olympics.

    She scored 13 goals at the 2015 FINA World Championship and added 11 more at the 2016 FINA Intercontinental Tournament.

    The U.S. won both tournaments and enters the Olympics as the favorite.

Amy Tinkler, Gymnastics, Great Britain

45 of 50

    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Amy Tinkler was part of the British women’s gymnastics team that took the bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships.

    She is the two-time reigning British all-around national champion and figures to be a key figure for a British team that could challenge for a spot on the podium in Rio.

    This year the 16-year-old took fourth in the all-around at the American Cup. At the English Championships, she notched second-place finishes in the beam, floor and all-around.

Kohei Uchimara, Gymnastics, Japan

46 of 50

    Some observers, such as Nancy Armour of USA Today, are already calling Kohei Uchimura the greatest male gymnast of all time. A win in the all-around at Rio could end the debate.

    He's trying to become the first men’s gymnast in 44 years to win back-to-back titles in the all-around competition.

    The six-time all-around world titlist has already made history at home, leading Japan to a world championship for the first time in 37 years in October 2015.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball, United States

47 of 50

    Mpu Dinani/Getty Images

    Kerri Walsh Jennings represents half of the greatest women’s beach volleyball duo of all time.

    She and Misty May-Treanor won gold at the past three Olympics. The pair won 21 straight Olympic matches, dropping only one set—to Austria at the 2012 Games.

    But with May-Treanor retired, Walsh Jennings will chase her fourth straight gold medal with a new partner, April Ross.

    Walsh Jennings is finally healthy after surgery in September to repair a torn labrum, and she and her new partner are sixth in Olympic provisional rankings, the highest of any U.S. pair.

Si Yaije, Diving, China

48 of 50

    As a 14-year-old, Si Yajie won the World Aquatics Championships on the 10-meter platform. Now 17, Yajie enters the Rio Olympics as a favorite to win gold in the same event.

    Yajie, who has been diving since she was six, began this Olympic year strong. In March, she won gold at the opening 2016 Diving World Series event in Beijing.

    The Chinese team is expected to perform well in Rio with a contingent that took gold in each of the 10 disciplines in that opening event. Last year, Chinese divers took 50 of 60 golds in the World Series.

Katie Zaferes, Triathlon, United States

49 of 50

    Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

    Katie Zaferes is Syracuse’s record holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. But after graduating in 2012, she elected to transition to triathlon and turned pro in 2013.

    Zaferes grew up playing multiple sports, but her swimming and running background is what got her recruited by USA Triathlon, according to Sports Illustrated. All Zaferes needed to do was work on her biking.

    She finished in the top three in each of her first five ITU World Triathlon races in 2015. She's not yet guaranteed a spot on the U.S. team, with one qualification race remaining.

Arthur Zanetti, Gymnastics, Brazil

50 of 50

    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Arthur Zanetti won the gold medal in the rings at the 2012 Olympics and sits as the host country’s best hope for a medal in men’s gymnastics.

    At 5’1”, Zanetti is among the world’s most recognized gymnasts after being somewhat of a surprise winner in London.

    In recent months, his name has emerged as the potential flag-bearer for Brazil. A Rio University poll revealed, via O Globo (h/t NBC Sports), that 14 percent of people who voted favor Zanetti as the country’s flag-bearer. He was second to swimmer Cesar Cielo, who received 19 percent of the vote.