Two years out: 20 U.S. athletes to watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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With Tuesday marking two years until the 2020 Olympic Opening Ceremony, a look at 20 U.S. athletes to watch on the road to Tokyo …

Perry Baker, Rugby
The former Arena Football League wide receiver blossomed into the world’s best rugby sevens player in 2017, leading the World Series in tries. Baker took part in sevens’ Olympic debut in Rio, where the U.S. men failed to get out of pool play.

Simone Biles
, Gymnastics
The only woman on this list who has yet to compete since Rio. But the quadruple gold medalist was so dominant in the last Olympic cycle that she’s expected to return to the top of the sport in her comeback this summer.

David Boudia, Diving
The only man on this list who hasn’t competed since Rio. Boudia, the greatest U.S. diver since Greg Louganis, considered retirement last year but was due to return to competition in 2018. However, a crash off the 10-meter platform in winter training resulted in a concussion that delayed that plan.

Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
The man expected to become the greatest U.S. wrestler of all time was tearfully upset in Rio. Burroughs rebounded to win his fourth world title last year, which put the father of two one shy of John Smith‘s national record of six combined Olympic and world titles.

Christian Coleman, Track and Field
Beat Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s last race, taking 100m silver at the 2017 Worlds. Coleman is the world’s fastest man since Rio (9.82 seconds). Also owns a 40-yard dash time (4.12) one tenth faster than the NFL Combine record.

Caeleb Dressel
, Swimming
Matched Michael Phelps‘ record seven gold medals at a world championships last year, albeit two came in mixed-gender relays that weren’t on the program in Phelps’ heyday. Dressel is unmissable for his arm tattoos and a blue bandana he carries in remembrance of a high school teacher who died of cancer in November.

Allyson Felix, Track and Field
Felix, eyeing her fifth Olympics, already has the most medals for a female U.S. track and field athlete. She’s one shy of Carl Lewis‘ record for any U.S. track and field athlete and three shy of the most medals for a U.S. woman in any sport. But Felix turns 34 in 2020, and the U.S. is deep in her best event, the 400m, with 20-somethings.

Morgan Hurd, Gymnastics
The Harry Potter super fan from the Olympian-starved state of Delaware had an incredible 2017. She went from sixth at the U.S. Championships to winning the world all-around title, the sport’s biggest prize aside from the Olympics. Hurd, who competes in glasses, knows that the U.S. women’s gymnastics teams is among the hardest to make in any sport in any nation. The expected returns of Biles this summer and Laurie Hernandez in 2019 will complicate matters.

Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding
Tokyo 2020 could introduce a whole new set of sports fans to Nyjah Huston, the longtime face of skateboarding who has his own Nike shoe. Huston has eight X Games titles in street, one of two skateboarding events added to the Olympics. Winter Olympians may also pursue the Summer Games in skateboarding, notably Shaun White in the park event.

Gwen Jorgensen, Track and Field
The first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion gave birth to Stanley last August, then announced a switch to the marathon. Her goal is to win a gold medal in Tokyo, but it’s a tall ask just to make the three-woman U.S. team. The U.S. has the reigning New York City and Boston Marathon winners in Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden, plus a world bronze medalist in Amy Cragg.

Katie Ledecky, Swimming
Since bagging four more golds in Rio, Ledecky used Bryce Harper as a medal rack, met Bruce Springsteen, enrolled at Stanford, changed coaches, won eight NCAA titles and five more world titles, turned professional and broke another world record. Can win more golds in Tokyo with the Olympic debut of the women’s 1500m (Ledecky is 18 seconds faster than any woman in history).

Noah Lyles, Track and Field
Fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old, the dancing, somersaulting, backflipping Lyles is turning into the most exciting sprint personality in the post-Usain Bolt era. Lyles has accompanying talent, too. He is the U.S. 100 champion (wearing “The Incredibles” socks) and fastest in the world this year in the 200m.

Simone Manuel, Swimming
Who can forget Manuel’s reaction to earning gold in Rio? The first black woman to grab an individual Olympic swimming title captured another five golds at the 2017 Worlds. Like her good friend Ledecky, she recently completed her Stanford career.

Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field
At 17, the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years in Rio. McLaughlin just turned professional after an eye-catching freshman season at Kentucky where she posted the fastest 400m hurdles time in the world this year by more than a half-second. McLaughlin also lowered her 200m and 400m personal bests by seconds, making her the most versatile U.S. woman between hurdles and sprints since Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Alex Morgan, Soccer
The U.S. women’s soccer team may be reigning World Cup champions, but they unceremoniously exited the Rio Games in the quarterfinals. It marked the first time the Americans failed to make an Olympic final. Morgan, a 29-year-old forward, eyes her third Olympics in Tokyo and the chance to chase Abby Wambach‘s American record nine career Olympic goals. Morgan is at five.

Lakey Peterson, Surfing
Surfing is one of four sports debuting at the Olympics in 2020, along with karate, skateboarding and sport climbing. Peterson, a 23-year-old whose grandfather invented the Egg McMuffin, has been the top U.S. male or female surfer this year, challenging six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia.

April Ross/Alix Klineman, Beach Volleyball
Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings split less than a year after their Rio Olympic bronze medal. Ross partnered with the 6-foot-5 Klineman, and they won their first international event together in January. That also happened to be the first international beach tournament for Klineman, a former indoor player at Stanford.

Maggie Steffens, Water Polo
Approaching legend status at age 25. Steffens was the top scorer and MVP at the last two Olympics, leading the U.S. to a pair of gold medals. Steffens’ father played internationally for Puerto Rico, an uncle made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted and sister Jessica played on the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

Kerri Walsh Jennings/Nicole Branagh, Beach Volleyball
Walsh Jennings and Branagh are each 39 years old and have a combined five kids. They are the longest-standing partnership in elite U.S. women’s beach volleyball, although they have only been together for a year. Walsh Jennings is going for her sixth Olympics and fifth medal but is coming off a 2017 season-ending shoulder surgery (her sixth operation on that right shoulder). Come 2020, both Walsh Jennings and Branagh will be older than every previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

Serena Williams, Tennis
Williams made the Mother of all Comebacks to reach the Wimbledon final, 10 months after childbirth followed by pulmonary embolism complications that left her bedridden for six weeks. In the Olympic realm, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion failed to earn a medal for the first time in Rio, falling in the third round in singles and the first round in doubles with older sister Venus Williams.

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Russia to finish Youth Olympics with most medals

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Russia clinched the top spot in the Youth Olympic medal standings, two days before the Closing Ceremony in Buenos Aires and eight months after it was excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games for its doping problems.

The Russians have 52 medals with 25 golds so far, distancing the rest of the world.

1. Russia — 52 total, 25 gold
2. China — 36 total, 18 gold
3. Mixed NOCs — 36 total, 12 gold
4. Japan — 34 total, 14 gold
5. Italy — 31 total, 10 gold
10. U.S. — 15 total, 4 gold

China and Russia went one-two in total medals at the first two Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. The U.S. has never topped a Youth Olympic total medal table, be it Summer or Winter Games.

The U.S. has, however, earned the most total medals at the last six Summer Olympics, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The Youth Olympics, for athletes ages 14 to 18, do not emphasize medal counts (plus have many medal events where athletes from different nations compete on the same team). The Games include many Olympic events and some that are not on the Olympic program, including break dancing, where a Russian who goes by Bumblebee earned gold last week.

The next Youth Olympics are the winter version in the IOC base of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, followed by the summer version in 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, the first Olympic Games of any kind to be held in Africa.

The Youth Olympics conclude with the last full day of medal competition on Wednesday and the Closing Ceremony on Thursday.

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Aliya Mustafina returns to gymnastics worlds, year after giving birth

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Aliya Mustafina, an all-around medalist at the last two Olympics, made Russia’s team for next week’s world gymnastics championships, 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa.

Mustafina, 24, is joined by one Rio Olympic teammate, Angelina Melnikova, and three world championships rookies (plus Olympian Daria Spiridonova as an alternate), according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Mustafina is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or world championships all-around, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle.

She missed the 2015 Worlds with back pain but rebounded for a medal of every color in Rio (uneven bars gold, team silver and all-around bronze, just as she had done at London 2012).

Her seven total Olympic medals are tied for the most by a Russian woman since the fall of the Soviet Union with retired gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Viktoria Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist who has also struggled with injuries, is not on Russia’s team for worlds in Doha. She last competed at a global championship in 2015, sharing the uneven bars title with three other gymnasts.

Mustafina joins a list of distinguished moms to return to the top level of gymnastics, including Oksana Chusovitina, who began competing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, seven Olympics later, is still competing at age 43 (for Uzbekistan).

The most decorated Olympic gymnast, Soviet Larisa Latynina, earned 12 of her 18 medals after becoming a mom.

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