A recap of some of this year’s biggest Olympic stories

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After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics kicked off on July 23. Athletes from a wide range of ages have made headlines, with the oldest Olympian being a 66-year-old equestrian and the youngest being a 12-year-old participating in table tennis. This year, four new events have been added: skateboarding, surfing, karate and sport climbing, alongside the return of softball/baseball to the Olympic program. Now that the games have concluded, here are some of the highlights of this year’s games, and what Harrisites have taken away from this year’s Olympics.

The Women’s US Gymnastics Team’s Olympic Journey 

In past years, the US women’s gymnastics team has been recognized for its exemplary performances and displays of talent. However, the team faced some challenges this year. This year’s team consisted of well-known athletes like Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, Jade Carey, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner. In the Women’s Artistic Team All Around Event, the US team earned silver, falling short to the ROC (Russia Olympic Committee). In addition to this achievement, Lee won gold in the Women’s Artistic Individual Competition. This event was previously won by another member of the team, Simone Biles. However, Biles couldn’t defend her victory this year, as she chose to withdraw from the 2021 Olympics after the first competition, due to mental health concerns. Often lauded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has been the face of US gymnastics. Her decision sparked both an outpouring of support and plenty of criticism. She spoke about how she must prioritize her health before her sport. Although many thought this concluded Biles’ gymnastics journey, she decided to step back in for the balance beam event, where she won bronze. Another member, Jade Carey, won gold in the Floor Exercise event, and Lee earned a full set of medals, as she got bronze on the Uneven Bars. Additionally, Skinner brought home the silver on the vault, which puts the US at a total of 6 medals in gymnastics.

New, Young, Promising Athletes Make Their Olympic Debut

This year’s Olympics has gained several new competitors. A new addition to the competitive scene is 13-year-old skater Nishya Momiji of Japan, who claimed the gold medal at street skateboarding’s Olympic debut this year. Another skater of the same age, Rayssa Leal of Brazil, came in second in this event. This year’s overall youngest competitor is 12-year-old Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza. Though she lost her opening event, it was an accomplishment in itself to be the youngest Olympian of the Tokyo games. Lastly, participating in the diving events, Quan Hongchan, 14, and Chen Yuxi, 15, competed on China’s team and won numerous medals.

USA Swim Team Makes a Big Splash

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Michael Phelps set the standards high for all US swimmers, capping off his prolific 28 medal career with 23 gold medals. Now five years later, there are new US swimmers taking up the challenges that are aiming for those standards including Katie Ledecky, Lydia Jacoby, Caeleb Dressel, Bobby Finke and Regan Smith. In the men’s events, Dressel claimed five gold medals and Finke claimed two gold medals.  In women’s swimming, Katie Ledecky won two silver medals. Ledecky also claimed two gold medals, one of which in the women’s 800 meter freestyle, defeating rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia. She took another gold in the women’s 1500 meter freestyle, an event that made its first Olympic appearance.  In addition, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby of Alaska beat the defending champion, Lilly King and won gold in the 100m breaststroke and silver in the 4x100m medley relay. In swimming alone, the US has amassed 30 medals (eleven gold, ten silver, and nine bronze medals). 

Rising senior and member of Townsend Harris’s swimming team Raquel Mulakandov commented on the US Olympic Team’s swimming success, saying she felt very proud watching Dressel claim five gold medals and hopes he continues to get the recognition he deserves. She also expressed her admiration for Jacoby’s performance. “Jacoby is a huge inspiration to young swimmers all around the world because it shows swimmers what hard work and passion can do,” Raquel said. 

The Tokyo Olympics came to an end on Sunday, August 8 with the completion of the closing ceremony. The US secured first place in every medal category, earning 113 medals, 39 of which were gold (41 silver, 33 bronze).

Art by Amelia Harrington