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Biles, Ledecky, McLaughlin-Levrone all look for Olympic encores in Paris

The city itself will be one of the brightest stars at the Paris Olympics. In the end, though, it will be the 10,500 athletes who will grab the spotlight once the festivities begin one year from Wednesday

Simone Biles
U.S. gymnast Simone Biles poses with her bronze medal for the artistic gymnastics women's balance beam apparatus at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.Jae C. Hong (AP)

The city itself will be one of the brightest stars at the Paris Olympics, with ceremonies on the Seine, beach volleyball by the Eiffel Tower and a marathon route that passes through Versailles.

In the end, though, it will be the 10,500 athletes who will grab the spotlight once the festivities begin one year from Wednesday (July 26). Simone Biles is on a comeback, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone never left. A skateboarder who also likes to surf named Sky Brown is in contention to win gold medals in two events some 9,000 miles apart (more on that in a moment) and Katie Ledecky is still swimming strong heading into her fourth Olympics.

Some athletes to watch next year in Paris include:

Simone Biles

Biles will be 27 by the time the Paris Games open, which is considered retirement age for most American female gymnasts. But Biles has been redefining what’s possible ever since she burst onto the scene 10 years ago. Her game-changing legacy included the decision to exit the competition at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, conceding her mental health was not where it needed to be to risk her life in pursuit of an Olympic gold medal. Over the last two years, Biles took time off and got married. She recently committed to a comeback, and her first competition on that road is set for August 5. That and a few other meets this year will give the world a sense of where Biles stands, but if she makes the Olympic team, she will go in as its biggest star.

Sky Brown

When Brown won a bronze medal in skateboarding in Tokyo at age 13, she was exactly what the Olympics were looking for in their long-running effort to reshape their image for a new generation. In 2024, the Japanese-born prodigy, who competes for Britain, will try to take her game(s) to an entirely new level. The Summer Games’ action-sports icon will also try to qualify in surfing, an event that will be held more than 9,500 miles away in Tahiti. The schedule presumably lines up for Brown to try this intercontinental double, though waves can often dictate the pacing of a surf contest, which would be first up if Brown makes it. She recently told olympics.org that if she could pick a superpower, “I think teleporting would be real cool.” Given her goals for 2024, it would be very useful, as well.

Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky already has 10 Olympic medals, seven of them gold.Michael Sohn (AP)

Katie Ledecky

Ledecky burst onto the Olympic scene as a teenager. She’s now 27 and swimming against women she inspired to get into the sport. “I’ve looked up to her for so long,” 17-year-old U.S. swimmer Jillian Cox said after finishing second to Ledecky last month at U.S. nationals. Ledecky already has 10 Olympic medals, seven of them gold. She won two gold and two silver in Tokyo and was the most decorated U.S. female athlete for the second straight Olympics. If she’s vulnerable anywhere, it’s in the shorter freestyle races, but it’s hard to bet against her anytime she dives into the pool.

SYDNEY McLAUGHLIN-LEVRONE

Whether it’s breaking her own world record or competing in a new event, every time McLaughlin-Levrone steps onto the track, she has a chance to make history. McLaughln-Levrone has set the record in the 400 meter hurdles four times, most recently lowering it to 50.68 seconds at last year’s world championships. The 50-second barrier beckons, though it’s no sure thing McLaughlin-Levrone will go for that in Paris. This year, she has been running in the 400-meter flat races, where earlier this month she won the national championship in the year’s best time, 48.74 seconds. Whether she’ll go for one, or both, gold medals in Paris has yet to be seen. Either way, it seems she’ll be a favorite.

An San

In Tokyo, South Korea’s An San became the first archer to win three gold medals at the same games since 1904. She has won world championships and the World Cup finals since then, and finished first in the world ranking in 2022. South Korea has won every women’s team event at the Olympics since the event was introduced for the Seoul Games in 1988.

Yuasa Ami

Breakdancing, known officially as breaking, makes its debut in Paris, which puts Ami onto center stage. Japan’s top breaker won the inaugural BC One title in 2018, the breaking World Championship title a year later and took gold at the World Games last year. “B-Girl Ami” got into hip-hop dancing as a kid, but saw breaking and immediately knew that was her thing. She was perfecting moves within a week of first trying them. “Winning a battle, of course, is so amazing, but at the same time, meeting people from all over the world has become an inspiration for me,” she said in a recent interview in Forbes. “These precious encounters and experiences with different dancers means so much to me.”

Rebeca Andrade

The Brazilian finished runner-up to America’s Sunisa Lee in Tokyo and won the 2022 world all-around title in Liverpool, becoming the first world gymnastics champion from South America. Inspired by Brazil’s great gymnast of the early 2000s, Daiane dos Santos, Andrade suffered through three major knee injuries in the lead-up to Tokyo — an experience that taught her to listen to her body more as she goes through the rigors of training. Andrade could very well go into Paris as the favorite to win the all-around.

Erriyon Knighton
Erriyon Knighton in the men's 200m semi-finals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.GIUSEPPE CACACE (AFP)

Erriyon Knighton

Everything about the American 200-meter specialist screams “This is the future of track.” He holds the world under-18 record (19.84 seconds) and the world under-20 record (19.69), both marks that were held by Usain Bolt before Knighton broke them. Knighton is the newly crowned U.S. champion at 200 meters. The 19-year-old is also the first person to win the World Athletics male rising star of the year award not once, but twice. He won the bronze medal at world championships last year. Standing in his way — Noah Lyles, who ran 19.31 last year at world championships to topple Michael Johnson’s hallowed American record and hold off Knighton for yet another year. They’ll meet again at worlds in August, and the Knighton-Lyles showdown is expected to be one of the best races in Paris.

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