More than 10,000 sportspersons from 193 countries are in the race for Olympic glory in Tokyo, but not all of them will get more than their fleeting seconds of fame. Here’s our list of the 10 women who will be in the news and get the most number of global eyeballs in the fortnight starting from Friday, July 23.
1. Naomi Osaka (Japan): Without doubt the rising star of her sport, ranked No.2 in the Women’s Tennis Association(WTA) singles pecking order, Osaka, 23, came into the public eye after the upset defeat she inflicted on the 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final. Since then, her career graph has shown no signs of slipping. Osaka made headlines when recently she pulled out of the French Open in May citing mental health concerns as well as sitting out the Wimbledon this year for the very same reason. She now seems to have put her troubles behind her so that she can represent her country on her home turf.
2. Megan Rapinoe (USA): The U.S. women’s soccer team is aiming to become the first women’s team ever to win the World Cup and Olympic gold back to back after failing to do so following its World Cup wins in 1999 and 2015 (it was, in fact, beaten in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Olympics). Key to the team’s aspirations is Rapinoe, the 36-year-old winger, who’s one of the world’s most talented woman soccer players. She won the Best Player Award in the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the Ballon D’or (Golden Ball) in the same year. Having turned 36 on July 5, Rapinoe may be making her last appearance in the Games, so she couldn’t ask for a more glorious exit than help her team achieve what nobody else has done.
3. Simone Biles (USA): She’s 24 years old, but this American is an eight-year veteran of the world gymnastics scene, rising to prominence when she was just 16. Claimed by many to be the greatest female gymnast of all time, Biles has had four gymnastic skills named after her. She won five gold medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics and is defending the individual all-around champion’s title. If she pulls off a repeat, Biles will be the first woman to win the all-round gold back-to-back after Vera Caslavska of the Czech Republic did it in 1968.
4. Sue Bird (USA): A testament to the longevity of this 40-year-old is the fact that her former teammate Dawn Staley is now her coach at the Olympics. The veteran is undoubtedly the leader of the US women’s national basketball team, but leadership is not the only skill she will bring to the court. The four-time Olympic gold medal winner also holds the Women’s National Basketball Association(WNBA) record for the highest number of assists. Together with teammate Diana Taurasi, Bird has her sights set on becoming the first basketball player to win five golds in a row.
5. Jessica Springsteen (USA): The 29-year-old daughter of rock icon Bruce Springsteen is carving out her own impressive legacy in the sport of horse riding. The equestrian champ has been riding since the age of five and the experience is helping her become the world No. 14. Having been denied the opportunity to represent her country in the 2016 Olympics because of an injury sustained by her horse, Springsteen is coming into this year’s competition on the back of some good form. She just won the CSI4* Hubside Jumping Grimaud 2021, which is considered to be one of the premiere pre-Olympic international equestrian events.
6. Laurel Hubbard (New Zealand): The 43-year-old weightlifter is on the verge of making history as she will be the first transgender person to take part in a modern Olympics. Among the top-ranked lifters in the women’s +87kg category, Hubbard is seen as a favourite to win a medal, especially after her impressive performance at the 2019 Samoan Pacific Games. Many critics insist that Hubbard should be barred from competing because of the perceived advantage she has over other women because she was born a man, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued new guidelines that allow a transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided her testosterone levels are below a certain mark. These new rules have helped Hubbard to come so close to entering the record books as the first transgender person to compete in the Olympics — and perhaps win a medal as well.
7. Stephanie Gilmore (Australia): Surfing will make its Olympic debut this year and this seven-time world champion will be closely watched. The 33-year-old hopes to bring her country’s surfing success to the Olympic stage, but she is likely to face stiff competition from the USA’s Carissa Moore, who has been Gilmore’s long-term rival. Both of them have traded positions at the top of the sport, their rivalry dating back to 2011, when the American broke Gilmore’s four-year run of winning the World Surf League title.
8. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica): The 34-year-old is coming into the Olympics in peak form, clocking the second fastest time in history — 10.63 seconds. A two-time gold medallist, Fraser-Pryce is one of three women to successfully defend her Olympic 100m title. She is also the second Jamaican to have been awarded the International Amateur Athletic Federation(IAFF) Player of the Year Award, which she won in 2013. She now hopes to live up to her moniker of ‘fastest woman alive’ in what may be her last stab at the competition.
9. Alex Morgan (USA): She gave birth to her first child last year, but this 32-year-old has regained her fitness in time to give the U.S. women’s soccer team’s title hopes a gigantic boost. One of the most prolific strikers in women’s soccer, Morgan has scored 110 goals in 180 international games, which makes her the fifth leading goal-scorer in her team’s history. Not only has she been in two World Cup-winning sides, Morgan also has an Olympic gold medal (won in 2012) in her kitty.
10. Katie Ledecky (USA): The 24-year-old American was the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic swimming team. She was only 15, but Ledecky went on to strike gold in the 2012 Games, establishing her credentials as a child prodigy. She has since then added four more gold medals to her Olympic kitty, which means she’d have to win three more in Tokyo to tie with Jenny Thompson for the honour of being the highest medal getter among American woman swimmers. Ledecky, though, faces a tough challenger in the 20-year-old Australian wonderkid, Ariarne Titmus, who left the American behind in the 400m freestyle event in the 2019 world championships, thus ending her unbeaten winning streak since 2012.