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10 Americans To Watch In 2020

With the 2016 games all wrapped up, it is time to look ahead to the 2020 games in Tokyo, which will host the summer games for the second time (first: 1964). While it is always tough to predict who will put on a show four years from now (after all, I thought Missy Franklin was on a crash course to become the best female swimmer ever) it was no problem coming up with 10 Americans who will be worth watching in four years. The only issue was limiting it to 10.

1. Katie Ledecky, Swimming

Ledecky took the torch from Missy Franklin as the face of US women’s swimming, and with Michael Phelps likely retiring, she will be the face of US swimming in Tokyo. She already has tied the record for most freestyle gold medals by a female swimmer (and would have two more if the Olympics contested the 1500 free). Ledecky looks like a lock for the 800 in Tokyo, and will have a great shot at the 400 and 200 as well. The only thing stopping her is boredom from routinely blowing the best swimmers in the world out of the water.

2. Kanak Jha, Table Tennis

At just 16, Jha was the youngest member of the US team in Rio and could be on track to be the first American medalist in table tennis (i.e. ping pong). A first generation American born to Indian parents, Jha moved to Sweden as a 15 year old to train. He is the under 15, 18, and 21 US champion and is currently ranked 22nd among U-18 table tennis players in the world.

3. Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field

McLaughlin missed the final of the 400 hurdles but at just 17 she figures to be a major player in 2020. She won a gold at the 2015 youth world championships, has the prep record for the 400 hurdles, and was the first teenager since 1980 to make the Olympic team in track. McLaughlin struggled in her 400 hurdles semifinal, but she seems like a (very) early medal favorite in 2020.

4. Margaux Isaksen, Modern Pentathlon

Perhaps my favorite little talked about Olympic sport is the modern pentathlon. The event features fencing, swimming, horse jumping, running, and shooting. Isaksen was just 16 when she made her Olympic debut in 2008. She finished 4th in 2012, and was the 2011 Pan Am Champion. She struggled a bit in Rio thanks to a poor showing in the jumping portion, but looks like one to watch in Tokyo nonetheless.

5. Michael Andrew, Swimming

Andrew probably isn’t a familiar name to most given that he wasn’t at the Rio games, but the 17 year old looks like the next big thing in American swimming. His backstory is as remarkable as his talent, as he is coached by his father who moved to the US from South Africa in the late 90s. Andrew trains in his backyard at home in Lawrence, Kansas. It has paid off, as he has broken more national age group records than any other American swimmer in history.

6. Nat Young, Surfing

Yes, surfing. The sport will make its debut in 2020 (although they probably missed an opportunity to give Brazil more medals by waiting until then) and Young probably will be America’s best hope at medaling. Just 25, he was the rookie of the year on the pro surfing tour in 2013 and is currently ranked 10th.

7. Vashti Cunningham, Track and Field

The daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall, Vashti Cunningham made the high jump final at just 18. She struggled a bit in the final, failing to clear 1.93 meters, but set a world junior record at the 2016 USA Indoor Championships, clearing 1.99 meters.

8. Men’s Indoor Volleyball Team

It is perhaps cheating a bit to pick a team, but the US indoor volleyball team was one of the youngest in the field and had 8 first team olympians, but still grabbed a bronze. Setter Micah Christenson emerged as one of the breakout stars of the Olympics, as did outside hitter Taylor Sander, who recovered from a poor first couple of matches to be one of the best receivers of serve in the entire tournament. With what should be a more veteran but still immensely talented team in Tokyo, a medal will be the expectation.

9. Alexander Massialas, Fencing

One of the best fencers in the world, Massialas won a silver in the foil competition, making a huge comeback in the semis en route to the final. He also helped the US to a medal in the team competition. Massialas’s father is the national team coach, a partnership which clearly has helped both men.

10. Michael Phelps, Swimming?

I know, I know. He says he is done. But after watching him win the 200 individual medley by nearly 2 seconds, is there any doubt he can still do it? If he sees the times in the 200 meter butterfly are slow in two years, maybe he will decide to add to his medal haul and try to get to 25 golds and 30 total medals.

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