Next Friday, August 5th, marks the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Cue lying on the couch, chocolate-covered potato chips in hand, getting a little choked up every time the NBC Olympics song plays. Your heart will swell, your knee pits will sweat, and you’ll once again regret all those years circa age 7-10 that were spent pretending your bike was a pony rather than training to be an Olympian of some sort. That could have been you up there, beaming on a podium as a single dignified tear rolls down your cheek. That could have you been you, participating in whatever funny business actually goes down in the Olympic Village afterhours. Alas, us mere mortals must settle for gleaning some inspiration from these demi-gods and bursting into tears every time they show that clip of Kerri Strugg completing that legendary my-ankle-is-effed-but-who-cares vault in 1996.
This year, the U.S. is sending 292 women to the Olympics—the most to ever compete for a single country in an Olympics, and it’s the second time women have outnumbered men. And they’re a damn impressive group, too, with some of them achieving feats heretofore unthinkable in their respective sports. We’ve compiled a list of seven women who stand out for their skill and poise, and above all else, their will to win:
Not only is Biles the heavy favorite to win the all-around medal in women’s gymnastics on a team full of super women (2012 Olympians Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are also on it), but she’s regarded by many (including former Olympic gymnastics superstars Mary Lou Retton and Nastia Liukin) to be the greatest gymnast of all time. At age 19. Before the Olympics have even started. Because she’s the first female gymnast ever to win three straight World Championships. Because she’s straight-up redefined what was thought to be achievable by the human body. Because she has her own move named after her (a floor pass called “The Biles”) that only a handful of other gymnast can pull off. The effervescent, spring-loaded 4-foot-9 Biles is a delight to watch in and out of competition and she’ll undoubtedly be one of the shining stars of the Olympics. For a sneak peek, catch her jaw-dropping floor routine from the P&G Gymanstics Championships earlier this year.
Elsewhere in the realm of badass 19-year-olds: Standford-bound Katie Ledecky already holds 11 world records and is poised to pick up more as she returns for her second Olympics (her first go-round, she was an underdog to win the 800-meter freestyle and ended up with the second-fastest time ever). Right before he started on an IV of Axe Body Spray, fellow Olympian Ryan Lochte said “she swims like a guy”; for that, we’re really hoping she’ll be this Olympic’s most-decorated swimmer, as many predict she might be.
Remember when Carli Lloyd scored three goals in 16 minutes in the World Cup and the U.S. went on to beat Japan 5-2 last year? That was pretty cool. Remember how the U.S. women’s team, which has won three World Cups and four Olympic golds since 1990, makes substantially less money than the men’s team, which didn’t qualify for Rio this year and hasn’t made it past the World Cup quarter finals in in more than 85 years? Not cool. But we digress. Back to midfielder Lloyd: Aside from her unbelievable, record-setting World Cup performance, she’s also the reigning World Player of the Year and the only player, male or female, to score gold-medal-winning goals in the last two Olympics. She’ll be a part of a superstar U.S. women’s team that includes goalie Hope Solo, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and forward Alex Morgan.
Cozad started as a swimmer, but switched to diving after learning the pool water was way warmer. Sounds pretty smart to us. She also cites Nicki Minaj as one of her biggest influences: "She’s my idol. She was like, 'I'm not just trying to be the best female rapper. I'm trying to be the best rapper of all time.' That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to break records. I want to be the best," Cozad said in an interview with the Indiana Daily Student. Here’s to hoping that after she competes in the 10-meter platform, “Feeling Myself” rings truer than ever.
This year marks Tamika Catchings’ 15th and final WNBA season and fourth Olympics, and she’ll go down in history as the oldest women’s basketball player in the games at age 37. Catchings will be in pursuit of her fourth consecutive gold medal as part of the heavily favored U.S. team., and most recently, she’s been in the news for her and her peers being fined for wearing black warm-ups in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement following the shootings that took place last month in Louisiana and Minnesota. As of July 24, the WNBA has withdrawn the fines, and president Lisa Borders stated that “we plan to use [the Olympic break until August 26] to work with our players and their union on ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public."
On top of being the first judoka—male or female—to win a gold medal in the sport back in the 2012 London games, Harrison is also the founder of the Fearless Foundation, which provides support for victims of child sexual abuse (at age 16, Harrison revealed that her coach at the time had been sexually abusing her for years). Should she move on to UFC in the future, following in the footsteps of former bronze-medal judoka and Ronda Rousey, she’s poised to make millions.
After missing the 2012 London games by one spot at age 19, English Gardner is back for her first Olympics with much to prove as she prepares to race in the 100-meter dash. In a recent interview with US Weekly, Gardner revealed that she has an alter-ego: Baby Beast. “She’s like the Hulk, she crashes and smashes everything that’s in front of her and I can’t control her, ever. Once the uniform comes on and we’re in the heat of the moment, it’s a wrap; you probably won’t get English back for a little while. You’ll see Baby Beast in Rio, for sure,” she told the magazine.