Olympics 2021: 15 Must-Watch Sports and Athletes

·10 min read

It’s finally here: The Olympics 2021 officially kicked off in Tokyo on Friday, July 23, and wow, it was worth the wait. These Summer Olympics have already been historic for a number of pandemic-related reasons: the postponement, crowd-free competition, and athletes who have already withdrawn after testing positive for the coronavirus. But on a brighter note, the Tokyo Games are already historic for women athletes.

Women won more medals in 2016 and 2018 for Team USA than male athletes and are on track to take home the most glory in Tokyo too; this year six major countries—including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Great Britain, China, and Russia (whose athletes will be competing for the Russian Olympic Committee, as the doping ban against the country is still in place)—have more women athletes competing than men.

But it’s not just about numbers. Women athletes are already having a history making run at the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer—the women of Team USA Basketball will be going for their seventh consecutive gold medal (some dynasty-level stuff right there), Allyson Felix will be competing in her fifth Olympics (while helping to pay for childcare for other Olympian moms), Katie Ledecky will be gunning for the chance to be the first woman to win the most career gold medals (in any sport), Carissa Moore became the first woman to win an Olympic Gold medal in surfing, Japan's Momiji Nishiya (who is 13!) brought home the first Olympic gold in skateboarding, and Scout Bassett will be get another shot at Paralympic gold.

You’re going to want to watch it all. Here are the sports and iconic athletes to keep your eye on at the 2021 Olympics.

1. Gymnastics

Simone Biles. Need we say more?

The GOAT entered her second Olympics as the greatest gymnast—of any gender—in history. Then in a stunning turn of events, she withdrew from the women's team final just moments after it had started in a show of strength that only further proves why she's the greatest of all time.

“This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself. I came in and felt like I was still doing it for other people,” she said. “That just hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”

The 2021 Women’s Gymnastics team is stacked with talent. And Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum brought home silver for the USA.

Following her withdrawal from the team event, USAG announced Biles would also be withdrawing from the individual all-around final in order to prioritize her mental health.

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On July 30, U.S. Gymnastics announced that Biles would also be withdrawing from the individual vault and uneven bars finals.

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On July 29, Sunisa Lee became the fifth American gymnast in a row to win the all-around gold.

<h1 class="title">Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 6</h1><cite class="credit">Jamie Squire/Getty Images</cite>

Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 6

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

MyKayla Skinner took home silver at the women’s gymnastics vault final! The 24-year-old, who initially did not qualify for any Olympic events, stepped in for Biles.

On Monday, August 2, Jade Carey won a gold for her floor routine, flying through the air with the greatest of ease (or at least, that’s what it looked like, but we’re sure the tricks are really hard).

Watch it: Individual events will run July 29–August 3.

2. Track and Field

Women are dominating the track-and-field competition this year (even though fan favorite Sha’Carri Richardson won’t be competing).

On July 30, Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah crossed the finish line of the 100-meter sprint in 10.61 seconds, not only winning gold but breaking the 33-year-old Olympic record set by Florence Griffith Joyner (a.k.a. Flo-Jo). She also grabbed the title of fastest woman alive from Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won Olympic silver in 10.74 seconds (her previous best was 10.63). This was a sweep for Jamaica, with Shericka Jackson taking home bronze in 10.76.

<h1 class="title">Athletics - Olympics: Day 8</h1><cite class="credit">Christian Petersen</cite>

Athletics - Olympics: Day 8

Christian Petersen

On August 6, Allyson Felix took home a bronze in the 400-meter dash, her 10th Olympic medal, the most any American woman has won in track and field, per USA Today.

<h1 class="title">Athletics - Olympics: Day 14</h1><cite class="credit">David Ramos, Getty Images</cite>

Athletics - Olympics: Day 14

David Ramos, Getty Images

Watch it: Events kick off July 29 and run through August 7.

3. Paralympic Track and Field

At the Paralympic Games, starting August 24, wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden will be looking to add to her collection of 17 medals.

Scout Bassett, who has become a notable advocate for disability rights and is one of the most tenacious athletes you’ll ever watch compete, will be competing for her first gold.

You also won’t want to miss Alia Issa, a club thrower. Next month she’ll become the first woman to compete for the Refugee Paralympic team.

Watch it: The Paralympic Games will run from August 24 to September 5.

4. Tennis

The Games haven’t even started yet and tennis has already been in the headlines with many of the sport’s top-ranked women pulling out. First Serena Williams announced she was opting out of a trip to Tokyo. (She didn’t go into detail but had previously told reporters, “I would not be able to go function without my three-year-old around. I think I would be in a depression. We’ve been together every day of her life.”) Then Coco Gauff announced she’d tested positive for COVID-19, Simona Halep withdrew because of an injury, and Venus Williams—the most decorated Olympic tennis player in history—indicated she wouldn’t be playing either.

So who will be on the courts in Tokyo? Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty, who are not only the top players in the sport (ranked number two and number one, respectively) but are both outspoken advocates for mental health. Osaka, who is competing for Japan, will be playing for the first time after withdrawing from recent Open tournaments for mental health reasons.

Watch it: Tennis events will take place from July 23 through August 1.

5. Basketball

Love a sports dynasty? Look no further than the U.S. Women’s basketball team, led by five-time Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Not only will the team be gunning for their seventh consecutive gold, but they’re on a 49-game winning streak. This team hasn’t lost since 1992.

Watch it: The women will play July 27 through August 7.

6. Soccer

The women of the USWNT—reigning world champs, equal-pay warriors, and all-around badasses—won the last spot on the podium after a devastating loss. On Monday, August 2, Team USA had narrowly lost to Canada, who beat Sweden in a dramatic shootout in extra time for the gold. The Americans bested Australia 4-3 to claim the bronze.

Elsewhere in the sport, keep your eyes on Brazilian soccer legend Formiga, who will be competing in her seventh Olympics this month.

Watch it: The USWNT kicks off on July 21 with the final taking place August 5.

7. Swimming

Katie Ledecky is a world-record-breaking machine, having smashed the 1500-meter world record six times. This year the event will be open to women for the first time in Olympic history—a major move for gender equality in the sport—and on July 28, she brought home gold.

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That doesn’t mean Ledecky will be the only swimmer to watch. On July 24, Team USA made Olympic history by taking home 6 of 12 medals on their first day, with Chase Kalisz kicking things off by taking home the gold in the men’s 400-meter individual medley.

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Watch it: Dive in on July 24 through August 5.

8. Paralympic Cycling

Oksana Masters is practically superhuman—she’s won Paralympic medals in three sports: rowing, biathlon, and cross-country skiing. No biggie. In Tokyo she’ll be looking to bring home a medal in yet another sport—cycling—before she gets right back to training for the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing.

Watch it: The Paralympic Games will run from August 24 to September 5.

9. Surfing

Surfing is one of the four sports making its highly anticipated Olympic debut this year. The action will be led by Carissa Moore—reigning four-time world champion.

Some very exciting context to keep in mind while watching the women shred: In 2019 surfing became one of the few sports to achieve pay equity.

Watch it: The surf competition is subject to change based on the waves, but the action is slated for July 24–28.

10. Skateboarding

Skateboarding will also be making its Olympic debut this year. The field is stacked with impossibly cool women who will be bringing some serious chill and skill to the Games in both street and park events. Keep your eyes peeled for Bryce Wettstein and Brighton Zeuner, 16-year-old childhood best friends from California.

Watch it: The action will go down on July 25 and August 3.

On July 26, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya became one of the youngest gold medal winners at just 13-years-old. The teenager won gold in the Olympics’ first-ever women’s street competition. “I welled up in tears because I was beyond happy,” Nishiya said, per Reuters.

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Rayssa Leal of Brazil, who is also 13, took home silver, making both her and Nishiya the youngest medalists in their respective countries. According to CBS News, the youngest gold medalist ever was Marjorie Gestring, who won the women’s diving competition at the 1936 Berlin Games at age 13.

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11. Weightlifting

There are few things more genuinely badass than watching women lift hundreds of pounds over their heads like, “Oh what’s that? You say women aren’t strong?” This year Laurel Hubbard became the first openly trans person to compete (in any sport) in Olympic history, though she failed to advance in competition.

Watch it: See the women lift July 23 through August 2.

On July 26, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz secured the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal. Ever.

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12. Wrestling

In a similar show of don’t-underestimate-her dominance, Helen Maroulis, reigning Olympic champ, will be competing in her second Olympics for the chance to become the first U.S. wrestler to bring home back-to-back gold medals.

Watch it: July 31 through August 2.

13. Diving

Diving is always an iconic sport to watch. The skill! The grace! The heights! This year keep your eyes on Shi Tingmao, a Chinese diver who has won every single world championship and Olympic title since 2015.

Watch it: See the competition July 25 through August 5.

14. Paralympic Swimming

Jessica Long is a legend. She made her Paralympic debut at age 12 and has since earned 23 medals—13 of which are gold—which makes her the second-most-decorated Paralympian in history. (No wonder she was Michael Phelps’s former training partner.)

The coronavirus restrictions at this year’s Games have proved particularly challenging for Para athletes. Becca Meyers, also a swimming powerhouse, announced she was forced to withdraw from the competition after being denied the right to bring a care assistant (her mom) to help her compete as a deaf blind athlete.

Watch it: The Paralympic Games will run from August 24 to September 5.

15. Softball

Softball returned to the Olympics after 13 years—and the women of Team USA brought home a silver medal.

The game was last played in 2008, when Team USA brought home gold. Two of those women, Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott, returned this year with the 2021 squad to defend their title.

Watch it: The Games run from July 20 to July 27.

See all of Glamour’s Olympics 2021 coverage here.

Originally Appeared on Glamour

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