By Anna Rose Johnson
At every Olympic Games, there are always surprises – whether it’s an unexpected performance, an incredible score, or a new star rising to the top. We’ve compiled a list of 10 amazing athletes who could end up surprising in Tokyo!
Many fans have started taking note of rising Russian superstar Viktoria Listunova, which means that her up-and-coming teammate Vladislava Urazova has been a little bit overlooked. But Urazova’s scores definitely place her in the medal hunt, with her 57.333 AA score at the 2021 Russian Cup in June. Not only could Urazova potentially challenge for an All-Around medal, she’s also a strong bars and beam contender.
With veterans like Mai Murakami and Aiko Sugihara on the Japanese Olympic team, beam specialist Urara Ashikawa has flown under the radar – but she is one to watch! Her steady, elegant beam work (which won the gold medal on this apparatus at the 2020 Melbourne World Cup) is the reason she was able to secure a spot as a specialist to Tokyo–and could also be her ticket to the beam final!
A longtime standout on vault, Mexico’s Alexa Moreno won the bronze on this event at the 2018 World Championships and could be in the medal hunt once again in Tokyo. Fun fact: She also appeared in a fun Toyota commercial that aired during the recent U.S. Olympic Trials!
Daiki Hashimoto is a new name to watch for, but he’s already establishing himself as a top contender for the men’s All-Around gold – he scored 88.532 at the All-Japan Championships, one of the best scores of the year so far. He’s already helped his team to a bronze medal at 2019 Worlds, so perhaps this is his time to shine.
Many fans have been speculating about which athlete will most likely join Simone Biles in the vault final in Tokyo. Biles is almost assured a slot with her virtually unbeatable vault scores, but with one other U.S. slot potentially available, will it be MyKayla Skinner who qualifies? She scored higher than her teammate Jade Carey at the recent Olympic Trials, and if she repeats that performance in qualifications, Skinner has a real chance at making the final–and possibly even winning the silver!
It may seem strange to see the legendary Kohei Uchimura on a list of gymnasts who could surprise at the Olympics, but with the string of injuries that have kept Uchimura from top form the past few years, he is a bit of an underdog going into these home Games. While he may not be able to reclaim his All-Around title, Uchimura is still in the hunt for a gold on his strongest event–high bar. So don’t count him out yet!
Poised for a gold medal in the All-Around at 2017 Worlds, the intrepid Canadian just missed the top spot on the podium, but still won an amazing silver. Now, after a successful quad that included gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Ellie Black is back and ready for more. As the indisputable leader of her team, Black has the potential to make the beam final – and could even win a medal if she hits a solid routine (she scored 14.350 on this event at the 2021 Canadian Championships).
Known for his incredible pommel horse performance at 2019 Worlds – where he won the bronze medal – Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan will be in the mix for a medal on this event in Tokyo. Although he’ll be up against tough competitors, McClenaghan might be able to rise to the podium.
Until now, Li Shijia’s biggest moment in this sport was when she won the beam bronze at 2019 World Championships. But she could end up surprising in Tokyo–she’s now a remarkable all-around competitor, having scored a hefty 57.698 in qualifications at the Chinese Nationals. And of course, she’s still a major contender for the beam final as well!
UPDATE 7-21-21 It’s been reported Li Shijia was injured at the final Chinese Trial and will not compete in Tokyo.
Having made a glorious return to the sport after several heartbreaking ACL tears, Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade is going to be another athlete to watch. She scored 56.700 in the AA at the 2021 Pan American Championships in June, winning the gold and stamping herself as a definite all-around contender once again!
After narrowly missing out on the floor exercise final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Spain’s Rayderley Zapata is back for more and has the potential to capitalize on his powerful tumbling in Tokyo. We are extremely eager to see his fabulous new floor skill at the Games, which you can see here: