11 Olympic Athletes To Keep Your Eye On In Rio

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11 Olympic Athletes to Keep Your Eye on in Rio

They're still nearly a year away, but the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are already generating a whole lot of buzz. From talk of the venues and location to the training regimens of a few extremely impressive Paralympic athletes, excitement is generating at a pretty quick pace.  

At the center of that conversation is the athletes who will compete and what they're setting out to accomplish. Of course, everybody will be tuning in to watch well-known veterans like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps attempt to leave their final marks on Olympic history. But what about the rest of the pack? When the torch is lit and the games begin, which newcomers will everyone be buzzing about most? Which elites have the greatest shot at earning gold? Who will set new records?

Of course, it's still pretty early in the game, but if these athletes' recent performances are any indication of how they'll compete in the 2016 Summer Games, then you'll certainly want to keep your eye on them as they compete with the best of the best athletes in the world.

Simone Biles — United States, Gymnastics

At just 18 years old, Biles is already one of the most decorated female gymnasts in U.S. history. Most recently, she claimed the USA Gymnastics 2015 national champion title, beating her USA teammate MyKayla Skinner by 4.467 points — the largest margin of victory in American Cup history. "[She ] is a real good bet to win gold in the all-around and probably some individual events," said Dr. James Millhouse, Ph.D., an Atlanta-based clinical sport psychologist and author of The Parents Manual of Sport Psychology.

Aliya Mustafina — Russia, Gymnastics

In addition to also pointing out Biles as a must-watch gymnast, Shannon Miller — who currently reigns asAmerica's most decorated gymnast — also recommended keeping an eye on Mustafina. "While there are so many incredible athletes competing, these two will not only have the difficulty and scores to win, but both put on a great show," Miller said. She added, "Among the top five in the mix for the United States women's team are a couple of members of the 2012 (Gold Medal winning) Olympic team, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. Team USA is poised to bring home the gold if they can stay healthy and focused!"

Jaheel Hyde —Jamaica, Athletics

The Olympic Organizing Committee even points to Hyde as an up-and-coming, can't miss track and field athlete. Most recently, he won gold in the 400m hurdles event at the 2014 World Junior Championships and he currently holds the world youth record for the 110m hurdles event. If his performance keeps up this way, surely all eyes will be on Hyde when he takes to the track in Brazil.

Fernando Gaviria — Colombia, Track Cycling

This young rider first caught the world's attention when we he defeated former world champion Mark Cavendish in two sprint finishes at the 2015 Tour de San Luis in Argentina. Next, in February, he snagged the omnium title at the 2015 Track Cycling World Championships. Now, headed for Rio his sights are for sure set on snagging the gold in the multi-race category. 

Bradley Wiggins — United Kingdom, Track Cycling

In 2012, Wiggins became the first British cyclist ever to win the Tour de France. Already a highly decorated athlete (he has four Olympic gold medals, one silver and two bronze), there's no doubt Wiggins has already left a historic mark on the sport of cycling. But as he returns to the track in Rio, he'll embark on one final chance to claim even more Olympic glory — if he wins an eighth medal he'll claim the title of most decorated Olympian in British history

Katie Ledecky — Unites States, Swimming

No one will be surprised to see Ledecky succeed in Rio (she won gold in the 800m freestyle against front-runner Rebecca Adlington in London in 2012). But even still, everyone is excited to see this young distance swimmer show off her swimming stamina and speed on the world stage once again. According to the Olympic Organizing Committee, she could compete for as many as seven gold medals in Rio.

Alana Nichols — United States, Sprint Kayak Racing

"Alana is a tremendous competitor, but she also has a heart of gold to match," said Jeremy Holm, a Utah-based bobsled athlete, founder of The Athlete Outreach Project and author of The Champion's Way. "She is fierce during the heat of the game, but she is always willing to serve others in any way she can." A multi-talented athlete, Nichols has earned a handful of medals and accolades for a wide range of pursuits from sit-skiing to wheelchair basketball, but in Rio she'll place her competitive focus on sprint kayak racing, which will debut for the first time in the 2016 Paralympic Games. 

Yana Kudryavtseva — Russia, Rhythmic Gymnastics

Another young athlete who's already familiar with elite-level success, in 2013 Kudryavtseva earned three gold medals and at the age of 15 became the youngest gymnast to ever win the all-around world championship. In 2014 she won four individual world championship gold medals and then four more in 2015. With a track record like that, hardly anyone can wait to see what she'll do when she takes to the gym floor for her Olympic debut.

David Boudia — United States, Diving

When he won the gold in 2012, Boudia became the first U.S. diver to place first at the Olympics since 2000. Recently, he won silver at the 2015 diving World Championships, and with his sight set on snagging another gold medal in Rio, if he wins, he'll be the first American diver to win gold in back-to-back Summer games since Greg Louganis in 1988.

Yunidis Castillo — Cuba, Athletics

One of the fastest Paralympians in the world and Cuba's most decorated Paralympian, Castillo is currently working hard in hopes of earning herself a few more Olympic-level gold medals. "Rio 2016 may be the perfect event to end my career on a high note," she told International Paralympic Committee reporter Hernán Goldzycher.

Ki Bo Bae — Republic of Korea, Archery

Already a decorated Olympian (she has two gold medals from the 2012 Games in London) Bo Bae has her heart set on defending her current Olympic title and setting a few new records in Rio. "I compete at the Games for my own glory and my nation's honour," she said. "I want to make history in Korean archery by becoming the individual and team champion at consecutive Games."