A new generation of young athletes is prepared to make a splash in Tokyo.
While many would believe that age and experience play a factor in who ultimately wins gold, some Olympians have defied the odds in recent years to reach the podium before they’ve even reached college.
Here are some of the youngest athletes competing in the upcoming Tokyo Games:
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Erriyon Knighton introduced himself as one of the rising stars of the U.S. Olympic track and field team at just 17 years old, finishing third in the men’s 200m final at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., in June 2021.
The rising high school senior is the youngest American man to make the Olympic track and field team since Jim Ryun in 1964. Knighton didn’t start participating in track and field until his freshman year at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla., at the suggestion of his football coaches. But with some additional training and a timely growth spurt, he excelled on the track and decided to turn pro just before his 17th birthday.
His decision was not easy, though. As a talented wide receiver, Knighton was a much sought-after four-star football recruit and had received college offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Florida and Tennessee. His talent on the track, however, was undeniable as he broke Usain Bolt’s 2003 under-18 200m record with a time of 20.11 seconds at a meet in June.
Knighton beat world champion Noah Lyles in the 200m preliminary and semifinal heats at the Olympic trials and has a strong chance to medal in Tokyo.
The 16-year-old Claire Curzan will be one of the faces to watch in the women’s 100m butterfly event on Saturday, July 24. Curzan entered June’s Olympic swimming trials as one of the fastest 100m fly athletes in the world with two world junior records.
The Cary, N.C., native trains under coach Bruce Marchionda as part of the TAC Titans. Marchionda is best known for leading Claire Donahue to a seventh-place finish in the 100m fly nine years ago at the 2012 London Games.
Curzan is currently fifth in the world in the 100m butterfly after being on the outside looking in to make the Olympic team last year. A little over a full year later, she will be ready to compete for a medal with the best in the world in Tokyo.
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Katie Grimes, 16, will be one of the youngest members of the U.S. Olympic team.
The swimming phenom finished second in the 800m freestyle, behind five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in June. Grimes is from the Sandpipers of Nevada swimming club and will become the youngest U.S. Olympic swimmer since Ledecky made her Olympic debut in 2012.
After their 800m race at the Olympic trials, Ledecky had high praise for her younger contemporary, calling Grimes “the future of swimming.”
When the women’s sprint canoe event makes its debut at the Tokyo Games on Aug. 2, Nevin Harrison will be one of the youngest competitors. Harrison became the first American female sprint canoe world champion at 17 years old in 2019.
Now 19, the Seattle native will attempt to duplicate that success on the Olympic stage. Harrison trains with the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team and will look to win gold for the U.S. Olympic team in a sport normally dominated by European countries.
Syria’s Hend Zaza made Olympic history when she lost to Austria's Liu Jia in the opening round of the women's single's tournament on Saturday. Zaza, 12, is the youngest table tennis athlete in Olympic history and the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Games.
The 12-year-old prodigy started playing table tennis at the age of 5 and qualified for the Tokyo Games last year.
Zaza beat a woman more than 30 years older than her at the Western Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in 2019. She is the first table tennis athlete to represent Syria at an Olympic Games.
The Olympic women’s singles tournament continued Sunday, July 25, with the gold medal match taking place on July 30.
British skateboarder Sky Brown will be just 13 years and 22 days old when she makes her Olympic debut in the women’s park event on Aug. 3.
Sky is the third-ranked skateboarder in the world and will be the youngest athlete to represent Britain in the Olympics since swimmer Margery Hinton competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Games at 13 years and 44 days old.