12 Southern Olympians to Watch at Rio
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games will welcome the best athletes from across the globe to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–and many of those athletes were born and raised in the South.
Throughout the summer, we’ve watched the U.S. Olympic Trials as the best of the best competed for a coveted spot on Team USA. Across the roster of sports, there are more than a few game-changing Southern Olympians who will be representing the United States. Here are ten Olympians to look out for during the 2016 Olympic Games, athletes who are at the pinnacles of their sports, who grew up in the South, and for whom we’ll be cheering extra loud in August. They share intense focus, dedication to their sports, and all of them are already incredibly accomplished. We can’t wait to see them represent Team USA in Rio.
For a full list of American athletes heading to Rio, visit teamusa.org.
Simone Biles | Spring, Texas | Gymnastics
In the past year, Texas-born gymnast Simone Biles has both made her first Olympic team and become a household name across America. Her floor routines are unforgettable (she even has her own move, “The Biles”), and she’s currently gracing the covers of magazines across the country. The three-time all-around World Champion will be joining two members of 2012’s “Fierce Five,” gold medal-winning Olympians Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, on the journey to Rio. Tune in. Biles will be making Olympic history.
Kassidy Cook | The Woodlands, Texas | Diving
Florida-born and Texas-raised diver Kassidy Cook is poised for a triumphant comeback in Rio. She missed making the 2012 Olympic team by .42, and then she spent the next few years recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries and regaining the muscle memory needed for difficult dives. This summer, her first place U.S. Trials finish in the 3 meter springboard event proves that she is back in action and more than ready for Rio. Kassidy Cook is definitely a diver to watch this year.
Kendrick Farris | Shreveport, Louisiana | Weightlifting
Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kendrick Farris began training in weightlifting at age 11 and later went on to graduate from Louisiana State University. The two-time Olympian (he competed in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012) will be representing the U.S. in August as the only male weightlifter from the U.S. to earn a spot at the Rio Olympic Games. Farris has strength and focus to spare, and we’ll be tuning in to see him shine at Rio.
Courtney Hurley | San Antonio, Texas | Fencing
A University of Notre Dame graduate, Courtney Hurley is ranked number one in the U.S. and 20th in the world in the fencing event Women’s Epee. She represented the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympic Games alongside her older sister, Kelley. They were one of the nine pairs of U.S. siblings that competed in the London Olympics. That team was the first U.S. Women’s Epee team to win an Olympic medal. Hurley and the team will be returning in hopes of building on their success in 2012, and we’re hoping they can do just that.
Jackie Galloway | Wylie, Texas | Taekwondo
Representing Team USA in Sparring Taekwondo, Jackie Galloway has already been active in competitions across the globe. She won gold in 2015’s Pan American Games, and she’s bringing her best to this year’s Olympic Games. A born-and-raised Texan, she got her start in Crownpoint, Texas and calls Wylie, Texas her home. Galloway currently studies Mechanical Engineering at Southern Methodist University, but this year, she’ll be making an important trip to Rio before school starts in the fall.
Ashleigh Johnson | Miami, Florida | Water Polo
Ashleigh Johnson has earned a staggering amount of gold in the pool. FINA World League, FINA World Cup, Pan American Games…we could go on and on. Most recently, as goalkeeper Johnson helped the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team win gold at the 2015 World Championships, and she was named the gold-medal game MVP. Pair water and polo, and you have incredible feats of athleticism—you won’t want to miss this Olympic sport in August. With such a stellar record, we’re expecting more great things from this MVP goalkeeper.
Becky Sauerbrunn | St. Louis, Missouri | Soccer
This defender helped the U.S. Women's Soccer team win gold in the 2012 Olympics and is returning to help the team defend their title. Sauerbrunn, a Missourian, attended The University of Virginia, where she majored in English Literature. In 2011, she earned a spot on her first senior-level Women's World Cup roster, and it's just been up from there. We can't wait to see Sauerbrunn defend gold in Rio.
Sam Kendricks | Oxford, Mississippi | Pole Vault, Track and Field
Kendricks’ pole vaulting career started at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mississippi, and then he went on to compete in pole vaulting events for Ole Miss. He has been collecting National Championships on the road to Rio, and he is currently the 2016 U.S. National Champion. Kendricks also handily set the U.S. Olympic Trials pole vault record this year in pursuit of a spot on Team USA. Tune in to Rio’s Track and Field events to see this Mississippian defy gravity.
Katie Ledecky | Bethesda, Maryland | Swimming
This 19-year-old has already changed the landscape of distance swimming. While preparing for her second Olympic Games (after winning gold for the 800 freestyle in London in 2012), Ledecky has been busy setting world records and then swiftly breaking them. Don’t miss her in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events, all of which she has dominated over the past few years. With Katie Ledecky in the pool, it’s safe to say that Michael Phelps won’t be the only once-in-a-lifetime swimmer to watch at this year’s Olympic Games.
Nick Lucena | Fort Lauderdale, Florida | Beach Volleyball
Nick Lucena grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and attended Florida State University. He will be making his Olympic debut in Rio alongside 2008 Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser. They are the top-ranked U.S. Men’s Beach Volleyball team, and they have already accrued an impressive competition record, wining two of their three Beach Volleyball World Tour tournaments in 2016. Expect dramatic diving and spiking on the sands in Rio this year.
Kelley O'Hara | Fayetteville, Georgia | Soccer
O'Hara is one of several players returning to defend Olympic gold earned in 2012. In addition to winning gold in the 2012 Olympics, O'Hara, a defender from Georgia, is a FIFA Women's World Cup Champion. On the field, she's a midfielder and a wingback, and she'll be playing to win in Rio.
Brittney Reese | Gulfport, Mississippi | Long Jump, Track and Field
Brittney Reese was born in California, but since she has called Mississippi home for years, we consider her one of our own. Reese won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, and now she’s working toward long jumping her way to victory again in Rio. The three-time World Outdoor gold medalist and two-time Indoor gold medalist got her start at Track and Field competitions in Mississippi, and since her professional career began, she has dominated the long jump in U.S. competitions. In August, Reese will be back to prove international dominance in the event for a second time.