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Team USA Athletes to Watch at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics

Team USA Athletes to Watch at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics

The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, kick off on Friday, as athletes from around the world come together to represent their countries in dozens of world-class sporting events. From swimming to sprinting, basketball to badminton, the Summer Games are home to some of the fiercest and most-watchable competition in all types of sports -- many of which only get their proper due once every four years. 

Team USA has led the final medal count in every Summer Olympics since 1996, and many American athletes are expected to excel once again in Tokyo. Gymnastics GOAT Simone Biles is looking to add more golds to her medal tally, and swimming star Katie Ledecky is expected to once again rule the pool in the distance freestyle events, while Team USA's talented soccer and basketball teams hope to reclaim Olympic glory.

There are even new sports and events in competition this year, with the introduction of surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate to the Olympic program, as well as added mixed team events in swimming, track and field, archery and more.

Check out some of ET's favorite athletes to watch below and follow along at ETonline.com for complete coverage of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Simone Manuel - Swimming

Manuel stepped into the spotlight in 2016, with a shocking tie for the gold in the 100m freestyle. While she won't get a chance to defend her title in Tokyo -- after a surprising elimination at Olympic Trials -- the Stanford star is a medal favorite in the 50m freestyle and relays.

Noah Lyles - Track and Field

The mens sprint competitions won't be the same in Tokyo without the electrifying presence of Usain Bolt, but a number of talented runners have stepped up to fill the legend's cleats, including Lyles. The Virginia native missed out on qualifying in the 100m, but has posted the some of the fastest 200m times in the world since Bolt, with a 19.50 in July 2019 that placed him fourth on the all-time leaderboard.

Sunisa Lee - Gymnastics

Simone Biles is the all-around favorite and undeniable star of the women's gymnastics team, but her weakest event -- the uneven bars -- is the one in which Lee excels. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native is a favorite for gold on the bars, and her strengths as a two-time national silver medalist in the all-around will help the U.S. in the team competition as well.

Nyjah Huston - Skateboarding

An elite skater since his preteen years, Huston has tallied 13 X Games gold medals and three consecutive world skateboarding championships in the men's street event, making him a favorite for the gold as skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Sydney McLaughlin - Track and Field

McLaughlin's back-and-forth competition in the 400m hurdles with American teammate Dalilah Muhammad will be one of the storylines to watch in Tokyo. Muhammad is the defending Olympic and reigning world champion, but McLaughlin edged her out at Olympic Trials, becoming the new world record holder and the first woman to ever run the event under 52 seconds. Their finals heat for Olympic gold is not to be missed.

Devin Booker - Basketball

One of the brightest young stars in the NBA, Booker will head to the Olympics fresh off his first NBA Finals run with the Phoenix Suns, in the hopes of helping to lead a talented U.S. squad to their fourth consecutive gold medal, alongside fellow pros like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and more.

Carissa Moore - Surfing

Surfing is another sport on the Olympic program for the first time in Tokyo, and headlining Team USA's surf squad is Moore, a four-time world champion who's been ranked No. 1 in the world since her historic air reverse at the Newcastle Cup in Australia earlier this year.

Yul Moldauer - Gymnastics

One of the biggest storylines in U.S. men's gymnastics is whether or not Sam Mikulak will get his long-awaited (and, some would say, deserved) Olympic medal in Tokyo. But the spotlight loves Moldauer a 24-year-old former NCAA all-around champion, who won the parallel bars event at the 2021 U.S. Gymnastics Championships and finished second in all-around and third on floor and still rings. His exuberant celebrations are sure to make him a highlight of the Games.

Caeleb Dressel - Swimming

The U.S. men's swim team will be at the Olympics without Michael Phelps for the first time in over 20 years, but if anyone can hope to fill his legendary fins, it might be Dressel. The Florida native won two relay golds in Rio and could add to that stash substantially in Tokyo, with favorable odds in the 50m and 100m, 100m butterfly, and up to four relays.

Hannah Roberts - BMX Freestyle

Women's BMX Freestyle is a fairly new competition on the world stage, and Roberts, just 19, has been there for all of it. The Michigan native has won three of four world championships since the inaugural event in 2017, and has been the top-ranked rider in the world since 2018. She'll certainly be a favorite for the events first-ever Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Kanak Jha - Table Tennis

The United States rarely fields high-level competitors in table tennis -- a sport absolutely dominated by China, who has won 53 of the 100 medals awarded in the sport since its Olympic debut in 1988. However, 20-year-old Jha is Team USA's greatest hope in the sport by far, after winning the first men’s Olympic or Youth Olympic medal ever for the U.S. in table tennis, a bronze at the Youth Olympics in 2018.  

Brighton Zeuner - Skateboarding

Like her fellow Team USA skater Nyjah Huston, Zeuner started competing at the X Games as a preteen, winning her first gold in women's park at just 13 years old in 2017, and repeating the very next year. After an injury-plagued 2019, the young skating star celebrated her 17th birthday just before heading off to Tokyo, with hopes of winning one of the first-ever Olympic gold medals for skateboarding.

Lilly King - Swimming

You remember Lilly King. The finger-wagging phenom who backed up her trash talk in Rio with a stunning gold medal finish in the 100m breaststroke. The sassy swimmer is at it again this time around, making the claim at U.S. Olympic Trials that the Team USA's female swimmers could win every gold in Tokyo -- drawing the ire of Aussies, among others. Will she put her medal where her mouth is once again?

John John Florence - Surfing

Currently ranked No. 3 in the world, Florence famously beat out surf legend Kelly Slater to make the first American Olympic surfing team, but he's plenty worthy on his own merit. The Honolulu native won back-to-back world championships in 2016 and 2017 and is coming into the Games strong, off a win at the 2020 Pipe Masters.

Maggie Steffans - Water Polo

Steffans is the undisputed GOAT of women's water polo, entering Tokyo with just 10 Olympic goals between her and the all-time record. As the captain of the favored U.S. squad however, her primary focus will be leading the American women to a third-straight water polo gold.

Brady Ellison - Archery

Ellison enters his fourth Olympic Games chasing an elusive gold medal -- after winning team silvers in 2012 and 2016, in addition to an individual bronze in Rio. He's got a good shot this time around, after a career year in 2019, he's top-ranked in the world and will have an additional shot at the top of the podium in the new mixed team event, which he and teammate Casey Kaufhold won at the 2019 Pan American Games.

Adeline Gray - Wrestling

One of the most dominant American wrestlers of all time, Gray enters the 2021 Olympics looking to rebound from disappointment in Rio, where she was eliminated in the quarterfinals and finished seventh. She's got a strong lead-in -- 2019 saw Gray winning her fifth world title, the most ever for any American in the sport, regardless of gender or wrestling style.

Ryan Murphy - Swimming

The American men have won six straight Olympic gold medals in the 100m backstroke, dating back to Jeff Rouse's victory in Atlanta in 1996 -- which means Ryan Murphy, born in 1995, hasn't been alive to see Team USA lose the event. The Chicago native will hope to keep that streak alive in Tokyo with a repeat of his Rio victory.

Nevin Harrison - Sprint Canoe

Harrison originally dreamed of being an Olympic runner, until hip dysplasia forced her to change sports. Now, at just 19, she's one of the breakout stars in 200-meter sprint canoeing -- and, after a world championship gold in 2019 and two more World Cup wins -- one of the favorites for gold.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics run from July 21 to Aug. 8, and will be broadcast on NBC, NBCOlympics.com, on the NBC Sports app, and on Peacock, NBCUniversal's streaming service. In the meantime, stay tuned to ETonline.com for complete Olympics coverage.

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