As the saying goes, “age is just a number.”
And that’s been the approach for several young athletes at the Olympics in Tokyo, all of whom are both under the age of 20 and medalists.
Yes, there are athletes at this year’s games like 66-year-old Australian equestrian Mary Hanna and 12-year-old table tennis player Hend Zaza of Syria, but let’s spotlight those competitors dominating the competition despite their age.
Lydia from Alaska
American Lydia Jacoby, a 17-year-old from Seward, Alaska, won gold in the Women’s 100m Breastroke last Monday. She is the first Olympic swimmer in history from Alaska, where she still resides.
Seward is home to 2,600 individuals. Check out the reaction from this watch party, including many of Jacoby’s high school classmates.
Winning a gold medal at the age of 17 cannot be understated. This split-screen does the significance of Jacoby’s accomplishment justice.
Jacoby is the first swimmer from Alaska to be a part of Team USA.
And kudos to her resiliency. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local pool in Seward closed.
So, Jacoby and her family relocated to Anchorage temporarily to resume training.
By the way, how adorable is Jacoby’s mother capturing her victory on an iPad?
“We just wished mom would put the iPad down so we could see her face,” said NBC primetime host Mike Tirico. “We’ve got this recorded for you, Leslie!”
NBC Sports analyst Rowdy Gaines shed light on the telecast about how remarkable Jacoby’s victory is given her background as a swimmer.
“Oh my gosh,” Gaines said. “They have one 50-meter pool in the entire state of Alaska!”
Action Network’s Darren Rovell shared that Alaska is the state with the fewest swimming pools, naturally because of the weather year-round.
It takes a village to win an Olympic medal, let alone the gold. Props to Jacoby’s parents for helping their daughter find the means to continue chasing her dreams in the midst of a pandemic.
“…thank you for all the support and everything over these years; it’s been amazing,” Jacoby said to NBC reporter Michele Tafoya in a message to her parents.
According to WND, several swimmers, including Jacoby, on Team USA did not like their chances to qualify at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2020.
“I don’t think I would have been prepared last year at all,” Jacoby said.
She ranked 18th in the Women’s 100m Breastroke pre-pandemic, the same event she won an Olympic gold medal in last Monday.
Keep An Eye On Grimes
In other news related to the pool, 15-year-old Katie Grimes is the youngest Team USA swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in almost a decade.
Katie Ledecky, at the same age as Grimes, competed in the 2012 London Games.
Grimes is “the future” of the sport, according to Ledecky per Insider.
Suni Steps Up For Simone
Team USA Gymnastics leaned heavily on star Simone Biles to lead a group heavily favored to return from Tokyo with a bevy of gold medals.
But it’s been 18-year-old Sunisa “Suni” Lee who’s carried the torch so far.
Lee clinched a gold medal with a superb showing in the Women’s All-Around final:
“I had to switch gears because I came in competing for second place. When the opportunity was there I knew I had to do what I normally do because this whole season I was second [to Simone Biles],” Suni said per Time. “I didn’t focus on it though because I knew I would get in my head and do really bad. But I stayed focused throughout the whole thing.”
Suni’s victory pulls on the heartstrings, considering her father, John, suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019 that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
“I wish he [my father] was here,” Suni said per NBC News. “He always told me if I win the gold medal, he would come out on the ground and do a backflip. It’s sad that he can’t be here but this is our dream and this is our medal.”
A tumultuous two years for the Lee family pays off:
“I’m going to tell [Suni] I’m so proud of her,” John said per the Athletic. “I want to tell her team that no matter what, you all supported her and I want to tell Simone that she truly is the goat because she let my baby girl bring the gold medal.”
A gold medal for Suni Lee also makes her the first Hmong-American in history to finish atop the podium at the Olympics.
She’s also the fifth straight gymnast from Team USA to win gold in the all-around. Not to forget, Suni received a silver medal in the Women’s Team All-Around and a bronze for her individual performance in the Women’s Uneven Bars.
At this time, Suni is committed to competing on the gymnastic’s team at Auburn University.
Cheers, Suni. Congratulations.
Hannah Roberts BMX Prodigy Shines in Olympic Debut
19-year-old American Hannah Roberts won a silver medal in the new Olympic sport, BMX Freestyle Park.
Roberts entered the finals as the No. 1 seed through her qualifying runs.
Props to Roberts for showing a lot of humility. She arrived in Tokyo as the favorite to win gold as a three-time world champion.
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Young Skateboarding Phenoms
In the Olympic debut of Women’s Street, the average age of the podium was 14 years, the youngest ever for an individual event in the history of the games.
Host nation Japan won two medals, including the gold:
- Gold: 13-year-old Nishiya Momiji of Japan
- Silver: 13-year-old Rayssa Leal of Brazil
- Bronze: 16-year-old Funa Nakayama of Japan
Deseret reports that Momiji is the youngest Japanese medalist in Olympic history.
It’s incredible when you consider how young all of these athletes are to be medalists, but for Leal, she’s been since at least age seven, when a video of her went viral and dubbed her ‘the skate fairy.’
I have to compliment the professionalism and sportsmanship I witnessed from Momiji and Leal:
At 27, Cam Newton stormed off in the middle of his post-game press conference at Super Bowl 50.
And in light of losing the gold medal to Momiji, Leal showed so much class at 13!
Did the Olympics’ Delay Help or Hurt?
The International Olympic Committee does not institute a minimum age requirement for athletes to be eligible.
However, individual sports do have age limits per Forbes.
Gymnasts must be at least 16-years-old to compete at the Olympics, but skateboarding does not restrict any athlete due to age to Momiji and Leal’s benefit.
Imagine what the extra year provided those young medalists like Jacoby, Momiji, and Leal. Suddenly, the pandemic afforded all these individuals 12 more months to train, develop physically and sharpen their skills.
The result? Realizing a childhood dream.