Teens & pre-teens shine at 2020 olympics

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© HAWKEYE Phuong Lam

By Phuong Lam, Hawkeye Staff

Every four years, when the Summer Olympics take place, thousands of athletes from all around the globe come together to compete in 33 different sports across 339 unique events. These events highlight a wide variety of athletic talents, with sports ranging from table tennis to wrestling and everything in between. Athletes train and practice for hours upon hours for their individual sports through the Olympic trials in order to earn a spot to represent their countries at the games. 

A young generation of athletes made their mark at this year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, winning medals for their respective countries and setting both Olympic and world records at the event. The Olympics were postponed from the summer of 2020 to 2021 due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this catastrophic turn of events ended up being a blessing in disguise for some athletes by giving them an extra year to prepare for the event.

One of the teenage athletes that dominated in the Olympic games was 18-year-old Suni Lee, a gymnast who had just recently graduated high school and went on to represent the United States in her first Olympics. Lee won gold in all-around gymnastics, silver in women’s team finals, and bronze on the uneven bars. 

Tokyo 2020 also added a variety of new sports for athletes to compete in, such as karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. One sport, skateboarding, was especially dominated by the young athletes. In women’s park skateboarding, 19-year-old Sakura Yosozumi from Japan took home the first gold medal of the event. Following her, 12-year-old Kokona Kiraki from Japan won silver in women’s park and became Japan’s youngest Olympic medalist. Coming in bronze was 13-year-old Sky Brown from Great Britain. In women’s street skateboarding, 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya from Japan won the first gold, 13-year-old Leal Rayssa from Brazil won silver and 16-year-old Nakayama Funa from Japan won bronze. These young athletes completely swept both of the women’s skateboarding events. 

The Olympics are where records are broken and history is made. That is exactly what 18-year-old Anastasija Zolotic from the United States did when she won the first United States gold medal in women’s taekwondo. 19-year-old Hashimoto Daiki from Japan competed in the men’s all-around event and took home gold, becoming the youngest all-around Olympic gymnastics champion. 

Born in 2003, 17-year-old Colin Duffy from the United States became the youngest climber to qualify for the Olympic games and placed seventh in the Tokyo Olympic games. Duffy began climbing at the age of five in Broomfield, Colo. and continued his athletic journey from there, winning the International Federation of Sports Climbing (IFSC) Youth Championships in 2017 and 2018. Duffy also placed first in the 2020 IFSC Pan-American Continental Championship. 

Events in swimming and diving were filled with young, talented athletes as well. One young champion, 18-year-old Ahmed Hafnaoui from Tunisia, won gold in the 400-meter freestyle. At the Olympic trials preceding the games, he placed eighth and was expected to be the underdog going into the event. Despite the odds being stacked against him, Hafnaoui won Tunisia their fifth Olympic gold medal since the games began and became the nation’s first gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle. 

China also had a young and impressive lineup, excelling especially in the diving category. Quan Hongchan, being only 14 years old, won gold in the women’s 10-meter platform at her first games. Quan blew her competition out of the water, accomplishing two perfect dives to win gold and break the Olympic record with a score of 466.20. Quan’s teammate, 15-year-old Chen Yuxi, won silver in the same event. On land, 19-year-old Athing Mu took home gold in the women’s 800-meter. 

The youngest 2020 Olympic competitor was Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza, making it to the world-renowned event at the mere age of 12. Along with being the youngest competitor at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, Zaza also became the fifth youngest olympian of all time. Despite her loss in the first round, Zaza maintained her composure while competing against athletes that were three times older than her. 

Washington State also made sure not to miss out on the opportunity to send a teenager to the Olympics this year. Nevin Harrison, a 19-year-old competitor, was also a 2020 graduate from Roosevelt High School in Seattle. Harrison competed in the canoe single 200-meter sprint, securing a gold medal by beating Laurence Vincent-Lapointe of Canada, who Team USA claims to be, “one of the true greats of the sport.” By doing this, she made history as the first ever gold medalist in this event, as this was the debut of the women’s canoeing category in the Summer Olympics.

At the Olympics, athletes from all over the world come to one city for the once in a lifetime opportunity to compete. Over the course of a couple of weeks, competitors get the chance to show off their talents to millions of viewers who have grown to know the event as a quadrennial staple. Despite these athletes coming from vastly different backgrounds, speaking different languages and consisting of ages from all across the board, all participants come together as equals to compete in the Olympic games that only come once every four years. 

This year’s event was a better example than ever of this diversity. Young athletes from all sorts of backgrounds competed alongside others that have been training for years longer than them for the same opportunity. Despite the differences however, all of the athletes at the games shared the same passion and dedication for their respective sports that got them the chance to compete.

The exemplary teenagers that managed to get a spot in this year’s competition put an unimaginable amount of time and dedication toward achieving their dreams. For many of these athletes, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may have been their first event, but it most certainly won’t be their last.