Let’s face it: The thought of sitting through hours of television sports coverage during a hot summer isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time. But, with the Tokyo Olympics getting underway, it sometimes feels unavoidable. The Olympics are about more than just sports – they are about inspiration. It’s different than watching the NFL, NBA or Premier League soccer where millionaire athletes battle other millionaire athletes. With the Olympics, there can be a sense that you are watching ordinary humans doing extraordinary things.
While women’s professional sport is growing in stature, it still doesn’t receive equal billing with the men’s – at least in terms of money. There is much more equity at the Olympics, where the pursuit is a medal, not prize money. Below, we are sharing five women worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks. Inspirational women who, for varying reasons, are worth our attention, even if they don’t come away with the gold:
1. Parisa Jahanfekrian – Weightlifting (Iran)
It’s fair to say that most Canadians may not have heard of Parisa Jahanfekrian. The 26-year-old Iranian is not a star of her sport. In fact, she only reached the qualification status through the withdrawal of Samoa’s Iuniarra Sipaia. But it is what Jahanfekrian represents – Iran’s first female weightlifter – that is important. No woman had even lifted weights in public before 2018 in the country. Jahanfekrian is a trailblazer that should inspire more Iranian women to take up sport and fight for equality.
2. Misugu Okamoto – Skateboarding (Japan)
According to the sport betting site Mr Green’s Olympics odds, Okamoto is the hot favourite to take gold in skateboarding in the women’s park discipline. We say “women”, but Okamoto is still a child at 15-years-old. The skateboarder is already a champion, however, winning the World Cup in 2019 (at just 13!). She has the added pressure of representing the hopes of the home nation in Tokyo – but she seems to thrive on pressure like a star.
3. Simone Biles – Gymnastics (USA)
Simone Biles is the first person on this list who is already a household name. If Biles retired tomorrow, she would still be considered one of the greatest gymnasts in history – but she has her eyes on more records and gold medals. Watching Biles over the next few weeks is like to watching history unfold. She is a once-in-a-generation talent. Gymnasts can have short careers, though, so enjoy watching this brilliant Ohio star while you have the chance.
4. Rosie MacLennan – Trampoline (Canada)
There is nothing better than seeing home-grown talent shine at the Olympics, and Canadians have witnessed Rosie MacLennan take gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016. She is the first Canadian to successfully defend an Olympic title in any sport. While the challenge of beating Hikaru Mori and Lingling Lui in Tokyo might be her toughest yet – she is still one of Canada’s greatest ever Olympians. Winning a third gold is not beyond her.
5. Ariarne Titmus – Swimming (Australia)
The most compelling sports stories come when champions are challenged. Do they rise to the occasion? Or will a new star emerge? Such is the case for Kate Ledecky, America’s queen of the pool and arguably, the greatest female swimmer of the modern era. But Ariarne Titmus has been tipped as one of the athletes to watch at the Olympics. She has Ledecky’s crown in her sights, and this could be the most fascinating battles of the Olympics.