Young female athletes who could make history at the Tokyo Olympics

Sky Brown is expected to be one of the youngest athletes at the Tokyo Olympics
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Female Olympic medalists are – on average – younger than male Olympic medalists. Data from 1984 to 2018 (courtesy of Olympic historian Bill Mallon) shows that the average age of female Olympic medalists is 25.6 years old, while male medalists average 26.7 years.

Even as the average age of Olympic medalists has crept upward over the years, the trend of male medalists being older than female medalists has persisted. At the Rio Olympics, the average age of female medalists was 26.3 years old, while men averaged 27.3.

Note: certain age regulations could impact the average age of medalists. For example, male gymnasts must turn 18 in the Olympic year, while female gymnasts must turn 16. On the other hand, women’s soccer is open to competitors of all ages, while each men’s soccer roster can only include three players over the age of 23 (24, in Tokyo). 

While the average age of Olympic medalists will likely follow a similar upward trend for Tokyo (especially given the one-year delay), some athletes, of course, will be much younger or older than the average.

Here are several of the (very) young women who could compete at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics:

Skateboarding: Rayessa Leal, Okamoto Misugu, and Sky Brown

While many sports have age restrictions for Olympic participation, skateboarding doesn’t. As a result, several of the sport’s Tokyo medal hopefuls aren’t yet old enough to own a driver’s license (or even see a PG-13 movie, in some cases).

Thirteen-year-old Rayssa Leal of Brazil – who earned the nickname “little fairy” after a video of her skating in a tutu went viral – is currently ranked second in the Olympic street rankings, while 14-year-old Okamoto Misugu of Japan tops the Olympic park rankings. Great Britain’s Sky Brown, who turns 13 in early July, will likely be skateboarding’s youngest competitor in Tokyo.

[Read more: Sky Brown, 11-year-old Olympic skateboard hopeful, suffers serious injuries in fall]

Gymnastics: Konnor McClain

After the Tokyo Games were postponed, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced that gymnasts who would not have been old enough to compete in 2020 will be allowed to compete in 2021. (To be eligible to compete at the Olympics, female gymnasts must turn 16 or older in the year of the Games.)

[Read more: Olympic age rule stirs reaction from gymnastics community]

American Konnor McClain was born 32 days too late to compete in 2020, but is now in the mix to make the U.S. team for the rescheduled Tokyo Games. When McClain was 11 years old, she appeared on Little Big Shots and said her goal was to win gold in the all-around at the 2024 Olympics.

Cycling: Hannah Roberts

BMX freestyle will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The current gold medal favorite in the women’s event is American Hannah Roberts, a two-time world champion. Roberts, who will be 19 in Tokyo, could become the youngest woman to ever win gold in the sport of cycling.

Soccer: Sophia Smith and Jaelin Howell

While many current members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) credit the 1999 World Cup with sparking their passion for the game, two Tokyo hopefuls weren’t yet alive when Brandi Chastain notched her iconic penalty-kick goal at the Rose Bowl. Midfielder Jaelin Howell, 21, and forward Sophia Smith, 20, both recorded their first caps for the USWNT in November, though it will be tough for either athlete to make the final 18-player U.S. Olympic roster.

Table Tennis: Hend Zaza

Last February, Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza, then 11, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by defeating 42-year-old Mariana Sahakian of Lebanon in the final of the West Asia Olympic qualification tournament.

[Read more: 11-year-old table tennis player qualifies for Olympics]

Even with the Games delayed a year, Zaza is still on track to become one of the youngest Olympians of all-time. The youngest known female Olympian is Cecilia Colledge, who was 11 years, 107 days when she competed in figure skating at the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid.

[Related: Continuing the count: American women look to extend Olympic medal streaks]

Olympic researchers Andy Dougherty, Sarah Hughes, and Rachel Thompson contributed to this report. Thanks also to Bill Mallon and Olympedia.org for providing the age data. 

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.