Tokyo Olympics: 100 ways women can make history at the Olympics

Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky can make history at the Tokyo Olympics
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In the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, On Her Turf counted out 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Games.

Author’s note: Originally written as a series, this post combines all 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Some substitutions have been made, based on the results of Olympic qualification. 

#100: Gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky have the potential to become the first U.S. woman to win five gold medals at a single Olympics.

#99: Americans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi could become the first basketball players – of any gender – to win five Olympic gold medals.

#98: Chinese diver Shi Tingmao has won every world or Olympic title on springboard (individual or synchronized) since 2015. In Tokyo, Shi will look to keep both her personal – and national – winning streaks alive. China has won the last eight gold medals in women’s springboard (a streak that began in 1988).

#97: The Tokyo Olympics will mark the third straight Games in which women outnumber men on the U.S. Olympic team. With over 329 American women expected to compete in Tokyo, the U.S. Olympic roster also breaks the record for most women to represent a nation at a single Games. The previous record (291) was set by the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Games.

#96: Sprinter Dina Asher-Smith has the potential to become the first British woman to win a 100m or 200m medal in over 60 years.

Don’t miss a moment: On Her Turf’s day-by-day guide to the Tokyo Olympics

#95: American Hannah Roberts, who will be 19 in Tokyo, could become the youngest woman to ever win gold in the sport of cycling. Roberts competes in BMX freestyle, an event that will debut at the Tokyo Games.

#94: Great Britain’s Jade Jones and China’s Wu Jingyu are both in contention to become the first athlete – of any gender – to win three Olympic gold medals in the sport of taekwondo.

#93: The Olympic wrestling schedule will shine a spotlight on women’s competition. For the first time ever, the final gold medal match of every day will be a women’s match.

#92: At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, swimmer Jessica Long became the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history. She ultimately left Rio with 23 career medals (including 13 gold). While the all-time U.S. Paralympic medal record (55) is out of reach for Long in Tokyo, she could match the haul of her former training partner Michael Phelps, who retired in 2016 with 28 medals (23 gold). Long is expected to add to her haul at the Tokyo Paralympics.

#91: With nine Olympic medals, Allyson Felix is already the most decorated American woman in Olympic track and field history. In Tokyo, Felix could tie or break the record for most medals won by an American track & field athlete, male or female. The current record is held by Carl Lewis (10).

#90: At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Helen Maroulis became the first American to win gold in women’s wrestling, defeating three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Saori Yoshida of Japan. After qualifying for her second Olympic team, Maroulis will look to become the first American wrestler – of any gender – to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since John Smith won consecutive titles in 1988 and 1992.

#89: 2016 Olympic triple jump silver medalist Yulimar Rojas could become the first Venezuelan athlete – in any sport – to win more than one Olympic medal.

#88: Paratriathlete Allysa Seely will be looking to win a second straight gold medal after leading the U.S. to a podium sweep in the PTS2 classification at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

#87: Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in February 2020 when she was just 11 years old. 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.

#86: Tatyana McFadden earned medals in six track & field events at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, from the 100m to the marathon. The 17-time Paralympic medalist is expected to contest a similar program when she makes her sixth Paralympic appearance in Tokyo.

#85: Host nation Japan has never won an Olympic medal in trampoline, but that could change in Tokyo thanks to Mori Hikaru, who will enter her first Olympics as the reigning world champion.

#84: There are two Olympic canoe sports: canoe sprint (head-to-head races contested on flatwater courses) and canoe slalom (competitors navigate their way through the rapids). Despite the official sport names, up until this point, women haven’t actually been allowed to canoe at the Olympics. Instead, women have competed only in kayaking events, while men have had both canoeing and kayaking. That will change in Tokyo, where women’s canoeing will make its debut. American Nevin Harrison is expected to contend for a medal in canoe sprint after winning the C-1 200m title in 2019, while fellow American Evy Leibfarth is a rising star in canoe slalom.

#83: Only one athlete has ever won three Olympic gold medals in the 100m sprint: Usain Bolt. In Tokyo, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could become the first woman – and second athlete – to achieve the feat. After claiming back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, she claimed bronze in the event in 2016. She returned to the top of the podium at the 2019 World Championships, exactly two years after giving birth to her son Zyon.

#82: The U.S. has never finished better than sixth in women’s hammer, which debuted at the 2000 Sydney Games). American DeAnna Price, who has been on the rise in recent years, seems likely to end this drought after winning the 2019 world title. Fellow American Gwendolyn Berry, whose 2019 protest against racial justice helped spark a policy change, is also expected to contend.

#81: The Tokyo Olympics will mark Mexico’s first appearance in women’s softball.

RELATED: Olympic softball: Meet the six teams going for gold

#80: American Oksana Masters has already won Paralympic medals in three sports: rowing, cross-country skiing, and biathlon. In Tokyo, the eight-time Paralympic medalist could add to her haul in a fourth sport: cycling.

#79: After the Olympic postponement was announced, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials winner Aliphine Tuliamuk and her partner Tim decided to reassess their family planning timeline. Tuliamuk, who gave birth to daughter Zoe in January, plans to race at the Olympics seven months after giving birth.

#78: In swimming, the men’s 1500m has been included at every Olympics since 1908, but 2021 will mark the first time the event will be open to women. Since 2013, American Katie Ledecky has broken the women’s 1500m world record six times. The 24-year-old – who also owns the 10 fastest times in history – is expected to enter the Games as the favorite for gold.

#77: Americans Simone BilesKatie Ledecky, and Allyson Felix all have the potential to break the women’s record for most career gold medals (9) or the American version of that record (8). The current international record – 9 gold medals – is held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won the eighth and ninth gold medals of her career in 1964 (the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics).

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Simone Biles’ coach on if (and when) she will compete Yurchenko double pike

#76: Georgia’s Nino Salukvadze, a three-time medalist in shooting, is expected to become the first woman to compete at nine Olympics in any sport. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Salukvadze’s son – Tsotne Machavariani – also competed, making them the first mother-son duo to compete at the same Games.

#75: At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, the U.S. women claimed their first ever gold medal in sitting volleyball. Following an undefeated 2019 season, the Americans should be a top threat to defend their Paralympic title in Tokyo.

#74: Between 2006 and 2016, the U.S. rowing team compiled one of the most impressive win streaks in any sport, with the U.S. women’s eight winning every major championship title (including three straight Olympic gold medals). While the world championship side of that streak ended in 2017, the U.S. women’s eight could be in the mix for a fourth straight Olympic gold in Tokyo.

#73: Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina already holds the record for most Olympic appearances by a gymnast (7). In Tokyo, Chusovitina – who will be 46 years old – is expected to become the oldest female gymnast in Olympic history, according to the OlyMADMen.

#72: 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Paige McPherson is set to become the first American woman to compete in taekwondo at three Olympic Games.

#71: On the track, the U.S. women’s 4x400m relay team will be looking to claim a seventh straight gold medal. With the exception of the 1980 Moscow Games, which the U.S. boycotted, the American quartet has won either gold or silver in this event at every Games since it was added in 1972.

#70: In Tokyo, the U.S. women’s basketball team will be aiming for a seventh straight Olympic gold medal, a streak that began in 1996. In addition to the gold medal streak, the U.S. women also haven’t lost an Olympic game since 1992.

#69: Tokyo will welcome the Olympic debut of 3×3 basketball, which features 10-minute games and a 12-minute shot clock. The U.S. should contend for the inaugural gold medal.

#68: Kendall Gretsch is already a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in Nordic skiing, but she will be making her summer debut in paratriathlon. Gretsch is a three-time world champion in the sport, but her classification wasn’t included when triathlon made its Paralympic debut in 2016.

#67: The U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team has won gold at three of the last four Paralympic Games. In Tokyo, the squad will attempt to defend its Paralympic title from 2016.

#66: At age 40, Sue Bird could become the oldest basketball player to ever win an Olympic medal.

#65: Brazilian soccer player Formiga already owns the record for most Olympic appearances in soccer (6), having competed in every women’s soccer tournament in Olympic history. She will compete in her seventh Olympics in Tokyo at age 43.

#64: South Korea’s women’s archery team owns one of the most impressive streaks in any team event. Since archery introduced a women’s team competition in 1988, South Korea has won gold each and every time (eight straight gold medals).

#63: Boxing – the most recent Olympic sport to include women – has added two additional women’s weight classes for Tokyo, bringing the total number of women’s events to five.

#62: After spending nearly 10 months hospitalized with leukemia in 2019, Japanese swimmer Ikee Rikako qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in April. The 2016 Olympian is expected to be one of the host nation’s biggest stars.

#61: The U.S. diving team hasn’t won an individual Olympic medal in women’s springboard since 1988. The top American contender is expected to be Delaney Schnell, who finished third in platform at the 2019 World Championships. 

#60: The U.S. women’s soccer team can become the first team to win Olympic gold following a World Cup victory (albeit with a one-year postponement).

#59: In track & field, the U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold in the women’s 800m since 1968, but that drought could end in Tokyo. The U.S. team’s top contender is 19-year-old Athing Mu, who qualified for her first Olympic team by breaking the U.S. Trials record.

#58: Transgender women have been eligible to compete at the Olympics since the 2004 Athens Games, but at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first.

#57: Since 2012, New Zealand sprint canoeist Lisa Carrington has gone undefeated in the K-1 200m (a streak that includes two Olympic gold medals and six world titles). In Tokyo, Carrington will look to win her first Olympic gold in the K-1 500m.

#56: After winning four medals (including three gold) at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, McKenzie Coan is expected to contend for multiple gold medals in Tokyo. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coan set up her own “personal aquatic center” in her family’s garage.

#55: At age 24, Simone Biles could become the oldest female gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title since Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska, then 26, won in 1968.

#54: China will look to keep its perfect streak in women’s table tennis. A Chinese woman has won Olympic gold at every Games since women’s singles debuted in 1988 (eight straight gold medals).

#53: The U.S. women’s weightlifting team owns one Olympic gold medal (earned in 2000). That drought could end in Tokyo. Since Rio, Americans Katherine Nye (76kg) and Sarah Robles (+87kg) both won world championship titles – the first Americans to do so since 1994.

#52: BMX cyclist Mariana Pajon already owns the honor of being Colombia’s only two-time Olympic gold medalist in any sport. In Tokyo, Pajon will be looking to win a third straight Olympic title.

#51: After winning gold in golf’s Olympic return in 2016, South Korea’s Inbee Park will look to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo.

#50: The U.S. women’s basketball team will look to extend its record of most consecutive wins in Olympic history. Entering Tokyo, the U.S. women’s basketball team has won 49 straight games (dating back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics). The previous record – 15 straight wins – was set by the U.S. women’s team between 1976 and 1992.

#49: American Simone Biles has the potential to tie or break the record for most individual gold medals in gymnastics. The current record is seven (held by Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska) and Biles will enter Tokyo with three gold medals from individual events.

#48: Andrea Vargas, who competes in the 100m hurdles, could become just the third athlete from Costa Rica to win an Olympic medal, and the first in a sport other than swimming. Andrea’s sister, Noelia, is also expected to compete in Tokyo, but in a very different event: 20km race walk.

#47: Thirteen years since softball was last contested at the Olympics, five athletes who competed in that 2008 gold medal game – Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott for the U.S. and Ueno YukikoMine Yukiyo and Yamada Eri for Japan – are expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

#46: American Brittni Mason will make her Paralympic debut in Tokyo. At the 2019 World Championships – Mason’s first international track meet – she won the T47 women’s 100m, breaking the world record in the process.

#45: The U.S. women’s water polo team is one of the most dominant teams in the world in any sport, having won every major tournament it has entered in recent years. The Americans already own the record for most Olympic medals (5) and gold medals (2) in women’s water polo. Led by two-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens – widely regarded as the best player in the world – the squad will be aiming for a third straight gold medal in Tokyo.

#44: Sport climbing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The gold medal favorite in the women’s event is Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, who owns six world titles (two each in combined, lead, and bouldering).

#43: New Zealand’s Valerie Adams could become the first athlete – of any gender – to win four Olympic shot put medals.

#42: Ruth Gbagbi – who competes in taekwondo – has the potential to become the first woman from Cote d’Ivoire to win Olympic gold (in any sport). At the Rio Games, she became the Cote d’Ivoire’s first female medalist by winning bronze, which she followed up by winning the 2017 world title.

#41: Paralympic archer Zahra Nemati has already broken barriers. In 2012, she become the first Iranian woman to win either an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal. In 2016, she successfully defended her Paralympic title, in addition to competing at the Olympic Games. Nemati – who is known as a vocal advocate for disability and women’s rights – is aiming for a third straight Paralympic title in Tokyo.

#40: Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – who recently became the fastest woman alive – could become the first sprinter (of any gender) to win four Olympic medals in the 100m.

#39: American swimmer Lilly King could become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 100m breaststroke. In addition to her Rio gold, King has also won the last two world titles in the 100m breaststroke.

#38: The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in women’s triple jump, an event that debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. American record holder Keturah Orji – who finished fourth in Rio – is aiming to end that drought in Tokyo.

#37: In track & field, the U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold in women’s high jump since 1988. Earlier this year, American Vashti Cunningham set a new personal best (2.02 meters) – a result that would have won gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

#36: After competing at three Paralympic Games in wheelchair tennis, American Kaitlyn Verfuerth will make her paracanoe debut in Tokyo.

#35: In Tokyo, American Allyson Felix will become the fourth American woman to compete in track & field at five Olympics.

#34: U.S. women own an impressive podium streak in swimming’s 4x100m freestyle relay. The American team has won a medal in the event at nine straight Olympics, dating back to 1984. In fact, excluding the 1980 Moscow Games – which the U.S. boycotted – the American women’s 4x100m free relay team has won a medal at every Olympics since 1920.

#33: Australian Jess Fox – known as “the world’s greatest paddler” – has the potential to become the first athlete to win Olympic canoe slalom medals in both kayaking and canoeing.

#32: American Dalilah Muhammad could become the first woman to win more than one gold medal in the 400m hurdles, though she’ll face tough competition from fellow American Sydney McLaughlin, who broke Muhammad’s world record at U.S. Olympic Trials.

#31: While there are plenty of examples of wrestling brothers who have won Olympic gold at the same Games, the Tokyo Olympics could mark the first time two wrestling sisters accomplish the feat. Japanese sisters Kawai Risako and Kawai Yukako are both expected to enter the Tokyo Olympics as top contenders.

#30: Multiple players are in the running to become the oldest soccer player to ever win an Olympic medal, including Brazil’s Formiga (age 43), American Carli Lloyd (age 39), Canadians Christine Sinclair and Erin McLeod (both 38), and Sweden’s Hedwig Lindahl (38). The current record holder is American Christie Pearce Rampone, who was 37 years, 46 days old when she won gold at the 2012 London Olympics.

#29: American swimmer McKenzie Coan, a four-time Paralympic medalist who will be competing her third Games in Tokyo, says she is determined to break the world record in the S7 400m freestyle. “I think my teammates and my coach are so sick of hearing me talk about it because I, literally, that’s all I think about anymore,” she told Team USA after qualifying for Tokyo.

#28: The U.S. Olympic roster (across all sports) includes at least 12 moms. Three U.S. athletes – Allyson FelixDiana Taurasi, and Mariel Zagunis – are expected to compete at their fifth Olympics in Tokyo, but first as moms.

#27: Sarah Robles could become the first American woman to win two Olympic medals in weightlifting. Since winning Olympic bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, Robles has also added a world title to her resume.

#26: Sprinter Femita Ayanbeku will be competing at her second Paralympics in Tokyo. At 2021 U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Trials, she broke a 15-year-old American record in the T64 100m sprint, clocking 12.84 seconds. In Tokyo, the world record (12.66 seconds) could be within Ayanbeku’s reach.

#25: The U.S. could become the third nation to win three straight Olympic gold medals in water polo. Only Hungarian men (2000-08) and British men 1900-20) have previously accomplished that feat. The U.S. already owns the women’s record for most consecutive gold medals in water polo (2).

#24: Karate will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, where two-time world champion Giana Farouk of Egypt should be a top contender. Farouk could become the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold in any sport.

#23: Germany’s Isabell Werth is already the most decorated equestrian rider in Olympic history with 10 medals. In Tokyo, Werth could break her tie with Reiner Klimke for most Olympic gold medals won by an equestrian.

#22: The U.S. women’s volleyball team will aim to win its first ever Olympic gold medal. In 11 appearances, the U.S. has finished on the podium five times (three silver medals, two bronze).

#21: Anastasia Pagonis is set to make her Paralympic debut in Tokyo after a strong performance at U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials. The 17-year-old from Long Island broke the world record in the S11 400m freestyle during prelims and then lowered her own mark during the final (4:56.16)

#20. At the Tokyo Paralympics, Alia Issa will become the first woman to ever compete as a member of the Refugee Paralympic Team. Issa, a Syrian refugee who lives in Greece, competes in the club throw.

#19. At age 12, skateboarder Hiraki Kokona is set to become Japan’s youngest ever Olympian. Several other young skateboarders – including 13-year-old Sky Brown (Great Britain) and 13-year-old Rayessa Leal (Brazil) – are also expected to achieve this feat for their respective countries.

#18. Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig is set to become the first triathlete to compete at five Olympic Games. In Tokyo, the mother-of-three could also become the first triathlete to win three career Olympic medals.

#17. Beiwen Zhang is an outside contender to win the United States’ first ever Olympic medal in badminton. Badminton is one of just five Olympic sports in which the U.S. has never won a medal.

#16. Surfing will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. The U.S. will be represented by 19-year-old Caroline Marks and four-time world champ Carissa Moore (who competes for Hawaii on the World Surf League Championship Tour).

#15. After qualifying for one of the toughest swimming doubles in history, Katie Ledecky could become the first athlete – of any gender – to win gold in both the 200m and 1500m at the same Olympics.

#14. In 2016, Rwanda’s women’s sitting volleyball team became the first women’s team from Sub-Saharan Africa to compete at the Paralympic Games in any sport. Led by captain Liliane Mukobwankawe, Rwanda will make a second Paralympic appearance in Tokyo.

#13. American Brittney Reese could become just the second woman to win multiple Olympic gold medals in long jump. Reese previously won gold in 2012 and silver in 2016.

#12. The U.S. has never won Olympic gold (or silver) in mountain biking, an event that has been contested at every Olympics since 1996. The American contingent for Tokyo will include world champion Kate Courtney, rising star Haley Batten, and Erin Huck.

#11. Russia’s Svetlana Romashina will enter Tokyo tied for most Olympic medals in artistic swimming (5) and most gold medals (also 5). Romashina, who is expected to compete in both the duet and team events in Tokyo, could leave the Olympics as the sole owner of both records.

#10. Simone Biles is on track to become the most decorated American gymnast in Olympic history. Biles – who enters Tokyo with five career medals (four gold) – could:

  • Tie/break the record for most Olympic medals won by a U.S. gymnast (Shannon Miller, 7)
  • Tie/break the record for most Olympic gold medals won by a U.S. gymnast (Anton Heida, 5)

#9. The U.S. has the potential to win its first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s track cycling. The American team has claimed four of the last five world titles in the women’s team pursuit.

#8. In handball, the Norwegian women will be looking to become the first team– men’s or women’s – to win seven Olympic handball medals.

#7. Having claimed silver in London, American Haley Anderson could become the first woman to win multiple Olympic medals in open water swimming.

#6. In sailing, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Charline Picon of France could become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic windsurfing titles.

#5. Sandra Perkovic of Croatia could become the first woman to win three gold medals in discus.

#4. Emma McKeon could become the first Australian swimmer to win six medals at a single Games. The four-time Olympic medalist is expected to compete in four individual events, plus relays.

#3. Three-time world medalist Marie-Josee Ta Lou has a chance to become the first woman from Cote d’Ivoire to win an Olympic medal in track & field. (She could also become the nation’s second female medalist in any sport.)

#2. Allison Schmitt, who is the second most decorated member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, could become the first woman to win three gold medals in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

#1. In gymnastics, the U.S. could be the first team to ever win gold in the six modern women’s events (team, all-around, vault, bars, beam, and floor). The Soviet Union came close in 1960, winning all but balance beam.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report.