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As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil loom closer—they kick off on August 5th!—the U.S. teams are finalized and athletes are packing their bags for the Copacabana beaches and the athletic events they've trained their entire lives for. Here, we singled out some need-to-watch first-time Olympians that we're sure will make our country proud.
Photo: @teamusa Instagram
Ajee Wilson - Track
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Track sensation 22-year-old Ajee Wilson is set to run the 800m in Rio in what will be her first Olympic race ever. She claimed back-to-back titles at the USA Indoor Championships in 2013 and 2014, settling into her spot as the best female 800m runner in America. Tune in to see if she'll change that to the best in the world while in Rio. (P.S. we chatted with the Temple University senior about her favorite breakfast and track role model in this speed round interview.)
Photo: @ajeelenee Instagram
Simone Biles - Artistic Gymnastics
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You've no doubt seen Simone Biles' downright insane floor routine—and you might know that she's being called the best American gymnast ever. There's a reason for that; this girl holds 14 world championship medals (10 golds), which is more than any U.S. athlete in history. She also grabbed the top spot at the Olympic Trials, finishing two points higher than the next gymnast. If she can keep it up in Rio, that All-Around gold medal just might be hers.
Photo: @teamusa Instagram
Katie Zaferes - Triathlon
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Katie Zaferes started as a steeplechase runner—she holds the school record at Syracuse University where she went to college—and slowly but surely made her way into the triathlon world. At age 25, she's headed to her first Olympics and is coming off a win at the June 2016 World Triathlon Hamburg.
Photo: @kzaferes6 Instagram
Adeline Gray - Wrestling
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Because she's a three-time world champion (2012, 2014, 2015), it's hard to believe Adeline Gray hasn't made an appearance at the Olympics yet. The 25-year-old Colorado Springs native wrestles at the 75 kg weight class and is the champion of both the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and the Olympic Test Event.
Photo: @adelinegray Instagram
Mara Abbott - Cycling Road Race
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Mara Abbott originally started cycling as cross-training for swimming (which she did through her senior year of college), but soon found herself crushing the sport. She turned pro in 2006, and the next year won the U.S. Elite National Championships road title. She's headed to Rio for her Olympic debut, and although she may not be a medal contender, we'll watch for her speedy skills on the Road Race event. (Keep an eye on these other ladies who will be crushing it on two wheels.)
Photo: @gavin_too_much_fun Instagram
Jessica Parratto - Diving
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Jessica Parratto isn't just making her first Olympic appearance as a solo diver but as a tandem diver with fellow Team USA member Amy Cozad. She may have caught the Olympic bug from her father, who was a coach for Jenny Thompson, one of the most decorated female swimmers in Olympic history, and the diving bug from her mom, who was a five-time All-American diver at Wellesley College. Parratto took home the top spot for the women's 10-meter platform at the U.S. Olympic Trials, so we'll be watching to see if she can do the same in Rio.
Photo: @jessicaparratto Instagram
Laura Zeng - Rythmic Gymnastics
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ICYMI there's a whole other world of gymnastics from the one Simone Biles is ruling. It's called rhythmic gymnastics, and Laura Zeng is the Team USA first-time Olympic favorite. At age 16, she's yet to finish high school, but she recently set an American record in the sport: at the world championships in 2015, her eighth-place finish marked the highest all-around placement ever by a U.S. athlete.
Photo: @laura_zeng Instagram
Mikaela Mayer - Boxing
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This lightweight boxer started the sport at age 17. Now 26, Mikaela Mayer will make her Olympics debut after winning the U.S. Olympic Trials, an especially sweet victory after being runner-up in 2012. This year, she'll be gunning for gold along with Claressa Shields, the 2012 gold medalist.
Photo: @mikaelamayer Instagram
Morghan King - Weightlifting
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At just 5 feet tall and weighing only 106 pounds, Olympic weightlifter Morghan King can snatch 176 lbs and clean 220 lbs—more than twice her bodyweight. She's headed to Rio as America's top weightlifter in the 48kg weight class and will battle against some of the strongest girls in the game. Though her current raw total isn't enough to guarantee a medal, we'll bet she's going to harness every ounce of power for the chance to stand atop that platform.
Photo: @kingmorghan Instagram
Lexi Thompson - Golf
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This 21-year-old golfer already has a promising career—at age 12, Lexi Thompson was the youngest golfer ever to qualify to play in the U.S. Women's Open, and in 2011, she set a new record for the youngest-ever winner of an LPGA Tour. Plus, she's rising into fame at the perfect time; golf was added back in the Olympic Games after 112 years, and now Thompson will have a chance to go for gold.
Photo: @lexi Instagram
Maya DiRado - Swimming
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Maya DiRado (who you should know is @maraydorito on Instagram) is headed to Rio to swim the 200m backstroke, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley, all of which she won at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2015, she won the silver medal for the 400m individual medley at the world championships, making her a major contender for a medal.
Photo: @mayadorito Instagram
Lauren Fendrick & Brooke Sweat - Beach Volleyball
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This duo—who are the only U.S. beach volleyball team with athletes both making their Olympic debut—took home 5th at the 2015 Beach World Championships, the highest among American women. Veterans April Ross and Kerri Walsh-Jennings may be long-time favorites, but these newcomers might just steal the spotlight in Rio. (BTW this doesn't even come close to covering all the need-to-know newbies out there. Luckily, you can catch them all on Instagram too.)
Photo: @laurenfendrick Instagram