Which women should you watch at the Olympics? Women’s events at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro offer a bit of everything: drama, star power, and some of the fiercest competition this side of the World Cup. Better known athletes such as Serena Williams are already receiving a lioness’ share of media exposure. While all eyes will quite justifiably be on Team USA‘s Sultana of Swing, there are more than a few women representing their countries in various events this summer.
Here is a short list of five of the many women to watch at the Olympics. They’ll be the ones who bring the grit, the guts, and the glory to Rio.
Track and Field, Team U.S.A.
Felix is no stranger to Olympic glory. At 30, she is a veteran of international competition, with a gold medal, two silver medals, and a trio of world championships to her list of triumphs before the competition even started this summer.
The California native grew up in the church as the daughter of a minister and on the field, garnering attention for her speed on the track and her graciousness and professional conduct off of it. At 19, she was the youngest sprinter in the 200 meters to walk away with a gold medal at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. This will be her fourth Olympic competition and one where she hopes to set a few more personal bests
Track and Field, Team G.B.
Another runner to pat attention to this summer is Dina Asher-Smith. Ms. Asher-Smith’s Cinderella story as reported by the BBC has captivated Summer Games watchers in her native England.
Keep in mind that her appearance here is more than just a feel-good fairy tale come true. She is not only one of the youngest from her country to compete in this event at this level, she is currently the fastest, clocking in at a blistering 10.99 seconds for the 100 meter sprint at the London Anniversary Games and finishing the 200 meters event at the World Athletics Championship in Beijing in 22.07 seconds, another British best.
When she’s not bringing the Flash to life in the U.K., Dina Asher-Smith is studying history at Kings College in London. She’s the real deal, with the brawn to take home some hardware and the brains to hold her own in academia.
Hockey, Team Netherlands
As women’s events at the Olympics go, field hockey is one of those sports that proves playing like a girl can be tough. Hoog has enjoyed an enviable career as a part of Team Netherlands Women’s Field Hockey. Her squad has two Olympic wins, three European Games championships, and two Women’s World Cups to their credit.
Champions of gender equality in sports had reason to face palm one accolade the team received in 2012. When multiple online polls declared the Dutch team as the most beautiful competitors at the 2012 Games in London, some advocates for women’s sports called foul, claiming the athletes were being objectified.
Hoog was pragmatic about dubious distinction, telling CNN that she was not particularly bothered.
“I think it’s nice when people say we are a good-looking team, but in the end we want to win gold medals. If that’s the reason why people are going to watch more hockey then I think it’s perfectly fine! Of course, we know that men like to watch our games maybe because of our short skirts and that kind of thing, but in Holland everyone likes to watch us because we perform very well.”
Boxing, Team G.B.
Another of the many British women to watch at the Olympics is 33-year-old Nicola Adams. This flyweight practitioner of the sweet science is the first gold medal winner of the event, taking home first place during the 2012 Olympics in London.
While it’s a relatively short trip from London to her home in Leeds compared to the trek she will take to get to the Summer Games in Rion de Janeiro, Adams sees her work as a lifetime journey. In an interview with the Telegraph, she recognized how her work influences others. She is open about her identity as a member of the LGBT community, as a woman of color, and as a woman in a field that is primarily associated with male athletes. She wants to open hearts and minds and inspire others to pursue their dreams without fear. She dedicates her appearance at this event to the memory of another sports iconoclast, Muhammad Ali.
Fencing, Team U.S.A.
A member of Team U.S.A. Fencing since 2010, Ms. Muhammad made quite an impression on American fans when she took on Late Night host Stephen Colbert at the desk and in competition. She proved to have verbal sparring skills that are as sharp as her foils.
Blessed with parents who supported her athletic talent, Muhammad told Colbert her entry into fencing was really by chance. Her mother was looking for events young Ibtihaj could participate in that would not require she compromise the standards of modesty observed by some Muslims when she noticed that fencing required contestants to cover up.
Muhammad will be the first Olympic fencing contestant to compete while wearing hijab. A little extra clothing has never slowed down this five-time Senior World Champion. When she’s not scoring points by wielding points for Team USA, Ibtihaj Muhammad runs her own clothing line, Louella, which offers American Muslims modesty with a sense of style.
Women competing at the Olympic level is not a new concept. It’s the respect now crossing so many lines that were at one time considered barriers that will take this year’s Olympic events beyond the old gender lines. Watch these women Olympians and feel that proverbial thrill of victory every time one of them steps up to hear their national anthem and get a medal.
[Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images]