© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet the U.S. gymnastics and track and field athletes going to the Olympics

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. The U.S. Olympic team just got a lot clearer over this weekend. The gymnastics trials wrapped up in Minneapolis last night. Hours earlier, the track and field trials concluded in Eugene, Ore. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan and NPR's Brian Mann were at these competitions and join us now. Hey to both of you.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hello, Ailsa.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. OK, so these particular trials are over. Paris is in just under a month at this point. What are your big takeaways right now?

SULLIVAN: Well, I'll go first with gymnastics because I think that's where one of the U.S. most dominant athletes is, and that is Simone Biles, of course. She's already at this point in her career the most decorated gymnast of all time. She has seven Olympic medals on her record already. And she's 27 years old. That's a stage by which most gymnasts' career are long over. But she is looking as dominant as ever. The women's gymnastics team overall is in incredible shape. They have their sights set on multiple golds. And then what's fun is that the men's team too also looks stronger this year than it did in Tokyo. They didn't win any medals in 2021, so they're hoping to break that ugly streak this year.

MANN: Yeah. We also saw some pretty amazing performances on the track. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone beat her own world record yesterday in the 400-meter hurdle. She just keeps getting faster. In the men's 110-meter hurdles, three runners led by Grant Holloway all finished under 13 seconds. That's never happened before in a single race. Means there's a real possibility of a podium sweep for the U.S. in that event in Paris.

CHANG: OK. Well, just because I cannot ever get enough of Simone Biles, Becky, tell me more about the women's gymnastics team going into these Games.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Well, so, you know, Biles, as we said, at the top of her game. She had, you know, I would actually say, like, an imperfect weekend here at the trials in Minneapolis, but in terms of the competition, it didn't matter at all. Her scores were still through the roof. And honestly, that performance is incredible given where she was a few years ago. You may remember in 2021, she pulled out of several events in Tokyo because of mental health concerns that had essentially culminated for her in this inability to perform the right number of twists in mid -air, which is dangerous for gymnasts, as they can land and injure themselves if they land wrong. And so she had to take two years off to recover from that. So now she's back. She talked about that last night. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONE BILES: I never pictured going to another Olympic Games after Tokyo, just because the circumstances. I never thought I would go back in the gym again, be twisting, feel free. So it's actually really exciting, I think, for all of us and our whole entire team.

SULLIVAN: And on that team with her in Paris are three other returning Olympians, including the Tokyo individual all-around gold medalist Suni Lee. So it's just kind of a powerhouse team. Biles should be the favorite to win the gold in the individual all-around, the vault and the floor routine. Lee is aiming for gold in the uneven bars. And then the U.S. team overall is the favorite to win the gold in the team all-around.

CHANG: All right, Brian, and what about track? It sounds like the U.S. has some incredibly strong sprinters right now?

MANN: Yeah, it's really amazing to watch these people run. The most exciting sprinter right now is probably Noah Lyles. He's a 26-year-old, and he's been absolutely dominant, Ailsa, in the hundred and 200-meter races. He set an Olympic Trials record here this week in the 200. He says he's not celebrating until he wins gold in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NOAH LYLES: It's like, all right, great, I got the job done. I'm excited for it. Let's keep going. Let's keep pressing.

MANN: And two other names to watch will be Sha'Carri Richardson and Gabby Thomas. Richardson, some folks may remember, was disqualified from the Tokyo Olympics three years ago after testing positive for marijuana here at these trials. She won the hundred-meter championship race with the fastest time posted in the whole world this year, so a big comeback story for her. And Gabby Thomas was amazing. She won the 200-meter women's with a scorching time. Both have a great shot at gold.

CHANG: Well, there are a lot of people going into these Games who are already superstars. But was there anyone out there who seems poised to make a name for themselves at these Olympics?

SULLIVAN: Definitely. I mean, gymnastics is just like a sport that is full of personalities, no matter what. But I'll talk about just one guy on the men's side. It's this 20-year-old named Fred Richard. He, in fact, won the trials. And truly, he is a star in the making. He's very charismatic, very vibrant, very energetic. And he has this, like, very funny social media presence, a huge following on TikTok and on Instagram. And so he is sort of the leader of these aspirations that the mens have of a first team medal since 2008. But he has bigger goals, too. Men's gymnastics has long played second fiddle to women's. Fewer people watch. There's fewer opportunities for boys. And so he sees it as part of his goal to grow that audience here, he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRED RICHARD: I think that's my passion. I feel like that is all of my responsibility - growing the sport, then all the medals and success in the sport.

SULLIVAN: And so his star power, I think, Ailsa, you'll see him bringing a lot more eyeballs to the men's gymnastics this year.

CHANG: Cool.

MANN: And out on the track, I think, Ailsa, one exciting runner here who's had kind of a remarkable journey is a woman named Weini Kelati. She was born in Eritrea in East Africa. In 2014, she was a teenager competing at an international race here in Oregon when she sought asylum as a refugee. She was fleeing political turmoil in her country. Ten years later, she crushed the 10,000-meter race in these trials. She's now the American champion. And she's going to run for the USA in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEINI KELATI: It's crazy. I feel like I can - I'm going to process it soon, but right now, I'm just like, oh, my God, I can't believe it. I'm speechless right now.

MANN: A big journey for her. And Kelati says her family back home in Eretria will also be cheering her when she's in Paris.

CHANG: That is NPR's Brian Mann and Becky Sullivan. Thank you to both of you.

SULLIVAN: You're so welcome.

MANN: Thank you.

CHANG: The Olympic opening ceremony in Paris is July 26. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.