These Are the Athletes We'll Still Be Rooting For Now That the Olympics Are Done

Whether they return to the track, pool or mat, take a swing through the Dancing With the Stars ballroom or just embrace that civilian life, we will continue to stan these Olympic standouts.

By Sarah Grossbart Aug 08, 2021 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Simone Biles Explains Olympics Withdrawal: "I Didn't Quit"

They came, they saw, they conquered—claiming medals in all shades of metallic or simply the right to call themselves a freaking Olympian, which, you know, no small feat. 

And now it's time to go home, which, for most of the stars of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that we just devoted 16 days of our life cheering on, means returning to a life of relatively anonymity. Of course, there are the Simone Bileses of the world, the Katie Ledeckys, the Naomi Osakas, the athletes that return to competing in major tournaments and meets that draw major audiences and sign major sponsorship deals with brands all too eager to have a national hero helping to sell their athleticwear, their restaurant chains or their snack foods. 

There are always a few breakout stars of each Games as well, the ones likely to parlay their gold-, silver- or bronze-medal victory into a loop through the talk show circuit, an endorsement deal or two and a spot on Dancing With the Stars. (Who doesn't want to see Suni Lee take to the ballroom?) 

2020 Tokyo Olympics Candid Photos

But everyone else kinda goes back to reality, perhaps diving, racing or tumbling back into training for the 2024 Paris Olympics or returning to the 9 to 5 that enables them to pursue their love for race walking, climbing and steeplechasing. 

And while we can't promise to suddenly become a committed follower of all our new favorite sports, there are more than a few athletes worth keeping our eyes on. So as the Olympics draw to a close—sob!—with the Closing Ceremony Aug. 8, these are just a few of the athletes we'll continue cheering on. From a safe distance, of course. 

Simone Biles

Uh, duh. The 24-year-old came into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the G.O.A.T. with expectations of walking away with up to six gold medals. She left still unquestionably the greatest with another bronze and a silver for her growing collection plus a new platform—reminding athletes the importance of standing up for themselves and putting their health above all else. We give that a 16.0. No deductions. Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, Suni Lee, Grace McCallum and McKayla Skinner

With their leader felled by the dreaded twisties, eventual all-around champ Lee, 18, Chiles, 20, and McCallum, 18, stepped up to the beam, bars, floor and vault and delivered a silver medal for Team USA. Then, with the help of Carey, 21, and Skinner, 24, they collected some five more individual medals in every color of the metallic rainbow. Now accepting nicknames for the 2020 squad. We'll go first: The Unstoppable Six. 

Tom Daley

Gotta love an athlete that can train themselves to Olympic gold and still have time to pick up a pandemic-era hobby. Because as thrilled as we were to see the British diver, 27, top the podium at his third Games for the men's synchronized 10m, it was what he called a "little cozy" he stitched together to protect his new hardware that really had us hooked.

Noted Daley, also spotted getting to work on a pink-hued piece in the stands at the women's 3m springboard diving final Aug. 1 before finishing a whole Olympics-themed cardigan four days later, "The one thing that has kept me, like, sane throughout this whole process is my love for knitting and crocheting and all things stitching."

Laurel Hubbard

Even without registering a single snatch, weight lifter Hubbard made herstory in Tokyo as the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics. Thanks to her treatment from those in her native New Zealand and the IOC, the 43-year-old left Japan feeling like a winner. "They have supported me through what have been quite difficult times," Hubbard explained after the competition, per USA Today. "I know that my participation at these Games has not been entirely without controversy, but they have been just so wonderful."

Pita Taufatofua

Bless him and his homemade coconut oil. With plans to return for his fourth Olympics in 2024, ideally in kayaking, Tonga's winter-summer dual athlete has an entire entourage of (admittedly thirsty) fans eager to cheer him on. 

"It means a lot because of the impact that I believe that we can have due to that platform," the 34-year-old P&G athlete said of using the attention from his repeated stint as flag bearer to talk about the importance of mental health. "If you go viral, you now have more people, more eyes on you. What do you do with those eyes? What's the bigger picture that's beyond me? What's larger than Pita Taufatofua from Tonga? Well, it's the kids who are watching, dreaming, hoping. This is what sports is, sports is about giving hope to people who don't have hope."

Ryan Crouser

In our hearts and minds, the American shot putter has three gold medals: One for each of his winning performances in Rio and Tokyo (where he set a new Olympic record) and the third for his skilled performance of getting us to cry all the cries. Standing atop a podium, he held up a sign for grandfather Larry Crouser, who passed away the day before the athlete left for Japan, proclaiming, "Grandpa, We did it, 2020 Olympic Champion!" 

With the 86-year-old losing his hearing in his later years, the pair used written signs to communicate. Feeling his grandpa with him in the moment, Crouser, 28, told USA Today, "He would tell me to stop and smell the roses for sure. That's what he would always tell me."

Ilona Maher

We're assuming the Vermont native's back must be killing her the way she's been carrying Olympic TikTok through these Games. Not only are the 24-year-old's clips about life in the Village freakin' hilarious (You know what? It is intimidating "to go up to a pack of six, seven Romanian volleyball players and shoot my shot"), but they've also sparked renewed interest in women's rugby, an oft-overlooked sport. BRB, off to go learn the difference between a hospital pass and a dummy. 

Lydia Jacoby

It's never a bad idea to accessorize with a hint of pink, tbh, but the American swimmer's reason is especially sweet. Gifted a set of rose-hued goggles from 2012 medal winner Jessica Hardy during a swimming clinic in her native Alaska, the 17-year-old toted them along to Japan. Then she went along and used them to win gold in the 100-meter breaststroke, besting teammate and 2016 champ Lilly King in the process. So we're guessing maybe she has a new favorite color now? 

Dean Boxall

While not technically an Olympian, the Australian swim coach won high marks—and the hearts of fans the world over—for his reaction to watching trainee Ariarne Titmus beat reigning Olympic champion Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle. 

"That's a moment of being with this girl five years and having a dream together," he explained to Sports Illustrated of the reaction. "Katie was so far ahead of her when I started working with her, we couldn't even have the conversation [about competing with her]. Katie was an outlier." Consumed with joy in that moment, he continued, "I just lost it." Two words: Pure gold. 

Bethany Shriever

The British BMX rider's path to the 2020 Olympics didn't exactly follow the standard track. Faced with the news that government agency UK Sport would only be funding bids for male riders, based on past results, the 22-year-old pieced together the roughly $69,500 required to hire a coach and get to Tokyo through part-time work, money from her parents and crowdfunded donations. 

It turned out to be money well-spent, the teaching assistant becoming the U.K.'s first gold-medal winning BMX rider. "It was one of the best decisions I've ever made," she told Sky News. "It's amazing. It's getting our sport out there a bit more, I think, especially in Great Britain." As for the 2024 games, UK Sport better have her money. 

Annie Lazor

"He just loved watching me do what I love," the Michigan-bred swimmer, 26, said of late father David Lazor, who passed three months before the 2020 Olympics, "so whether I got third or last today or broke a world record, he just would have loved to see me afterwards and get a nice meal with me." Still, we're guessing he raised a glass to her bronze medal finish in the 200-meter breaststroke. 

Anna Kiesenhofer

Who knew that a 30-year-old mathematics Ph.D. plus a first stab at the women's road cycling race could equal a gold-medal finish? And yet here was the novice from Austria beating both the defending champion and the former world title champion to the finish line of the 91-mile course.

Her secret weapon was using her knack for numbers to solve the tricky equation of training, diet and race strategy. "Many cyclists are used to having people that actually do that for them," she explained to CNN. "I mean, they have a trainer, they have a nutritionist, they have the guy that plans the race for them. I just do all these jobs myself."

Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim

Best friends share everything, right? Which is why we're guessing high jumpers Tamberi from Italy and Barshim, representing Qatar, decided to jointly claim the gold medal in the event. Standard operating procedure during a tie is for a jump-off to take place, but after both pals cleared a height of 7 feet, 9.25 inches Barshim asked if they could each receive top honors. "I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it," Barshim told the CBC. "This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit."

Isaiah Jewett

Listen, the track star's mom was going to be proud no matter what he accomplished in Tokyo. But who knew her heart would be surging over his last-place finish in an 800-meter heat? Caught in a tangle with Botswana's Nijel Amos, Jewett offered his competitor a hand and the two finished the race together knowing their Olympic dreams had been dashed. "A true test of a man is his character. And, Isaiah showed true character," Venus Jewett raved. "He's just a good guy. He's so lovable, he's so caring."