Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky broke out at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The two star Americans solidified themselves as the best in their respective sports, each taking home four gold medals and setting the stage for a several years of dominance in international competition. Biles came into the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with 25 world championship medals — 19 gold — that was the most all-time among gymnasts, while Ledecky’s 20 gold medals between the Olympics and world championships were the most of any women’s swimmer in history.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics were supposed to be the time for each to continue their dominance, but instead they came down to Earth a little. Ledecky fell short of gold in two individual events while Biles withdrew from all but one of her events due to the twisties and to focus on her metal health.
Ledecky still added four medals to her collection (two gold, two silver) and Biles added two (silver, bronze). But by the end of their time in Tokyo, both faced questions about their Olympic futures, particularly their status for the 2024 Paris Games. Ledecky answered resoundingly that she will be competing in 2024, and even said the 2028 Los Angeles Games were a distinct possibility, when she will be 31. Biles is “leaving the door open” for competing in Paris.
With the two potentially nearing the end of their magnificent careers in the Olympics, Sporting News is taking a look at what to expect from them moving forward, and who the next faces of the United States in the Olympic Summer Games could be over the next few years.
What can we expect from Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky in 2024 Olympics?
Biles and Ledecky are arguably the two greatest female athletes in their respective sports. But even though they’re both only 24 years old, the body wears down over time, and retirements come early in both gymnastics and swimming.
For Biles, that is especially more likely to be the case. Gymnasts are strained from a young age, and they have long had a track record for retiring among the earliest of Olympic athletes. The average age of gymnasts competing in Tokyo was the highest it’s been in decades, The Washington Post reported, but that was still only 20.6 years old. The oldest medalist this year was Italian Vanessa Ferrari, who won silver at the age of 30.
Biles has been in the spotlight for a long time, and has felt not just the physical toll of the sport, but the mental. She is the only public survivor of the sexual abuse from Larry Nassar to compete in the Olympics, according to The New York Times. And as she told NBC’s Hoda Kotb, she felt she needed to return to the Olympics to continue to hold USA Gymnastics accountable.
The pressure in many forms to compete and the physical tax of training could still result in her deciding that it is time to call it a career before the 2024 Paris Olympics. According to The New York Times, she could compete in the vault to honor her French coaches, Cecile and Laruent Landi, in their native country. But she would be 27, one of the oldest gymnasts competing by a larger margin even than this year. Before Tokyo, Biles admitted the happiest moment of her career is “probably my time off.”
Swimming offers the chance for more career longevity, but Ledecky is a distance swimmer, the most taxing of the events.
There’s a reason Ledecky winning three straight golds in the 800 freestyle has never been done before. Swimmers in the distance events don’t last as long as those in the shorter events. It is especially challenging when she swims a wide array of events as few swimmers have ever competed in the 200, 400, 800, 1500 and a relay in international competition.
The Washington Post reported that while Ledecky knows that she will be competing in Paris, she isn’t making any decisions on the events. She was beat by Titmus, who will be 23 compared to Ledecky at 27, in the 200 and 400, and the longer events are more difficult to compete for longer periods of time.
She has found success swimming the 400 individual medley and could potentially add that to her list of swims. She could drop the 200 and 400 and focus exclusively on her two best events, the 800 and 1500, to preserve her strength for those events. She could even cut out the 800 and 1500 in the hopes of dropping time down to reclaim gold in the 200 and 400, or perhaps even add the 100 to her list.
The oldest ever winner of the women’s 800 freestyle at the Olympics was Japan’s Ai Shibata, who won the event at 22 years old in 2004. It’s now Ledecky, who was 24 when she won it this year. The oldest Olympic gold medalist in the men’s 1500 was the Soviet Union’s Vladimir Sainikov at 28 back in 1988, but no male swimmer has won the event over 24 years old since he set the mark.
Michael Phelps and Ledecky have followed a similar career path. They debuted in the Olympics at 15 years old. They’ve dominated the sport like few others have. Phelps retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics when he was 31. Ledecky will be 31 if she swims in the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Games. It would seem unlikely she would keep winning golds if she is competing in so many events at that age, but there’s no reasonable comparison for her in terms of distance swimming as no swimmer — male or female — has dominated the longer freestyle races like she has.
So can Biles and Ledecky still win medals in the 2024 Paris Olympics? Absolutely. Ledecky’s path for prolonged time in the spotlight seems more plausible at this point, but if Biles is heading to one more set of games, she’s no doubt going to be the talk of the Summer Games. But if either of them are still competing in 2028, it is almost certainly only going to be Ledecky.
Other Team USA stars to watch for Paris 2024
When promos and narratives began coming up ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the focus was largely on Biles and Ledecky.
While they might be at the forefront of the U.S.’s attention again in 2024, there are several other names that have established that they will be right there headlining the U.S. in the Paris Summer Games. Here’s a few athletes that could be the big names in that Olympics and beyond.
Only six American men have ever won a 1500 freestyle race. There hadn’t been a winner since 1984 and only one swimmer in the past has won the event more than once. Needless to say, U.S. men have not been known for distance events at the Olympics. But Bobby Finke could be the next great American male distance swimmer.
Finke earned the top spots in the Olympic trials in the 800 and 1500 and backed up the placement in Tokyo as he reached the finals in both events. Twice, he was trailing heading into the final 50 meters of the race when he turned on the jets to pass multiple swimmers ahead of him and come away with two gold medals. At only 21 years old, he figures to be back in Paris in 2024 competing in the two events.
The men will likely be led again by Caeleb Dressel, who has said he would like to compete in 2024, but Finke seems poised to be among the biggest names that return to the Olympics now that he’s a two-time gold medalist.
Ledecky won’t be competing in the distance freestyle races at the Olympics forever, and even if she does choose to race them again in 2024, it’s no guarantee she’ll win gold in them. Part of the reason for that is a young up-and-coming star in Katie Grimes.
The 15-year-old surprised at the trials when she earned the second spot in the 800 freestyle and came up just one place short in the 1500 as she immediately brought in comparisons to Ledecky. Grimes finished second in the prelims in the 800 freestyle behind only Ledecky and was a spot short of medaling when she came in fourth in the final, but her time of 8:19.38 was just a few off from what Ledecky swam back in 2012 in the Olympic finals (8:14.63) when she established that she was going to be a name to watch. Grimes will only be 18 for the 2024 Paris Olympics and has already shown she has what it takes to be a factor in these events.
The words “broke Usain Bolt’s record” don’t come up often. But they’ve already been used in Erriyon Knighton’s case. The 17-year-old American sprinter took down Bolt’s under-18 record in the 200 meters with a time of 20.11 seconds in the American Track League earlier in 2021, though Bolt still had the record for a 17-year-old at 19.93.
Knighton officially took that one down too at the U.S. Olympic trials semifinals when he ran it in 19.88. In the final, Knighton set the new under-20 mark, again taking it away from Bolt, this time at 19.84. He became the youngest American male track and field athlete in the Olympics since Jim Ryun in 1964.
Knighton kept up his success in Tokyo, reaching the Olympic final in the 200, though he ultimately placed fourth in the race. He has established already that he is one of the biggest up-and-coming names in track and field and could be the U.S.’s first winner in the event since Shawn Crawford in 2004.
American gymnastics fans might have already caught a glimpse of Biles’ heir to the top spot on the team. When Biles couldn’t compete in the individual all-around, Sunisa Lee saw her chances to win the individual all-around go up as she had already placed third in the qualifying round behind Biles and Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade. Lee put up a strong performance against Andrade to ultimately come away with the gold medal and become the fifth straight American to win the all-around.
Even though Lee wasn’t able to repeat with gold on uneven bars, she still came away with bronze and left the Tokyo Olympics with her first Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals. The 18-year-old made herself a household name with her performance in Tokyo, and at 21 years old in 2024, she seems likely to be standing right with Biles as the face of USA Gymnastics in Paris.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team was loaded with household names in 2021. Carli Lloyd. Alex Morgan. Megan Rapinoe. But this could be the final Olympic run for a number of those star talents, leaving open the door for the next face of the team. Catarina Macario could be the star that takes over the team by that point.
Macario reached the women’s national team this year at only 21 years old as she has continued her escalation up the list of national teams. She has been on the U.S. U14, U15 and U23 teams. Competing at Stanford, she became only the sixth women’s soccer player to win the Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best collegiate soccer player, twice as she racked up 46 goals in 44 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Macario is continuing to gain professional experience playing for Lyon in Division 1 Feminine in France, where she has scored five goals in seven appearances. The Brazil-born midfielder is already a dynamic talent, and could make the step up to become the next big name of U.S. women’s soccer.
Setting one world record in 2021 wasn’t going to cut it for Sydney McLaughlin. Following up on her silver medal in the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in the 400-meter hurdles, McLaughlin broke out in a major way in 2021, becoming the first woman to finish the event in under 52 seconds at the Olympic Trials with a time of 51.90.
Competing in the Olympic final wouldn’t be easy for McLaughlin, however, as she faced off against fellow American and reigning gold medalist in the event, Dalilah Muhammad. While Muhammad raced out to a time of 51.58, which would have set the world record, McLaughlin came in faster, finishing the race at 51.46 to grab the Olympic gold and re-set the world record.
McLaughlin has proven already at 21 that she’s one of the world’s most dominant athletes, and with several more Olympic cycles likely in her future, expect her to only continue to build up her name as one of the most prominent American athletes.
Sha’Carri Richardson put together an impressive performance in the US Olympic Trials with a time of 10.86 in the 100-meters qualifying race, but she she tested positive for THC not long after the race. Despite the fact that it wasn’t steroids or some other performance-enhancing drug, it was enough to have her be suspended for 30 days, meaning she would miss the trip to Tokyo.
The U.S. greatly missed her presence this year as Jamaica earned gold, silver and bronze in the race. Would Richardson have changed that? It would certainly seem so. Her personal best time of 10.72, which she ran at the Miramar Invitational in April, was 10.72 seconds, which would have placed her second ahead of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and just a 0.11 second behind gold-medalist Elaine Thompson-Herah. And at the Olympics, it is often common for runners to post personal best times, meaning she still might have had room to drop even more time. Richardson would also have been a force oon the women’s 4×100 relay and could have made a difference as the U.S. finished second at 41.45, just 0.43 behind Jamaica for gold.
Richardson will be just 24 years old the next time the Olympic Summer Games take place. Richardson has already said she is turning her focus toward 2024, and she could be poised for a major breakout in those games.