The 2016 Summer Olympics are fast approaching, and while the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro still has a lot to figure out before the start of the Games—including concerns about security, the Zika virus, and stadium readiness—the U.S. Olympic Team roster is set. This year, 18 Coloradans (either natives or residents) will be representing our country in Rio. Here’s a breakdown of notable local athletes to watch throughout the international event, which takes place August 5–21.
Coloradans have claimed four of 21 spots on this year’s U.S. Cycling team, with Mara Abbott (road race), Howard Grotts (mountain bike), Taylor Phinney (road race, team trial), and Chloe Woodruff (mountain bike) all taking their wheels to Brazil. Abbott, Grotts, and Woodruff are first-time Olympians. Phinney, who is competing in his third Olympics, is likely the state’s best bet to hit the podium. The 2007 Boulder High School graduate is still searching for his first medal after a fourth-place finish in the road race and time trial in 2012, and a seventh-place finish in the individual pursuit in 2008. He’ll certainly be one to watch, especially considering that he battled back from a career-threatening leg injury in 2014 to make the team.
Two locals will be battling the world’s best out on the rugby pitch. Ben Pinkelman (a graduate of Cherry Creek High School and Colorado State University) will take his place on the men’s team, while Jillion Potter (a former member of the Glendale Raptors) snagged a spot on the women’s team. Pinkelman is the youngest player on his squad at age 22. Potter’s success has been underscored by her recovery from a devastating neck injury in 2013, as well as a bout with cancer. She was diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma shortly after the 2014 World Cup, and treated with aggressive chemo and radiation. She was finally able to start training again in May 2015, and spent the next year focusing on her dream of making the Olympic squad.
A pair of Coloradans earned spots on the U.S. Women’s National Team, which is favored to earn its fourth consecutive gold medal in Rio. Striker Mallory Pugh, who graduated from Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch this spring, is the best teenage soccer player in the country and the second-youngest member of the U.S. Olympic soccer team in history. Meanwhile, Golden High School alum and current Portland Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan earned a spot after passing on college and signing a six-figure deal to play for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. She left the team in December 2015 to return to the U.S.
Colorado has more representatives in track than any other sport, including a few athletes who will be in medal contention. On the men’s side, Colorado Springs native Boris Berian overcame a contract dispute with Nike—not to mention his humble beginnings working at McDonald’s and trying to make his mark in the sport after losing eligibility at Adams State University—to become a force to be reckoned with in the 800m. Salida native Mason Finley, who set the national high school record in discus while at Buena Vista High School, is a favorite to medal in the event in Rio after blowing away the field at the U.S. Olympic Trials. And on the women’s side, Colorado State University graduate Janay DeLoach Soukup is back in the long jump following a bronze medal performance in 2012, while former University of Colorado stars Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase) and Jenny Simpson (1500m) again give Boulder a presence on running’s grandest stage.
Two 2013 Regis Jesuit High School graduates will take to the pool in Rio, with Missy Franklin as the star of the women’s team and Clark Smith as an up-and-comer on the men’s. Franklin, who burst onto the international scene at the 2012 London Games with four gold medals, is again expected to come home with a hoard of individual accolades. She’s set to compete in the 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle, and 4x200m freestyle, although she missed the mark for the 100m backstroke, an event in which she won gold in 2012. Smith, the 2015 NCAA champion in the 500-yard freestyle for the University of Texas, made his way onto the team as part of the 4x200m freestyle relay.
Colorado Springs resident and three-time Olympian Ben Provisor will represent the Centennial State on the men’s wrestling team at 85 kg. But there is history to be made on the women’s side, as Bear Creek graduate Adeline Gray is a favorite to become the country’s first-ever women’s Olympic wrestling champion. Gray, who will compete in the heavyweight division, is currently riding a 37-match winning streak and has been using her newly cemented status as the face of U.S. women’s wrestling to push for greater gender equality in sports.