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Tricks are for kids: How teens are dominating in Tokyo

These teens are making the Olympics look like child’s play

Rayssa Leal of Brazil after winning silver in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Silver medal winner Rayssa Leal of Brazil holds her medal after finishing second in the women’s street skateboarding finals at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.
Ben Curtis, Associated Press

They may not be old enough to drive, but these teenagers are old enough to dominate at the Olympics.

Of the many unprecedented developments surrounding the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the surge of teenage Olympians has been one of the better surprises, reported Yahoo Sports. For many of these teens, competing in the Olympics last year seemed out of reach.

The one-year, pandemic-induced delay has significantly affected the athletes in Tokyo, reported The National Post. The delay opened the door to a new, younger generation of Olympic hopefuls.

How did so many young teenagers end up at the Tokyo Olympics?

In short, the pandemic. COVID-19 has upended nearly every aspect of society — and that includes the world of sports, reported Yahoo Sports.

  • For younger athletes, the extra year created an unexpected opportunity to train, grow and hone their competition in time for Tokyo, per The National Post.
  • For veteran athletes, the extra year created an unexpected pressure to maintain their skills even while nearing — or passing — their prime, reported Yahoo Sports.

The full extent of the pandemic’s impact on the Olympics and on the 33 different sporting competitions may be nearly impossible to say, per Yahoo Sports. The Tokyo Olympics are shaping up to be child’s play for many young competitors.

What sports can teenagers compete in at the Olympics?

Olympic qualification requirements range greatly depending on the sport, reported The National Post. Some sports have no age requirements — simply skill requirements — while other sports do.

  • Street skateboarding — making its Olympic debut in Tokyo — has no minimum age requirement, reported Channel 9 News. That’s why Momiji Nishiya and Ryassa Leal, both 13-year-old medalists, could dominate the competition.
  • Swimming has no minimum age requirement, reported USA Today. Swimmers must qualify based on their race times. This year, Team USA sent 10 teenage girls to swim at Tokyo, including Katie Grimes and Lydia Jacoby.
  • Table tennis also has no minimum age requirement, per NBC Sports. This year, one of the youngest Olympians in the history of the Games, Hend Zaza, will make her debut playing table tennis.

Other sports that typically draw younger athletes, like gymnastics, have a minimum age requirement of 16 years old, reported Channel 9 News.

Who are the teens dominating in Tokyo?

  • Momiji Nishiya is a 13-year-old skateboarder from Japan. At the women’s street skateboard competition Monday, she became one of the youngest medal winners in Olympic history, the youngest Japanese medal winner and the first gold medal winner for the sport’s Olympic debut, reported CBS News.
  • Hend Zaza is a 12-year-old table tennis player from Syria. She is the fifth youngest athlete to compete in the Olympics — ever, reported NBC Sports.
  • Lydia Jacoby is a 17-year-old swimmer from Alaska — the first Olympic swimmer in the state’s history. She dominated the women’s 100-meter breaststroke and claimed the gold medal in an upset victory on Monday, reported CBS News.

More teenage athletes — particularly Team USA’s young female swimmers, such as 15-year-old Katie Grimes and 16-year-old Clair Curzan — will compete in the coming days, reported Olympics.com.