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Featured Let the Gains Begin: 6 Must-See Athletes to Follow in Tokyo

This summer, the world’s best athletes will gather in Tokyo to compete. And while the competition may look a little different this year, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some awe-inspiring and record-breaking performances that you’ll want to see.

Of course, every athlete who makes it to this level is worthy of the global spotlight, but these six inspiring competitors stand out for their accolades and world records. Several are even expected to make history in Tokyo. Like you, each of them uses Tonal as an integral part of their training routine to help them feel their strongest. Follow along as they pursue their lifelong dream of reaching the top of the podium.

1. Sue Bird, Basketball

black and white image of a woman sitting down with her arms on her legs

When to watch: Game one takes place on July 27, 2021 at 12:40 a.m. ET

Why you can’t miss it: As Seattle’s perennial point guard, Sue Bird has already won four league titles, and Tokyo will be her fifth time representing her country in an attempt to reach the top of the podium. Bird is known as one of the best passers and shooters in women’s basketball and recently became the first player to reach 3,000 assists in the league.

An activist off the court, Bird uses her platform to champion for voting rights and for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. She also recently teamed up with other professional women athletes to launch Togethxr, a sports and lifestyle platform that challenges narrow depictions of women in media by offering more inclusive narratives and stories that showcase community, culture, and thought leadership.

What to watch for: Bird and the team are hoping to defeat the competition in Tokyo for a historic seventh consecutive win for the United States.

Here are the best of Bird’s 3,000 assists:

2. Alix Klineman, Beach Volleyball

black and white image of a woman looking over her right shoulder

When to watch: Game one takes place on July 24, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Why you can’t miss it: After enormous success as a pro indoor volleyball player, Alix Klineman moved over to beach volleyball full-time in 2017 and went on to become the league’s rookie of the year in her breakout season. In 2018, Klinemen teamed up with her current partner April Ross, and the duo were named Team of the Year by the league. 

Last year, Klineman and Ross won three tournaments without losing a single match. They clinched one of the two U.S. women’s volleyball spots in Tokyo after winning a tournament in Doha, Qatar. This will be Klineman’s first appearance on the worldwide stage.

What to watch for: Klineman has a reputation for delivering some monster blocks: In 2018 and 2019, she was named the best blocker by the league.

Check out Klineman’s powerful block during a women’s final match:

3. Jewell Loyd, Basketball

black and white image of a woman basketball player bouncing a ball

When to watch: Game one takes place on July 27, 2021 at 12:40 a.m. ET

Why you can’t miss it: A two-time league champion and world champion, Jewell Loyd has explosive power as a shooting guard, making her a threat from anywhere on the floor. Having already amassed an impressive list of awards and honors (which include two-time All Star, 2015’s Rookie of the Year, and a number-one draft pick), Lloyd will be playing on the worldwide stage in Tokyo for the first time, and she considers being on the team the highest honor of her career. 

Nicknamed “Gold Mamba” by her late mentor Kobe Bryant, Loyd dedicates her time off the court to providing resources and advice to young athletes, running Gold Mamba Army camps to increase the participation and quality for girls in sports and partnering with organizations to raise awareness and promote inclusion for people with learning disabilities.

What to watch for: Loyd will play alongside teammate Bird in Tokyo for a potentially-historic seventh consecutive win for the United States. 

Watch Loyd pull off a buzzer beater from beyond the three-point line:

4. Ryan Murphy, Swim

black and white image of a male swimmer wearing a hat and goggles

When to watch: The men’s 100-meter backstroke heat takes place on July 25, 2021 at 7:19 a.m. ET

Why you can’t miss it: Champion backstroke swimmer Ryan Murphy is no stranger to the global spotlight. In 2016, he reached the top of the podium three times, sweeping the backstroke events and helping the U.S. win the 4×100-meter medley relay. Ryan is also a world-record holder in the men’s 100-meter backstroke. 

Murphy started swimming lessons at the age of two and developed a strong passion for the sport early on in life. As a young child, Murphy wrote that his future goals were to break records, represent his country, and be the best swimmer in the world in a school assignment. 

What to watch for: Murphy is the current record holder for the 100-meter backstroke event and will be looking to defend his title in Tokyo.

Watch Murphy’s incredible halfway turn, which helped him win in 2016:

5. April Ross, Beach Volleyball

black and white image of a woman working out

When to watch: Game one takes place on July 24, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Why you can’t miss it: Renowned for her lethal serve, April Ross is a veteran athlete with several years of experience playing at an international level. (You may remember her former partner Kerry Walsh Jennings). Since joining forces with Klineman in 2018, Ross has been ranked number two in the world on the beach, and the duo are among the strongest contenders representing the U.S. in Tokyo. 

What to watch for: The third time might be a charm to win that coveted position at the top of the podium for Ross with teammate Klineman beside her in Tokyo. They are considered one of the teams to beat for glory.

6. Aliphine Tuliamuk, Marathon

black and white image of a woman running her marathon

When to watch: The women’s marathon final will take place on August 7, 2021 at 6 a.m. ET 

Why you can’t miss it: A 10-time national American champion, Kenyan-born Aliphine Tuliamuk placed first in the 2020 marathon trials with a blazing fast time of 2:27:23. Her career began back in 2000 after she was gifted a pair of running shoes by long-distance runner Tegla Loroupe for winning a school competition.  

As a long distance runner, she has been winning championships since 2016, but Tokyo will be Tuliamuk’s first athletic appearance at this level. And running is not her only pastime: Tuliamuk also has a knack for making signature beanies that sell out on Etsy! 

When the competition was postponed due to the pandemic, Tuliamuk and her partner decided to have a baby. In January of this year, Tuliamuk gave birth to their daughter and planned her marathon training schedule around breastfeeding. She and several other breastfeeding athletes also petitioned to bring their babies with them to Tokyo in light of the ban on foreign spectators and families attending due to restrictions. They have since been given the green light to do so. 

What to look out for: Tuliamuk is the first black woman to represent the U.S. in a marathon at this level. Sally Kipyego, who placed third in the trials, is the only other. Speaking to NBC Sports On Her Turf, Tuliamuk explained that Black girls probably mostly watch track and field events because that’s where they see Black athletes, but they have yet to see a Black person represent the U.S. in a marathon at this level.

Tuliamuk running through the finish line in the marathon trials: