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Young Female Athletes Who Could Make History at the Tokyo Olympics

Female Olympic medalists are – on average – younger than male Olympic medalists. Data from 1984 to 2018 (courtesy of Olympic historian Bill Mallon) shows that the average age of female Olympic medalists is 25.6 years old, while male medalists average 26.7 years.

Even as the average age of Olympic medalists has crept upward over the years, the trend of male medalists being older than female medalists has persisted. At the Rio Olympics, the average age of female medalists was 26.3 years old, while men averaged 27.3.

Note: certain age regulations could impact the average age of medalists. For example, male gymnasts must turn 18 in the Olympic year, while female gymnasts must turn 16. On the other hand, women’s soccer is open to competitors of all ages, while each men’s soccer roster can only include three players over the age of 23 (24, in Tokyo). 

While the average age of Olympic medalists will likely follow a similar upward trend for Tokyo (especially given the one-year delay), some athletes, of course, will be much younger or older than the average.

Here are several of the (very) young women who could compete at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics:

Skateboarding: Rayessa Leal, Okamoto Misugu, and Sky Brown

While many sports have age restrictions for Olympic participation, skateboarding doesn’t. As a result, several of the sport’s Tokyo medal hopefuls aren’t yet old enough to own a driver’s license (or even see a PG-13 movie, in some cases).

Thirteen-year-old Rayssa Leal of Brazil – who earned the nickname “little fairy” after a video of her skating in a tutu went viral – is currently ranked second in the Olympic street rankings, while 14-year-old Okamoto Misugu of Japan tops the Olympic park rankings. Great Britain’s Sky Brown, who turns 13 in early July, will likely be skateboarding’s youngest competitor in Tokyo.

Gymnastics: Konnor McClain

After the Tokyo Games were postponed, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced that gymnasts who would not have been old enough to compete in 2020 will be allowed to compete in 2021. (To be eligible to compete at the Olympics, female gymnasts must turn 16 or older in the year of the Games.)

American Konnor McClain was born 32 days too late to compete in 2020, but is now in the mix to make the U.S. team for the rescheduled Tokyo Games. When McClain was 11 years old, she appeared on Little Big Shots and said her goal was to win gold in the all-around at the 2024 Olympics.

Cycling: Hannah Roberts

BMX freestyle will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The current gold medal favorite in the women’s event is American Hannah Roberts, a two-time world champion. Roberts, who will be 19 in Tokyo, could become the youngest woman to ever win gold in the sport of cycling.

Soccer: Sophia Smith and Jaelin Howell

While many current members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) credit the 1999 World Cup with sparking their passion for the game, two Tokyo hopefuls weren’t yet alive when Brandi Chastain notched her iconic penalty-kick goal at the Rose Bowl. Midfielder Jaelin Howell, 21, and forward Sophia Smith, 20, both recorded their first caps for the USWNT in November, though it will be tough for either athlete to make the final 18-player U.S. Olympic roster.

Table Tennis: Hend Zaza

Last February, Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza, then 11, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by defeating 42-year-old Mariana Sahakian of Lebanon in the final of the West Asia Olympic qualification tournament.

Even with the Games delayed a year, Zaza is still on track to become one of the youngest Olympians of all-time. The youngest known female Olympian is Cecilia Colledge, who was 11 years, 107 days when she competed in figure skating at the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid.

Olympic researchers Andy Dougherty, Sarah Hughes, and Rachel Thompson contributed to this report. Thanks also to Bill Mallon and for providing the age data.