By Briana Lim, AsAmNews Intern
The long-awaited 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, ending on August 8 (FULL 2020 OLYMPICS SCHEDULE HERE). After a rough year of COVID and anti-Asian hate crimes, we’re all ready to root for our AAPI Olympic athletes.
Here are 9 AAPI Olympians to cheer on:
Golf – Men’s Individual Stroke Play
24-year-old Collin Morikawa is young golf star quickly making a name for himself in the professional world. Golf Digest notes his maturity saying, Collin, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent, “may be 23 years old, but he acts, speaks and carries himself like a guy in his early 40s who already has it all figured out.”
In addition to securing a business administration degree at UC Berkeley, Morikawa won multiple collegiate titles, including the 2019 Pac-12 Championship. He was formerly ranked as the No. 1 Amateur golfer. After graduating in 2019, Collin debuted as a pro impressively, making 22 consecutive cuts (golf tournament terminology for eliminating half the players), a streak that is second only to Tiger Woods’s 25.
The following year, he became the third youngest golfer in history to win the PGA Championship, according to PGA tours. Most recently, in July 2021 he won his second major competition, the British Open, and he is the first to win two Majors on the first attempt.
Table Tennis – Women’s Singles, Team
Chinese American Lily Zhang is a 5-time national table tennis champion from California. She began playing at age 7, and by age 9, she was recruited by the US National Cadets team for 15-year-olds and younger.
She explains to Team USA about her love of table tennis, explaining, that it not only requires wicked reflexes, “it’s like combining chess and boxing…There’s so much strategy involved, you have to be thinking three, four steps ahead of your opponent.”
Over the years she has medaled in and won a number of North American Championships and Pan American Games, and she has also competed at both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. Since graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Psychology in 2018, Lily has continued to train and compete as a pro-table tennis player.
According to California Golden Blogs, in 2019, Lily became the first US born woman to win the US Open in 47 years, making her chances of medaling at the Olympics even better. Lily co-stars in the 2014 documentary Top Spin that follows three teenage table tennis players on the road to the Olympics.
Table Tennis – Men’s Singles, Team
Indian American Kanak Jha is Team USA’s best chance at medaling in men’s table tennis.
He is the first American athlete born in the 2000s to qualify for the Olympics after making the 2016 Rio team at only 16 years old. He impressed the Table Tennis world during his qualifying match against Canadian player Pierre-Luc Theriault, securing the final spot on the team.
Remarkably, according to Business Insider, Jha was down 0-5 in the last round, and managed to score 11 consecutive points necessary to win. Jha showed off his incredible mental fortitude and focus even as a teenager, making the international community take note of the rising star.
Since then, Jha has established himself as the indisputable best male player in the United States, winning every national title from 2016-2020, as well as several Pan-American medals, reports Butterfly Online. The Californian looks forward to displaying his growth at the 2020 Olympics, especially against the reigning champions on the Chinese team, according to an interview with Edges and Nets.
Swimming – Women’s 100m Butterfly
18-year old swimmer Torri Huske will be representing Team USA in the 100m Butterfly event as the American Women’s Record holder for that event.
Born and raised in Virginia, Torri began swimming at age 7, with encouragement from mom Ying Huske, who is from China. The two would compete for fun until it became clear that Torri would out-swim her mom each time, reports NBC Sports.
Interestingly, swimming was not Torri’s first choice in sport — the water was too cold. She first caught the notice of coach Evan Stiles because she was the only swimmer in a wet suit. Since committing to swimming and letting go of the wet suit, Torri has dominated competitions, winning first in many Junior National and Junior World competitions, and setting National Junior records along the way.
According to her USA Swimming bio, she is a 5-time Junior World Champion. She is committed to swimming for the Stanford Cardinals.
However, Torri, like many other athletes, faced roadblocks in her training due to the pandemic. With pools closed, Torri and her father had to get creative with her training. While pool-less, she conditioned instead with battle ropes, biking, rowing, running, and hiking. Later, Torri and her father managed to find backyard pools, and, with homeowners’ support, began training there, swimming laps attached to a bungee cord in pools 1/8th the size of Olympic pools.
However, the modified training seemed to work, and Torri wow-ed at the Olympic trials, setting a new American Record of 55.66 in the 100m Butterfly.
Swimming – Women’s 1500m Freestyle
Las Vegas native Erica Sullivan will be competing at the 2020 Olympics in her specialty 1500m Freestyle. This year’s Women’s 1500m Free will be the first time the event has been held at the Olympics for women — even though men have been competing in the event since 1908.
Erica began swimming with motivation from her dad and mom, who is from Japan. Unfortunately, in 2017, Erica’s father passed away from esophageal cancer which led to Erica’s fight with depression, says Las Vegas Review Journal.
However, Erica persisted in training in order to make her father proud, and she has since captured two open water national champion titles and is set to swim for the University of Texas following the Olympics, reports USA Swimming.
Erica is a proud member of the queer and Asian American communities, two underrepresented groups in swimming. She hopes to pursue a career in filmmaking. She describes having to work hard for her success saying, “I was just stubborn. Stubborn and stupidly competitive. That can be a weakness in day-to-day life, but use what people deem as a weakness to your strength and keep trying and show up every day. As long as you’re having fun, it’s going to pay off.”
Rhythmic Gymnastics – Individual All-Around
Though often overlooked in the US, rhythmic gymnastics is a mesmerizing sport that requires incredible strength, speed, technique, and flexibility, as well as beauty and grace. Gymnasts perform tricks using various apparatuses, including: a ribbon, hoop, ball, and clubs.
Rhythmic gymnastics remains a heavily Eastern European-dominated sport, but this year the US may have a fighting chance. It is the first time the US is sending a full team of individual and group performers.
Chinese American Laura Zeng is the nation’s best chance of medaling in the sport. She is the country’s most accomplished rhythmic gymnast and 5-time US national all-around champion, reports NBC Sports. In this interview, Laura explains how she first tried out the sport simply because her friend needed carpool rides.
She also details the hardships that the pandemic posed on training for the Olympics. “It completely upended everything,” unlike European countries where the sport is more popular, American rhythmic gymnasts do not have the same support structures that allowed training during the pandemic possible.
American rhythmic gymnasts had to get creative with outdoor and virtual training sessions. Though training may have been unusual, Laura is looking forward to finally competing at the Games. Tokyo will not be Laura’s first Olympic rodeo — she finished a US record-high of 11th place at the 2016 Rio Olympics as a high school junior.
The Chicago Tribune describes the immense support she received from her hometown while she was competing abroad. Not only is Laura a two-time Pan American Games gold medalist, she is also a brilliant student and a National Merit Scholar Finalist. She plans on attending Yale University after spending gap years on training for the Tokyo Olympics.
Diving – Men’s 10m Platform
Diving champ Jordan Windle is known for his positive attitude and wise words — fitting for someone who views the world from a 10m platform.
Jordan’s journey to the top, however, wasn’t as easy as climbing the platform steps. Jordan’s father, Jerry Windle, found him in a Cambodian orphanage and adopted Jordan when he was 18 months old. Jerry Windle helped to nurse his son back to health from malnutrition, scabies, intestinal parasites, and sever parasites, NBC Sports reports.
Diving coach Ron O’Brien noticed 7-year-old Jordan’s potential at a summer camp, and Jordan has been diving ever since. At 13, Jordan became the youngest diver ever to qualify for the Olympic diving trials. While at the University of Texas, he won 5 national titles, 7 senior national titles, and became a 2-time NCAA champion, reports the Olympics.
Upon qualifying for the Olympics after his third attempt, Jordan remarked, “It just proved that with a positive attitude and continuing to smile, anything can happen.” Jordan and Jerry co-wrote the children’s book “An Orphan No More: The True Story of a Boy” as a testament to their remarkable bond. In 2016, Jordan returned to Cambodia to inspire children there to dream big.
Kawika and Erik Shoji
Volleyball – Men’s Team
The Shoji brothers from Hawaii will be playing for Team USA Volleyball with bronze medals under their belts from the 2016 Rio Olympics. The two began playing with expert training from the beginning.
Their father, Dave Shoji, was the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball coach for 42 seasons. The two brothers both played for the Stanford Cardinals; Kawika graduated in 2010 and Eric in 2012.
Since then, the two have been playing professionally in Europe, Kawika a setter and Erik a libero. The brothers revealed to Star Advertiser that after several more years of professional playing, they’d like to follow in their father’s footsteps as coaches.
Erik reflects on his Japanese heritage in an interview with NPR. His grandparents met in an internment camp and have since passed on their culture through the generations. He talks of playing in Japan, “when I get there…I’m going to represent myself and my Asian American heritage as best as I can, but I’m trying to win a medal for the USA. So it’s special, but the focus is all about winning for the country.”
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