As the 2021 Olympic and Paralympic games draw near, we’re keeping our eye out for up and coming athletes. Whether it’s gymnastics, wheelchair racing and beyond, these athletes are hopeful for the opportunities ahead. Check out these 6 Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are aiming to compete in the 2021 games.
A swimmer with a long family history of Olympic competition, 18-year-old Luca Urlando is a 2021 Olympic hopeful. Multiple members of Urlando’s family have represented Italy; his grandfather was a hammer thrower, his grandmother threw javelin and his father was a world class discus thrower. Luca Urlando decided to take to the pool instead of the field; his race of choice is the 200-m butterfly.
He began swimming in his grandparents pool in Sacramento, California with his younger sister when he was little. As Urlando got older he started playing more sports, but ultimately returned to swimming, citing the individuality as to why. Due to his family history, Luca has dual citizenship in the US and Italy. Despite the Italian Swimming Federations interest in Urlando, he declined to be a part of Team USA.
“I really just like going fast.” says Hannah McFadden, a 2 time paralympic wheelchair racer. McFadden was born with a bone deformity leading to an above the knee amputation. She was adopted out of Albania as a baby. Growing up she was involved in a lot of different sports until finding a passion for wheelchair racing.
This will be McFadden’s third time competing in the paralympics. In her first games, her and her sister made history by being the first siblings to compete in the Paralympic Games. Her sister, Tatyana McFadden, is a 5-time paralympian. Hannah states that she is close and competitive with her sister and hopes that 2021 will be the year she finally beats her.
The day before gymnast Sunisa Lee, a Southeast Asian America from the Hmong community, was off to the gymnastics national championship her dad fell off a ladder and was paralyzed from the chest down. Despite the accident, she traveled to Missouri and competed to her fullest potential. She finished second all-around event behind Simone Biles and first in the uneven bars. She cited her father as her inspiration to compete at the highest level.
After proving herself as a great asset in the 2019 championship, Sunisa got the tap to be a part of the USA 2020 Olympic team, a dream she’s had since she was 6 years old. Like so many of us COVID has made her life and her training a lot more difficult. Lee says she’s had to adapt her training as much as possible to the stay-at-home orders. She’s begun incorporating running into her training for the first time, but has limited access to gymnastic training. She eagerly awaits the opportunity to get back in the gym with her teammates.
The son of two college track athletes, Michael Norman was destined to run. At 23, Norman is an all-star sprinter. After finishing up a strong college career at University of Southern California, Norman went pro. In his first professional season he ran a PR 400 and some strong 200s that allowed him to compete in the 2019 T&F World Championships. Unfortunately, during the 400 Norman suffered an injury causing him to back off and not qualify for the finals. At the start of the 2020 season, Norman came in strong and ran a record 9.86 second 100m. Due to the Coronavirus this was the only race Michael Norman would get to run in 2020.
Norman has used the pandemic to reevaluate his previous seasons and up his training. Him and his roommate from USC have continued to train with Coach Watts and Gilbert from USC. Norman credits both coaches with his huge successes during his time in college and now as he begins to cement his professional career. The biggest decision to be made prior to the 2021 games? Which distances Norman will run in.
Morgan Hurd began gymnastics at just 3-years-old. After being adopted from Wuzhou, China, Hurd joined a gymnastics class in Delaware. She quickly impressed her coaches and peers with her dedication and focus and at age 5 moved to a bigger gym to focus on her training. As her training increased, so did her passion for the sport. Her most notable achievement: becoming the 2017 World All-Around Champion. Hurd’s strength lies in her consistency across all events.
Since then she has struggled some with injury, but the delaying of the Olympic games might benefit her. Hurd is looking at the delay as a time to build her strength and confidence. Though it is difficult to find somewhere to train, she is hoping to upgrade during this time.
Paralympic hopeful Ezra Frech is just 15 years old and an advocate for those with disabilities. Frech was born with congenital limb differences; missing both his left knee and fibula as well as fingers on his left hand. At 11 months, he received his first prosthetic leg and he has been playing sports, particularly track & field, nonstop since. His passion for all sports led to him and his family starting the Angel City Sports group and the Angel City Games to allow para-athletes to compete in sports year-round.
Frech has set records in field events over the years. He competes in high jump, long jump and more. In 2019, Frech was a part of the World Para Athletics Junior Championships where he won gold in high jump and bronze in both long jump and the 100m. He also competed in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, but did not medal.
Who are you excited to see in the upcoming Games? Tell us in the comments below!