After years of preparation, the 2016 Rio Olympics finally commence this week. The opening ceremony is set to begin tonight at 7:00 pm. Having persevered through months of qualifiers and years of training, the world’s top athletes are set to compete across 28 sports this year (which is two more than the 2012 Olympics). To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of 10 Olympians from New Jersey to keep an eye on — and root for! — during the games:
1) Kyrie Irving (Men’s Basketball): You might recognize Irving’s name from his recent championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as he helped the city end its 52-year sports championship drought. Irving, 24, played high school ball at Montclair Kimberly Academy before transferring to St. Pat’s for his junior and senior seasons. He is now teaming up with his former college coach, Mike Krzyzewski, to try and help lead the men’s team — who are favorites to capture gold — to a third straight gold medal.
2) Jordan Burroughs (Men’s Freestyle Wrestling (74 kg)): Burroughs, 28, delivered on a Joe Namath-esque promise in 2012, when he said he’d win gold in London and did just that. The Winslow Township High School alumnus was a two-time undefeated national champion at the University of Nebraska and looks set to deliver a second gold medal to Team USA.
3, 4) Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath (Women’s Soccer): Lloyd, who played for Delran High School and later starred at Rutgers University, memorably scored a hat-trick in the first 16 minutes of the 2015 World Cup Final against Japan. She’s emerged as one of soccer’s biggest stars, with her sights now set on helping the American women to their third straight gold medal. Heath scored America’s fifth and final goal in its 5-2 win over Japan and, like Lloyd, was a member of the 2008 and 2012 gold medal-winning squads. Heath, a midfielder, grew up in Basking Ridge.
5, 6) Christina Epps and Keturah Orji (Women’s Triple Jump): A pair of athletes from Morris County are competing to help boost the U.S.’s medal count in Rio. Epps, a 2009 Morristown High graduate, was born in the Bronx but grew up in Morristown. She attended Coppin State in Baltimore, from which she is the school’s first U.S. Olympic athlete. Orji, who hails from Mount Olive and attends the University of Georgia, set an American record in the triple jump (47 feet, 8 inches) at the 2016 NCAA Championships. In addition, she won the fan vote for the 2015-16 Bowerman Award, which is collegiate track & field’s highest individual honor.
7) Shakur Stevenson (Men’s Boxing (bantam, 56 kg)): Stevenson, 19, who was named after rapper Tupac Shakur, is a Newark native and the oldest of nine siblings. His grandfather, Wali Moses, introduced him to boxing at age five. Stevenson heads into the Olympics with a 23-0 international record and hopes to become the first American to win a boxing gold medal since Andre Ward won gold in 2004 in Athens, Greece.
8) Sydney McLaughlin (Women’s 400m Hurdles): McLaughlin, who will turn 17 before the 400-meter hurdles heats begin on August 15, is the youngest member of the American Track and Field team to compete in the games since Rhonda Brady competed in the 1976 Olympics at 16, according to Rick Maese’s Washington Post profile. You can help cheer McLaughlin on in her first race from the high school she attends in Scotch Plains — Union Catholic High School — on Aug. 15 from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. The viewing party is open to alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, families and all friends of Union Catholic.
9) Connor Jaeger (Men’s 400m and 1500m Freestyle): At the age of 8, Jaeger, who was born in Fair Haven, started swimming at the Central Jersey Aquatic Club. He began his international career in 2012 after swimming for the University of Michigan. He finished sixth in the 1,500m freestyle during the 2012 Olympics.
10) Ibtihaj Muhammad (Women’s Individual Sabre and Women’s Team Sabre): Muhammad, a Maplewood native, will make U.S. history in Rio, becoming the first American athlete to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. She was recently included in Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People, and gave a fencing lesson to Michelle Obama in Times Square.
Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Delphotostock / Adobe Stock
Additional Images (In Order) Courtesy:
Allen Kee / ESPN Images
Union Catholic High School / Twitter