Pageantry, patriotism and physical feats galore — that means the Summer Olympics are just around the corner!! Athletes from across North Carolina have been training for years, even decades, for their shot at gold in Tokyo, and we can’t wait to cheer them on. Check out the incredible athletes who will be representing our nation and the Tarheel state.
Imagine being just 17 years old and heading to the Olympics? For Evy Leibfarth — it’s not a dream — it’s the reality of years spent honing her technique in the water as a canoeist and kayaker. Evy hails from the western part of the state and has been training recently at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. This summer, she’ll become the youngest athlete ever to represent the U.S. in canoe slalom at the Games, which involves both kayaks and canoes, and she will make history as the first American woman to race in a canoe at the Olympics.
Hailing from the Charlotte area, Caine Wilkes is one of only four male weightlifters to qualify for team USA. He first began lifting weights for his middle school football team, but by the end of high school, he had traded in the pigskin for his true passion — pumping iron. Now at 33 years old, he will be making his Olympic debut in the super-heavy weight division.
Another high schooler, Claire Curzan, a junior at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, has qualified to swim for Team USA. Curzan’s time in the 100-meter butterfly of 56.43 seconds earned her a second-place finish and a spot on the team.
Making her Olympic debut at 32, Duke graduate and local resident Ashley Twichell, will compete in the 10-kilometer open water swim in Tokyo. During COVID, Twichell maintained her training at Jordan Lake and currently trains at Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.
North Carolina will have ample representation on the track and field team. Kendra “Keni” Harrison, who attended Clayton High School, won the 100-meter hurdles event and Quanera Hayes, born and raised in Hope Mills, won the women’s 400-meter final. Two athletes from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University also qualified, Randolph Ross from Garner in the men’s 400 meters and Trevor Stewart in the 4x400m relay.
Boxer Naomi Graham may be a first-time Olympian, but she’s already accustomed to proudly representing the USA. Now a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, Naomi grew up around the outskirts of Fayetteville and joined the military after high school. In the Army she found her love of boxing and eventually joined the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. She’s coming off a first-place finish at the trials as she heads to Tokyo to compete in the middleweight division.
Chelsea Gray made Duke University basketball history as the first woman to ever make the Olympic team. Gray played point guard for the Blue Devils from 2010-2014 and is currently a pro on the Las Vegas Aces WNBA team.
On the men’s side, basketball players Bam Adebayo and Jayson Tatum qualified for the 12-person team. Adebayo grew up in High Point and currently plays for the Miami Heat, while Tatum played for the Duke Blue Devils and is now a Boston Celtic.
North-Carolina-affiliated soccer players will be looking to return the women’s team to the top of the podium. Former Tarheel Crystal Dunn, who played soccer at the University of North Carolina from 2010 to 2013, and brought home the 2012 National Championship, is one of six defenders on the roster. Carolina Courage midfielder and the 2020 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, Samantha Mewis, has also qualified for the team. Her Courage teammate, forward Lynn Williams, has been named an alternate and will travel with the team to Japan.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time Olympian, Tobin Heath, is bringing her years of international playing experience to this year’s women’s soccer team. As a forward, she helped the USA bring home the gold from Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. Prior to her professional career, Heath played at UNC from 2006-2009 and won three NCAA Championships.
In 2016, Lucas Kozeniesky competed in shooting at the Olympic Games in Rio, also marking the first time a shooter from North Carolina State University had ever competed in that event. The 2017 Wolfpack alumnus came in a respectable 21st in the men’s 10-meter air rifle. He’ll enter these Games having qualified first at the Olympic trials last February, in which he also tied the relay world record.
With so much local talent representing North Carolina and our nation, we’ll be glued to our TVs to catch every minute of Olympic action from July 23 to August 8. Go Team USA!