In just over a week, the world’s attention will turn to Tokyo and the Olympic Games.

The Games kick off July 23 and will last through August 8. As usual, the United States enters the Olympics with high expectations.

Several members of the U.S. Team have Houston ties, but there are a few in particular we will want to keep our eyes on.

It all starts with world-renowned gymnast and Spring native Simone Biles, who has already achieved G.O.A.T status in a sport that once made it hard for African Americans to thrive. Others from the area to keep an eye on include Sugar Land native swimmer Simone Manuel and gymnast Jordan Chiles, who has made Spring her new home.

All three have dealt with struggles but have overcome them to ascend to the tops of their respective sports.

Here is a glimpse of their stories as each goes for gold in this Olympics.


There has been no more decorated gymnast in the world than Biles, who already has a U.S. gymnastics all-time high 30 medals between the world championships and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The 4-foot-8 dynamo will attempt to add to her collection while defying the odds at the seasoned age of 24. Only two gymnasts have won gold at 24 years old or older since 1972 and Biles will be attempting to do so in the individual all-around, which just doesn’t happen at her age.

Biles, who won her seventh straight U.S. Championship last month, hasn’t lost an all-around competition since 2013.

“We’re going to Tokyo. Such a surreal feeling,” Biles tweeted after winning the U.S. Trials in St. Louis. “I can’t believe I made the Olympic Team for the second time and I’m beyond excited to represent Team USA.

“This is just the beginning of the journey.”


During the 2016 Olympic Games, Manuel made history when she became the first African-American woman to win Olympic Gold in any swimming event.

Manuel, a former standout at Austin High School in Fort Bend ISD, is back to do it again. In a stunning set of events, Manuel didn’t qualify for the Tokyo Games in the 100 meter freestyle for which she won gold in 2016 but instead won the 50 meters freestyle during the Trials and will attempt to win her second individual gold there.

“More than anything I’m relieved just to be back on the team and having another opportunity to swim for Team USA is just a blessing,” Manuel said.

While Manuel, 24, is excited about the opportunity she has in front of her, her ascend has not been without its challenges. Manuel has opened up about her mental health challenges and she has been outspoken about competing in a sport that hasn’t always embraced her.

We got to see that firsthand in recent weeks with FINA, the Olympics aquatic sports governing body, ruling that a swim cap that covers thicker hair would not be allowed in this year’s Games. FINA has since said it would look deeper into its decision.

Manuel was recently named a captain of the USA Team.


Chiles hasn’t been in the Houston area long, but the 20-year-old gymnast from Washington has become one of ours.

Just a few years ago, Chiles was so disillusioned that she considered walking away from gymnastics altogether. That’s when Biles stepped in and invited her to relocate to Spring and begin training at her gym, World Champions Center. Biles provided Chiles a safe space where she could blossom.

Chiles hasn’t looked back since.

The UCLA student-athlete took home the silver in the most recent U.S. Championships while Biles won gold.

During last month’s Olympic Trials, she finished third in the all-around competition, second in the uneven bars and fourth in the balance beam and will join Biles as part of the U.S. Olympics Team.

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....