BY CHRÖS MCDOUGALL | Team USA
New stars emerge every four years at the Olympics and Paralympics. If you were paying attention in 2023, though, you might have caught a preview of what’s to come next summer.
The year before the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024 saw several breakout performances from Team USA athletes, results that included world championships, world records and drought-busting finishes.
Fans can follow along throughout the year at TeamUSA.com, but as we look ahead to the Olympic and Paralympic year in 2024, here are 10 athletes who showed in 2023 that they could be names to watch for in Paris:
Minna Stess, Skateboarding
Currently ranked 5th in the world, Minna Stess made history this year by placing third at the WST Park World Championship 2023 in Rome Ostia. In addition to securing crucial points for the Road to Paris 2024, Stess became the first U.S. woman ever to podium at an Olympic qualifier or Worlds event. At just 17 years old, she is considered the top U.S. female athlete in park skateboarding.
Mark Reis: Team USA
Sarah Adam, Wheelchair Rugby
Long a mixed-gender sport in name only, wheelchair rugby in the United States now has a female star. Adam broke through to become the first U.S. woman to compete at the world championships in 2022, and in 2023 she established herself as a go-to scorer on a team with Paralympic gold-medal aspirations. Adam, who when not playing is a professor of occupational therapy at St. Louis University, played key roles for Team USA in two major tournaments this year, including the Parapan American Games in November in Santiago, Chile. A victory there made Adam the first woman to win Parapan Ams gold in the sport and secured Team USA’s spot in Paris next year. Only Chuck Aoki, a three-time Paralympic medalist, scored more points than Adam.
Hannah Chadwick guide Skyler Espinoza, Para-Cycling
Chadwick and her visual guide Espinoza didn’t plan to race the track sprint event at August’s world championships in Scotland. Yet in their first sprint race together, the new tandem won a bronze medal. Later, at the Parapan American Games, they opened with another unexpected win in the 3,000-meter individual pursuit. One day later they were back at their preferred 1,000-meter distance, and back atop the podium, this time in the time trial. The winning time also set a new Parapan Ams record for the event. In Paris, Chadwick, of El Cerrito, California, and Freeport, Maine, native Espinoza will aim to win Team USA’s first Paralympic medal in a visually impaired cycling event since 2008.
CJ Nickolas, Taekwondo
The 21-year-old Nickolas put U.S. men’s taekwondo back on the map in May when he finished as runner-up in the men’s 80 kg. class at the world championships in Azerbaijan. Nickolas, of Brentwood, California, defeated the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in the semifinals before falling to the division’s top-ranked athlete in the final. In doing so, he became the first U.S. man to win a world championships medal in the sport since 2009. After no U.S. men qualified for the Olympics in taekwondo in 2021 — the first time that had happened — Nickolas should be in position to not only qualify for Paris but maybe even contend for a medal.
Noelle Malkamaki, Para Track & Field
Breaking a world record is so fun Malkamaki decided to do it three times this summer. The 22-year-old from Decatur, Illinois, first established a new global mark in the women’s shot put F46 at the U.S. championships in May. In July, she did it twice more at the world championships in Paris. Her final throw of 13.32 meters secured both the world title and her second world record of the day. Malkamaki, who throws collegiately for DePaul, only recently began throwing in Para competitions, and already she’s a favorite for a Paralympic medal next year in Paris.
Fred Richard, Gymnastics
Richard arrived on the scene in 2022 eager to draw attention to his sport , both through TikTok and his performances. It’s safe to say he’s succeeded in both. In April, the 19-year-old wrapped up his freshman season at Michigan by winning the all-around and two event titles at the NCAA championships. Six months later, in Belgium, he broke through on a higher level. Richard left the world championships with a pair of bronze medals — in the team and the all-around. Those marked the first medals for U.S. men in those events at a global championship since 2014 and 2012, respectively. And Richard’s high-flying ways aren’t limited to his stunning floor exercise and high bar routines. His creative gymnastics challenge videos have earned him a following of 645,000 and counting on TikTok.
Laulauga Tausaga-Collins, Track & Field
Talk about owning the moment. Tausaga-Collins unleashed the biggest throw of her life — by far — to become the first U.S. woman to win a discus world title. The Hawaii-born, California-raised thrower missed the Tokyo Olympics and finished 12th of 12 in the final of last year’s world championships, both while battling back injuries. At this year’s worlds in August in Hungary, Tausaga-Collins sat in fifth place with two throws to go. That’s when she broke out for a 69.49-meter throw, beating her personal best by nearly four meters. Her U.S. teammate and the defending Olympic champ, Valarie Allman, was just behind Tausaga-Collins in second (69.23 m).
Sam Watson, Climbing
Speed climbing will debut as an Olympic medal event in Paris after being rolled into a combined event in 2021 in Tokyo. That’s good news for Watson, who at 17 is already one of the fastest in the history of the sport. In April, Watson, of Southlake, Texas, scaled the 15-meter wall in 5.02 seconds to establish a new U.S. record. The only thing missing for Watson was a climb like that when it counts most, in a final. He finally put everything together at the Pan American Games in October in Santiago, where he not only won the gold medal but also clinched his first Olympic berth.
Joscelyn Roberson, Gymnastics
The world championships didn’t end quite how Roberson had hoped — a “freak injury” in warmups kept her out of the team and vault finals. But just about everything prior in 2023 was a dream for the 17-year-old from Texarkana, Texas. Following a switch to Simone Biles’ gym last year, Roberson enjoyed a breakthrough winter racking up medals at competitions in Germany, Egypt and Colombia. The powerful tumbler is particularly strong on floor and vault, the latter of which she won at the U.S. championships. In only in her second year at the senior elite level, Roberson showed she can hang with the best in the world.
Joe Kusumoto Team USA
Jeromie Meyer, Wheelchair Basketball
Make no mistake, the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team is still a veteran-led group. If the team is to win a third consecutive Paralympic gold medal next year, though, it’ll need key contributions from players like Meyer, of Woodbine, Iowa, who proved to be a key contributor off the bench this year. Meyer closed out his first senior tournament with Team USA by dropping in five points in a 67–66 win over Great Britain to secure the world title in June in Dubai, UAE. He was the only bench player to record a point. Meyer was at it again at the Parapan Am Games, scoring seven points and grabbing three rebounds in the final as Team USA thumped Colombia to secure the gold medal and a spot in the Paris Games.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.