With the Olympic Games finally upon us, many spectators are focused on living legends like Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar, Jamaica's record-holding sprinter Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who's won more Olympic hardware than any athlete in history.
And that's just to name a few. The mega-event certainly doesn't lack star power. But the Games also feature plenty of compelling competitors who aren't household names — at least not beyond the borders of their home nations. Each comes to Brazil with his or her own goals and incredible life stories. And all of them carry the hopes of their respective countries on their shoulders. Here are five of those athletes.
Dutee Chand, India (sprinter)
This 20-year-old speed demon will be India's first Olympic sprinter since 1980. She will compete in the women's 100-meter event, starting Aug. 12, when she'll try to beat her personal best of 11.24 seconds — an Indian record. Two years ago she was banned from the sport due to hyperandrogenism, a condition that causes the body to produce excess testosterone. She appealed the ban and in July 2015 was cleared to compete again. “There are five members in my family. My parents used to struggle to put food on our plates,” Chand explained in a recent interview with The Times of India. “It was also difficult to train. I didn't have shoes, so was forced to run barefoot.”
Kazuki Yazawa, Japan (kayaker)
Winner of last year's canoe slalom national tournament in Japan, this 27-year-old also participated in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. It was shortly after that experience that Yazawa found an entirely new calling: Buddhism. He became a priest in 2013. According to the Japan Times, that won't stop him from trying to grab a gold medal in Rio.
Photo: Guo Yong/Xinhua/ZUMA
Tomás González, Chile (gymnast)
With the exception of multiple tennis medals in the 2004 Games, Chile hasn't had a tremendous amount of Olympic success. The country is hoping to reverse that trend this year with Tomás González, 30, a gymnast who stopped just short of medaling in the 2012 Games. “I think I'm the second best in the world for the floor exercise, so I'm very motivated,” he told the Chilean broadcaster TVN.
Yona Knight-Wisdom, Jamaica (diving)
This British-born athlete could have competed for England or even Barbados (his mother's home country) but instead chose to represent his father's native Jamaica in the Olympics, a first for the country. The 20-year-old's size — he's 6'2'' and weighs almost 200 pounds — makes makes him an unusual competitor in the sport.
Photo: Facebook page
Maryan Nuh Muse, Somalia (runner)
The 19-year-old is one of just two athletes representing her country in Brazil. Nuh Muse has competed throughout Africa in numerous regional competitions but never before in the Olympics. “I am hoping to shine,” she told the African Union Mission in Somalia of her upcoming participation in the women's 400-meter event.
Photo: Africanews screenshot