Who we won’t be watching in Tokyo

Who we wont be watching in Tokyo

Every four — or, in this case, five — years we turn on our television screens to bask in the incredible display of athleticism that is the Olympic Games.

We “ooh” and “ahh” with every “how the heck does he run that fast?” and “how does she defy gravity like that?” moment. We immerse ourselves in the grandeur of it all and become irrationally invested in the success of every competitor donning our country’s colors. We feel personally offended when someone gets involved in a gas station incident and root emphatically for them to make a heroic comeback.

Then, just like that, our favorite athletes up and pull a Frosty the Snowman on us, fading away from Olympic scrutiny with the promise that they’ll be back again someday.

Only sometimes they don’t come back. For some, the 2016 Rio Games marked the last time we would get to spend hours posted up in front of our TV screens completely consumed by their talent — we just didn’t know it yet. For others, it’s going to be another four long years of preparation before they attempt to reclaim their rightful place in the spotlight.

In some instances, the athletes in question captivated our attention early on in their Olympic journeys and their quest for glory was abruptly stopped — or, at least, delayed — before even stepping foot on an Olympic stage.

As we prepare to turn our attention to Tokyo on Friday, let’s take a moment to pour one out for the athletes we expected to see but were snubbed, failed to qualify, were disqualified or won’t be competing in the Summer Olympics for other reasons.

Ryan Lochte, swimming

Olympic appearances: 4

Olympic medals: 12

The story: The six-time gold medalist and controversial Team USA veteran failed to qualify for his fifth Olympic Games. The 36-year-old came in seventh in the men’s 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. Lochte, who still holds the world record in the event (1:54.00), finished with a time of 1:59.67, which was more than four seconds slower than winner Michael Andrew’s time of 1:55.44 and nearly three seconds behind second-place finisher Chase Kalisz. “Swimming has taken me so far,” Lochte said through tears in a news conference after the race. “And coming out of the water, I was very emotional and was taking it all in.”

Sha’Carri Richardson, track and field

Olympic appearances: 0

Olympic medals: 0

The story: By now, you know what went down. After winning the 100-meter individual race at Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, Richardson was issued a 30-day suspension for testing positive for marijuana. The 21-year-old sprinter, who was expected to challenge for Olympic gold, had her win nullified and, with it, her spot in Tokyo in the 100. Richardson’s ban would end before the start of the relays on Aug. 5, which left open the possibility she could win a medal as part of the 4×100 relay team, but her name was left off the roster USA Track and Field sent out. The federation had two discretionary picks beyond the top four finishers in the 100-meter final at trials but chose not to offer her a spot.

Laurie Hernandez, gymnastics

Olympic appearances: 1

Olympic medals: 2

The story: Olympic gold medalist and fan favorite Hernandez, who returned to competition this year after four and a half years of break following Rio, did not compete in the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials and did not petition to be added to the roster. The 21-year-old performed in one event during the U.S. Championships then officially withdrew from the competition after hyperextending her left knee in balance beam warm-ups. Later Hernandez tweeted an update about her health explaining, “this is super random but like… i got a bone bruise, fluid, a cyst and torn meniscus from that dismount landing in championships & just realized i never gave y’all a knee update … and i still chose to do beam after the fall, I’m proud (it was a bad routine but I’m just glad i tried).” She will do commentary in Tokyo.

Kevin Love, basketball

Olympic appearances: 1

Olympic medals: 1

The story: After spending 10 days with Team USA in Las Vegas preparing for the Games, Love withdrew from the 12-man roster. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward is still returning to full form from a right calf injury that kept him out of a significant part of the NBA season. “I am incredibly disappointed to not be heading to Tokyo with Team USA,” Love said in a statement. “But you need to be at absolute peak performance to compete at the Olympic level and I am just not there yet.” Love — who won gold with Team USA in 2012 at the London Games — and Bradley Beal — who was ruled out of the Olympics on Thursday after being placed in health and safety protocol — were replaced by Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee and San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson.

Nneka Ogwumike, basketball

Olympic appearances: 0

Olympic medals: 0

The story: There are snubs, and then there’s what happened to Ogwumike. The six-time All-Star and former MVP was not only omitted from the U.S. women’s basketball Olympic squad, the Court of Arbitration for Sport then rejected her appeal to play for Nigeria. Last week, the Los Angeles Sparks star was notified by FIBA that her petition to play for the African nation had been denied because she played for the U.S. national program for too long. Ogwumike and her sisters have dual citizenship with the United States and Nigeria and believed they should be eligible to represent Nigeria in Japan. “Allow them the opportunity to help grow the game,” Nigeria’s coach Otis Hughley Jr. said in an impassioned plea. “That continent would just be turned on its head for basketball. In a good way. You have no idea how many lives would be impacted and changed for the ages.” In July 2019, Ogwumike was named as one of eight players who committed to participate in USA Basketball training and competition in 2019-20 rather than go overseas. The eight were essentially considered core players for the 2020 Olympics, although the Summer Games, of course, were postponed a year by the coronavirus pandemic. Ogwumike was previously snubbed from the 2016 Rio Olympics roster the same year she was named the WNBA’s MVP.

Nathan Adrian, swimming

Olympic appearances: 3

Olympic medals: 8

The story: The five-time gold medalist missed out on qualifying for his fourth Olympic games. At the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Adrian, 32, failed to advance past the semifinals of the men’s 100-meter freestyle, finishing 13th overall, less than 0.2 seconds from making the eight-man final. He also finished third in the men’s 50-meter freestyle final with a time of 21.73. Caeleb Dressel won the event by matching his American record time at 21.04 and Michael Andrew was second in 21.48. “Those two guys just beat me. That’s how this sport works,” Adrian told NBC after the race. “They’re going to be good — they’re going to give Team USA our best shot at winning the most medals possible. I’m now their biggest fan.” Adrian has faced far greater adversity out of the water, as he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early 2019. After undergoing two surgeries and taking weeks off from training, he returned to compete in May of 2019, winning silver medals in the 50m and 100m freestyles at the Pan American Games that same year.

Candace Parker, basketball

Olympic appearances: 2

Olympic medals: 2

The story: Snub Parker once, it will be the last time you do. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA MVP was surprisingly left off the 12-woman Olympic roster for Rio after being a key player on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal teams and hasn’t forgotten the slight. The 35-year-old has been vocal about her decision not to play for Team USA again, and did not enter her name into the national portal for selection for Tokyo. When asked about the omission from the Rio roster, Parker detailed her commitment to USA Basketball through the years saying, “It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads-up that you might not make the team, and then I could choose. … I was hurt because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries, given so many hours to USA Basketball, and then in one fell swoop they can just be like, it doesn’t matter about your play, you’re just not on the team.” Parker will commentate for NBC’s basketball coverage in Tokyo.

Coco Gauff, tennis

Olympic appearances: 0

Olympic medals: 0

The story: On Sunday, news broke that Gauff had tested positive for the coronavirus and was forced to pull out of what would have been her first Olympic Games. “I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won’t be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” the 17-year-old tweeted. “It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future.” Gauff lost to Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-4 on Centre Court in the fourth round at Wimbledon earlier this month. She is currently No. 25 in the WTA rankings.

Mallory Pugh, soccer

Olympic appearances: 1

Olympic medals: 0

The story: It feels like just yesterday 18-year-old Pugh was becoming the youngest player in U.S. history to score at the Olympics. Now, she is nowhere to be found on head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s roster. While the one-time national team phenom contributed to the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup victory, she didn’t have nearly the same impact that she did in the 2016 Olympic Games, when she started in the quarterfinals against Sweden. Although the U.S. was knocked out uncomfortably early, Pugh had a huge tournament. Since then, the young star has battled injury and struggled to live up to the unprecedented hype. After Pugh was left off the 2020 Olympic qualifying roster, Andonovski said, “For Mal, consistency is crucial for being on this roster. She needs to be more consistent in the day-to-day, which is extremely hard.”

Morgan Hurd, gymnastics

Olympic appearances: 0

Olympic medals: 0

The story: Hurd, who claimed the 2017 World all-around champion during the year Simone Biles didn’t participate, was noticeably omitted from Team USA’s roster after not being selected to compete at the Olympic Trials. Hurd had elbow surgery in March and only attempted two of the four events on both nights of the U.S. Championships. She petitioned to be added to the roster for the Olympic Trials but was not approved. Over the past year, the 20-year-old has evolved from world champion gymnast to social activist, taking part in demonstrations and using her large social media following (140,000 on Instagram alone) to advocate for a variety of causes including Stop AAPI Hate and Black Lives Matter.

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