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Team Players: Athletes From Around the Globe Share Their Olympic Dreams

Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Heptathlon, Great Britain

olympic athletes

Balenciaga dress. Nike shorts. Tiffany & Co. cuff.
Photographed by Delali Ayivi. Fashion Editor: Julia Sarr-Jamois. Hair: Amidat Giwa. Makeup: Lauren Reynolds. Set design: Louis Simonon. Produced by The Curated. Manicurist: Sabrina Gayle. Tailor: Nafisa Tosh. With thanks to: Lee Valley Athletics Centre.

It was at the 2012 London Olympics that British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, then just 19, cemented her one-to-watch status, when she made her debut in the slipstream. In the 12 years since, the Liverpudlian protégé (and best friend and former schoolmate of actor Jodie Comer) has become the master, overcoming career-threatening injuries and naysayers to take two world titles. Through it all, KJT, as fans call her, has worn her heart on her sleeve while leading a new generation of athletes for whom honesty and vulnerability are bringing new kinds of strength. An Olympic medal is all that eludes her—as she puts it, she has “unfinished business” in Paris.—Ellie Pithers

Shino Matsuda, Surfing, Japan

Photographed by Teruo Horikoshi. Hair and makeup: Lisa Tateyama.

“I started surfing when I was around six years old,” Shino Matsuda says. “I stood up on my first try.” The rest, as they say, is history: Fourteen years later, Matsuda—who comes from Chigasaki, a coastal city some 30 miles south of Tokyo—qualified for the Paris Games after finishing the 2023 ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador with the best score of Asia’s female competitors. What’s she most looking forward to at her maiden Olympics, which will send Matsuda and her peers out to distant (and beautiful) Teahupo’o, Tahiti? That’s an easy one. “Riding the best waves,” she says with a smile.—Marley Marius

Sara Balzer, Fencing, France

Photographed by Andrea Montano.

Strasbourg-born Sara Balzer, a member of France’s silver-medal-winning women’s saber team in Tokyo, heads to her home Olympic Games littered with honors—among them gold medals from the 2024 World Cups in Greece and Belgium, and silver medals from the 2023 Fencing World Championships in Milan and 2023 European Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. “We worked so much all these years to be the best for this event,” Balzer, 29, says of her team as they gear up for Paris 2024. And during that time, a certain pre-match ritual has proven personally useful: “I listen to music, I repeat what I’m going to do, and I enter fight mode.”—MM

Sofia Raffaeli and Milena Baldassarri, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Italy

olympic athletes

Photographed by Bea De Giacomo. Hair: Daniela Magginetti. Makeup: Giulia Cigarini.

Italy’s Olympic rhythmic gymnasts Milena Baldassarri and Sofia Raffaeli already boast a slew of historic records between them: Baldassarri, 22, became the first Italian rhythmic gymnast
to win an individual silver medal at a world championship event in 2018, while Raffaeli, 20, holds 38 gold medals across world and European championships and is the originator of “the Raffaeli,” a turn she performed during her world championship debut in 2021. Together, despite the intense pressure and fierce discipline their sport demands, the pair are known for their mutual support of each other—a necessity when family can feel far away.—Marco Grieco

Nikhat Zareen, Boxing, India

olympic athletes

Photographed by Prarthna Singh. Stylist: Tania Fadte. Hair and makeup: Nitu Tamang. Produced by P Productions.

More than a decade of representing India in boxing has taught Nikhat Zareen, 28, to parry blows from both inside and outside of the ring. Between being dismissed early on for wanting to pursue a traditionally male-dominated sport and her near career-ending shoulder dislocation in 2017, Zareen’s path to sporting success has had its fair share of knocks. But during a match, all of that fades into the background. “Whenever I enter the ring,” the two-time world champion says, “my only thought is: Nikhat, you need to win this bout at any cost.”—Sadaf Shaikh

Ge Manqi, Track and Field, People’s Republic of China

olympic athletes

Samuel Guì Yang dress. Photographed by Zhen Zhang. Stylist: Echo Xiao. Hair and makeup: Yang Yi. Creative consultant: Jumbo Tsui. Produced by C•Side and Huohuo.

Ge Manqi is used to blazing past boundaries: At the 2020 Tokyo Games, she became the first Chinese sprinter to qualify for the women’s 100-meter semifinal in nearly 40 years. Now, as she readies her appearance in Paris, Ge, 26, has a strong message for those watching at home in China, and around the globe. “I aspire to pass on my positivity and insights to the next generation of athletes, so that they can build upon my achievements. I’m on a mission to help Chinese female sprinters reach new heights,” she says. “It’s a myth that Asians can’t excel in sprinting. Don’t confine yourself with preconceived notions.” —MM

Sha’Carri Richardson, Track and Field, USA

Nike Team USA Olympic leotard.
Photographed by Luis Alberto Rodriguez. Fashion Editor: Julia Sarr-Jamois. Hair: Key Rentz. Makeup: Sally Branka. Produced by Dario Callegher. Manicurist: Janeira. Tailor: Kristy Kuehler.

Sha’Carri Richardson’s reputation precedes her. Though the Paris Games will mark her first Olympics appearance, the Texas native, 24, has already, on multiple occasions, established herself as one of the fastest women in the world. Just take her performance at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, where her 10.65-second finish in the 100 meters—the fifth fastest of all time—set a new event record. Results like those are a function of her talent and her training, yes, but also a “24/7 lifestyle,” as Richardson puts it. “Track is my life on a day-to-day basis. Everything I do—what I eat, what I drink, if I stay up too late—it’s all reflected on the track. Every choice. That’s what the world doesn’t see.”—MM

Artistic Swimming, Mexico

olympic athletes

Top row, from left: Glenda Inzunza, Jessica Sobrino. Middle row: Nuria Diosdado, Regina Alférez, Itzamary González, Samanta Rodríguez, Daniela Estrada. Bottom row: Pamela Toscano, Joana Jiménez, Fernanda Arellano.
Photographed by SeoJu. Sittings Editor: Carina Orellana. Makeup: Evelyn Esmeralda Corona. Produced by Yamileth Melo.

“Many of us have lived together for more than 10 years—we see more of [one another] than our own blood family.” So says Samanta Rodríguez, 29, a member of Mexico’s artistic swimming team, which this summer will compete at the Olympics en masse for the first time since 1996. (In the interim, Mexico has only qualified in the solo or duet events.) That focus has yielded some tremendous results: Last year, after winning silver at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Mexico secured its spot in Paris with two gold medals at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. “To qualify for the Olympic Games means fulfilling a dream that a three-year-old Regina saw as very far away,” adds fellow swimmer Regina Alférez, 26. And to represent their country on the world stage? “Carrying the Mexican flag is what inspires me every day,” says Nuria Diosdado, 33.—MM

Lo Chia-ling, Taekwondo, Chinese Taipei

olympic athletes

Photographed by Troy Wang. Stylist: Joey Lin. Hair: Reeve Chen. Makeup: Eddi-Sheng Hsu. Set design: Tung Yu Ting. Produced by Nelly Yang.

Lo Chia-ling was only 19 when she made her Olympics debut, winning a bronze medal in the women’s 57-kilogram class at the Tokyo Games. Now 22, she is going for the gold this summer—although she has a few other plans for her time in the French capital too. “I like the streets of Paris—the scenery is very beautiful, but the most important thing is probably shopping,” Lo says, laughing. Also on her mind? The world-famous gastronomie: “At the end of the competition, I want to experience some local French food!”—MM

Misa Rodríguez, Alexia Putellas, Irene Paredes, and Olga Carmona, Soccer, Spain

Adidas Spain National Soccer Team uniform. Photographed by Yago Castromil. Hair and makeup: Mara Fervi using Dior Beauty. Produced by Julieta Sartor.

La Roja’s Misa Rodríguez, Alexia Putellas, Irene Paredes, and Olga Carmona all have deep roots in their sport, but when asked about the athletes who inspire them most, their responses are wonderfully varied: Besides soccer legends Vero Boquete, Iker Casillas, and Hope Solo, names like LeBron James and Serena Williams also surface. Why? Because this is a group that privileges excellence, period—they’re part of Spain’s first women’s soccer team to qualify for the Olympics, ever. That means they’ll be leaving it all on the field this summer—though Olympic gold is, of course, only one measure of success. The bigger goal, for 30-year-old midfielder Putellas? “To continue enjoying this sport for many years, and for the fans to enjoy the matches with me.”—MM

Jilou, Break Dancing, Germany

Nike shirt, pants, hat and sneakers.
Photographed by Timothy Schaumburg. Stylist: Peninah Amanda. Hair: Tobias Sagner. Makeup: Ischrak Nitschke.

As breaking makes its debut as an Olympic discipline at the 2024 Paris Games, Sanja Jilwan Rasul, also known as B-Girl Jilou, 31, dreams of one day competing. (She only narrowly missed out on qualifying for Paris in June.) “I knew I had to put all my eggs in one basket,” she says, “so I stopped working as a coach to have more time for my own training.” Her lucky charm? A Deutsche mark from the 1972 Olympics in Munich, given to her by her grandmother. Instead of feeling pressured by the competition, Jilou has instead enjoyed the process to the fullest—to say nothing of becoming a role model for future generations of breakers.—Katharina Fuchs

Originally published in Vogue.com

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