1. Yusra Mardini
Mardini is an 18-year-old Syrian swimmer who fled her country after her home was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War. She arrived in Greece with her sister, after making the journey with 18 other migrants — on a boat that was only meant for 6 or 7 people. Somewhere in the Aegean Sea, the boat began to take on water. Along with her sister and two other migrants who could swim, Mardini pushed the boat for three hours until it reached Lesbos. She now lives in Berlin. This year, she represents a part of the first-ever refugee team in Olympic history.
2. Ibtihaj Muhamme
Muhammed is a sabre fencer from Maplewood, New Jersey, representing the U.S. Fencing team. She is the first ever Muslim-American woman to compete while wearing a hijab. Muhammed won her first qualifying round in individual saber, but was defeated by France’s Cecilia Berder in Round 16.
Yesterday I saw my biggest dream come true, competing at the Olympic Games. I am overwhelmed with happiness and feel so blessed for the opportunity to represent the United States on the world’s biggest stage. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support throughout my journey. What a blessing to become the first American Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab! I am hopeful that this monumental moment in our history continues to encourage unity and respectful dialogue. All praises to the most high. Team USA and proud! #TeamUSA #ibtihajinRio #alhumdulillah
3. Jo Pavey
Pavey, a British long-distance runner, has become the eldest track athlete in Olympic history at 42 years old. It’s also worth mentioning that she won a gold medal back in 2014 at Zürich’s European Championships, just 10 months after giving birth to her second child. This is her fourth time competing in the Olympics.
4. Ashleigh Johnson
Johnson, representing the United States, has become the first black woman to compete on an Olympic water polo team. She’s 21 years old, goes to Princeton, and on Aug. 9th, she stopped 11 of 15 shots, leading the U.S. women’s team to an 11-4 victory over Spain.
5. Oksana Chusovitina
Chusovitina is a Russian gymnast and the eldest competing in this year’s Olympics. She’s the only female gymnast to ever compete in seven Olympic games and has represented three different nations over the course of her quarter-century career. At 41, Chusovitina is competing against athletes who weren’t even born by the time she entered her first international competition in 1989.
6. Lia Neal And Simone Manuel
Neal, 21, and Manual, 19, have become the first duo of black women to compete on the U.S. Olympic Swim Team at the same time. Neal and Manual are both Stanford students who will swim as part of the 4×100 freestyle team.
7. Lilly King
King is an American swimmer who has already won a gold medal this year in the women’s 100-meter. What’s inspiring about King is that at 19, she hasn’t been afraid to speak out against the Doping scandals that have been plaguing the reputation of the 2016 Games. King has been outspoken in her comments, stating that she is proud to have won her gold medal ‘clean’ and that she doesn’t believe athletes who have failed drug tests — like U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin, who failed two drug tests — should compete as part of an Olympic team.
8. Rafaela Silva
Silva is a Brazilian judo athlete from the notorious City of God slum in Rio. Not only did Silva win Brazil’s first gold medal of the 2016 Games, she’s also been an advocate for combating racism in Brazil and she came out as part of the LGBT community back in October.
9. Dipa Karmakar
Karmakar is a 23-year-old gymnast from Agartala, India. This year, she became India’s first-ever female gymnast to qualify for the Olympic Games, as well as the first Indian gymnast — man or woman — to qualify in 52 years.
10. Isadora Cerullo
Cerullo is a Brazilian rugby player who made a statement about LGBT equality when she accepted her girlfriend’s marriage proposal on the field of Deodoro Stadium after the Australia vs. New Zealand final. Cerullo’s girlfriend, Enya, is a manager at the stadium. Enya told the BBC that she made her proposal public because she wanted to prove that ‘love wins.’
11. The Australian, Kiwi, and Canadian Women’s Rugby Teams
The 2016 Games debuted the fist-ever women’s rugby competition in Olympic history and the above three teams, respectively, became the first to earn medals.