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10 Northwest Athletes To Watch At the 2016 Rio Olympics

There will be plenty of Olympic athletes with local connections to cheer for when the Summer Games begin this week.

The U.S. women’s soccer team got to Brazil days ago because their first match kicks off Wednesday, a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Team USA features six players from the Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign pro soccer teams.

The majority of the more than 75 Northwest Olympians bound for Rio are track and field competitors. Athletes with local ties are also well represented in rowing and basketball.

Here are 10 noteworthy names to follow for the next two and a half weeks in Brazil.

  • Devon Allen (110m hurdles) -- Allen has already made a name for himself as a wide receiver for the University of Oregon football team, even played in the 2015 Rose Bowl. But now football is on the back burner as the college junior tries to add Olympic medalist to his resume. Allen vanquished a veteran field to finish first at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials on his home track in Eugene last month. His time of 13.03 seconds that day remains the third fastest time in the world in the event this year.
  • Ashton Eaton (decathlon) and Brianne Theisen-Eaton (heptathlon) -- Ashton and his wife Brianne have a decent shot to become America's golden couple of track and field. The experts at Track & Field News predict both of them will bring home gold from Rio in the decathlon and heptathlon, respectively. One fun twist is that Ashton competes for Team USA while Brianne represents her native Canada, although the former University of Oregon teammates have long resided together in Eugene. Ashton is the defending Olympic gold medalist. Brianne finished in eleventh place at the London Games.
  • Galen Rupp (10,000m and marathon) -- The 30-year-old Portland native who trains under Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar qualified for the Rio Games in not one, but two punishing events. The long distance "double" has not been attempted by an American since Beaverton's Dan Browne came away empty-handed for his effort at the 2004 Athens Games. Rupp will benefit from a full week of rest between the 10,000 meters on August 13 and the men's marathon, which takes place on the closing day of the Rio Games. Rupp won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics.
  • Bernard Lagat (5000m) -- Nicknamed the "Ageless Wonder," Lagat is the oldest member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team. The 41-year-old will be running at the Olympics for a fifth time. "I train with young guys. I don’t believe I’m old," Lagat said after his U.S. Olympic team trials victory last month. "Because if you believe you’re old, I’m going to run like an old man." Lagat graduated from Washington State University in 2000 and then competed at his first Olympics that summer representing his native Kenya. He earned a bronze medal in 2000 and added a silver in 2004, both in the 1500-meters.
  • Alexi Pappas (10,000m) -- American-born distance runner Pappas received dual citizenship from Greece last year and was promptly added to the 2016 Greek Olympic Team roster after she achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in the 10K at a meet in California this spring. The 26-year-old, who lives and trains in Eugene, is unlikely to contend for a medal in Rio judging from the much faster times posted so far this year by runners from East Africa. But the multi-talented Pappas is worth following as much for her off-field exploits as for her fleet running on the track. She has a knack for composing charming or inspirational poems on Twitter. Pappas and her fiancé have also co-written and produced a series of video shorts and a full-length feature film about life as an elite runner.
  • Hope Solo (soccer) -- The Rio Games may be a swan song for the veteran American goalkeeper. Solo, 36, is set to compete in her third - and almost surely, final - Olympic soccer tournament. Last month, Solo became the first goalkeeper in women's soccer history to record 100 career shutouts in international competition. The former Washington Husky and Richland, Washington native has earned shutouts versus 29 different countries. Solo attracted unwanted attention for off-the-field troubles in years past, but the run-up to this year's Olympics provided hardly any tabloid fodder.
  • Kristin Armstrong (road cycling and time trial) -- The two-time Olympic gold medalist from Boise could not resist a fourth try for glory under the fabled five rings. At 42 years old, she is the oldest-ever U.S. Olympic female cyclist. Armstrong won the women's individual time trial at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. Prior to becoming a professional cyclist, the University of Idaho grad found success as a junior Olympian in swimming and then as a triathlete. She announced her retirement from professional cycling after the London Games, but came out of retirement last year and quickly became a force to reckon with again.
  • U.S. men's eight (rowing) -- Yes, we know a shell is not a person, but this crew has to row as one so we're counting them. The storied University of Washington crew program placed four graduates in the 2016 U.S. Olympic men's eight -- Sam Ojserkis (UW '12), Rob Munn (UW '12), Hans Struzyna (UW '11) and Sam Dommer (UW '14). Ojserkis will be the coxswain for the 2016 U.S. Olympic eight, as he was for the championship Husky varsity eight while he was in college. Struzyna and Munn took up crew in high school with the Sammamish Rowing Association. Dommer said he started rowing to lose weight.
  • Mariel Zagunis(fencing) -- The Rio Games will represent this Beaverton native's fourth Olympic appearance. Zagunis captured gold in the inaugural women's sabre competition at the 2004 Athens Games and then defended her gold medal in 2008 along with winning a bronze in the team event in Beijing. She was chosen by her fellow athletes to carry the U.S. flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Games. A fun fact about Zagunis, 31, is that both of her parents are Olympians. According to NBC Olympics, Cathy and Robert Zagunis met at the 1976 Montreal Games where they both competed in rowing for the USA.
Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.