6 Breakout Stars of the Olympics and the Deals That Could Follow

August 22, 2016, 12:15 PM UTC
China's Fu Yuanhui competes in the Women's 100m Backstroke Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Martin Bureau — AFP/Getty Images

At the Olympic Games, the podiums are not only for lauding each sport’s best international competitors, but for launching the next wave of celebrity athletes. The Rio events introduced the world to several breakout performers with the potential to become true household names — even if some of these athletes must hold off on those oh-so-lucrative endorsement deals for a little while.

Here are the six breakout athletes to watch for after the Rio Olympic Games.

1. Simone Biles

Gymnastics - Artistic - Olympics: Day 2
Tom Pennington — Getty Images

The American gymnast is the breakout star of this Games’ Final Five, earning a handful of medals: four gold and one bronze. The 19-year-old all-around gold medalist is already a strong speaker, going viral with the quote, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” Already featured on the boxes of Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries, as well as ads for Hershey’s and Nike, she’ll also sharing the next Sports Illustrated cover with fellow Olympians Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.

2. Katie Ledecky

Swimming - Olympics: Day 4
Adam Pretty — Getty Images

The 19-year-old U.S. swimmer, who earned five gold medals and broke world records, won’t be partaking in any sponsorship deals since she’s opted to enroll at Stanford University instead of going pro. “Yes [Ledecky’s] leaving money on the table, but I think she’s done a calculation,” Rick Burton, a sports management professor at Syracuse University, told CNBC. “She can afford to lose that money because of what she gains in other areas.” Ledecky will swim at least one NCAA season.


3. Joseph Schooling

Joseph Schooling Victory Parade
Suhaimi Abdullah Getty Images

The Singaporean swimmer nabbed gold in the 100-meter butterfly, breaking Michael Phelps’ streak in the event and beating him in his last individual race. As the first Singaporean athlete to ever win an Olympic gold medal, the 21-year-old University of Texas student received a $753,000 bonus for the win, which he was able to accept as part of the allowable NCAA guidelines — but that’s it, for now.

4. Ibtihaj Muhammad

Rio 2016 Olympics: Saber Team (Women)
Stanislav Krasilnikov Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

The fencer made history as the first American athlete to compete and earn a medal in the Olympics while wearing a hijab. “I want to break cultural norms and show girls that it’s important to be active; it’s important to be involved in sport,” said Muhammad on the perception that Muslim women don’t play sports. An NCAA All-American at Duke University, the 30-year-old saber athlete from New Jersey could eventually cross over into a fashion deal, as she founded the online boutique Louella.

5. Fu Yuanhui

Gabriel Bouys AFP — Getty Images

The Chinese swimmer may not have gotten a spot on the podium for the 4×100 meter medley relay, but she made headlines for telling an interviewer, “Actually, my period started last night, so I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired. … But this isn’t an excuse. At the end of the day, I just didn’t swim very well.” Her candid comments on a taboo topic in China broke a barrier and made the 20-year-old an instant Internet sensation. Is a Playtex Sport campaign next?

6. Michelle Carter

Athletics - Olympics: Day 8
Buda Mendes Getty Images

The shot put star became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the sport, and also set an American world record. The 30-year-old Californian is already speaking up about body positivity: “I just encourage young girls to be true to themselves,” she said. “I’m in a sport that people don’t look at us like women. They don’t look at us being girly or feminine. But I’ve been girly all my life. I couldn’t separate the two between the sport and being a woman.” It’s a message any brand would be proud to stand behind.