Here are the athletes to keep an eye on in London.
The enigmatic hurdler lost out on what seemed like a surefire medal in Beijing when she clipped a hurdle. Since then, she’s garnered plenty of attention for her revealing interviews and modeling stints, but how she’ll perform on the track in London is one of the biggest questions in these Games.
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There isn’t much left for Phelps to conquer as an Olympian, after his record eight golds in 2008 and his 14 gold medals overall — also a record. But with 16 medals total, he still trails Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most medals of all-time by two. That is what is at stake in these games. Plenty of motivation for Phelps.
If Phelps is to be upstaged in the pool, it will be by his teammate, Lochte, who is a year older than Phelps but has emerged from Phelps’ shadow in recent months to become a charismatic foil to the legend. The Canandaigua, N.Y., native will go head to head with Phelps in both the 200 and 400 meters, events that are shaping up as the most compelling of the entire 2012 Olympic games.
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team enters these games as a favorite for the gold — something they’ve done just once, in 1996. If they are to meet their 2012 expectations, it will be in large part because of Raisman, of Needham, Mass., the most experienced member of the team and arguably its best all-around performer. She will be a leader both on and off the mat. The 18-year-old is the oldest girl on the team.
Stevens, from Acton, Mass., took up cycling as a hobby in 2008 and is now poised to medal in London. A former investment banker on Wall Street, Stevens has quickly climbed the ranks of cycling’s elite, becoming the first American woman to win the Fleche Wallone in Belgium in April.
She made a name for herself in the U.S. track and field trials for being awarded a spot in the 100-meter after her tie with Jeneba Tarmoh. But it is in the 200-meter that Felix could be remembered, after achieving a personal best to clinch her Olympic spot. Compared to the great Wilma Rudolph, a 100-200 gold combo is not out of the question. The 26-year-old is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and three-time champ in the 200.
Taurasi was almost forced off the U.S. Olympic team after reports of a failed drug test last year while playing professionally in Turkey. It was later determined the test was fraudulent, and Taurasi was cleared. Arguably the best women’s player in the world, Taurasi will join five fellow UConn alums — and coach Geno Auriemma — in a quest for total redemption. The U.S. women are the defending Olympic champions from 2008.
James finally broke through last month as an NBA champion, and so the Summer of LeBron continues in London. There has been much debate over whether this collection of talent could defeat the legendary 1992 “Dream Team.” The U.S. needs to worry about ’12 first, and James can further rehabilitate his post-Decision reputation by leading the Americans to a second straight gold.
At one point, Gatlin was one of the most noted sprinters in U.S. history, winning gold at the 2004 games in Athens. But Gatlin tested positive for a banned substance in ’06 and received a four-year ban. Now Gatlin is back, presumably drug-free, with a huge chip on his shoulder.