12 For 12: 12 Athletes to watch for in London
With exactly two years to go until London 2012, today marks a great time to assess the United States team for the games, and look at some team members who should be making waves in England. And since it’s the 2012 games, 12 people seem appropriate:
Sydney Leroux, soccer (United States)
Leroux missed the penalty kick that ended up knocking the United States out of the U-20 World Cup in the quarterfinals, but she should be a big part of the attack in 2 years as the United States look to defend their Olympic gold. Leroux won the golden shoe at the 2008 U-20 World Cup in Chile, and Leroux had 5 more in this year’s World Cup. Her 10 total is a record tying amount for a career at the U-20 World Cup.
Tom Daley, diving (Great Britain)
In 2008, Daley became the European diving champion at the tender age of 14. He followed that up in 2008 by becoming the 2nd youngest male Olympian ever from Great Britain. Although he did not medal in Beijing, he won the 10 meter platform World Championship, the only non-Chinese male to win Gold. Daley is spending his years between Beijing and London being trailed by a BBC camera crew for the show Olympic Dreams.
Dagny Knutson, swimming (United States)
Knutson has exploded onto the scene in the last two years, winning 5 golds at the 2008 Youth World Championships. Knutson also broke Katie Hoff’s 400 yard IM American record. Knutson, who recently de-committed from Auburn, swam at the 2009 World Championships, winning a silver with the 4X200 freestyle relay team. Coming from tiny Minot, North Dakota, Knutson has come out of nowhere to be a contender for multiple medals in London.
Bershawn Jackson, track and field (United States)
After being the #1 ranked 400m hurdler in the world in 2005, Jackson’s career has been marked by ups and downs since then. He won gold in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, and dominated the US trials. But he finished a disappointing 3rd at the Olympics, behind teammates Angelo Taylor and Kerron Clement. He followed that up with another bronze at the 400m hurdles in the 2009 Worlds in Berlin. But Jackson may be back on top, winning the 2009 US Championship with a 48.03 time, vaulting him atop the short list of Gold medal contenders for 2012 in an American dominated sport.
Stephanie Rice, swimming (Australia)
While she makes just as many waves for her work out of the pool, Rice is no slouch in it. In Beijing she won three gold medals, and set the world record in the 400 IM. She then set another world record in the 200 IM, narrowly defeating Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry. She then was a part of the Gold medal winning 4X200 freestyle relay team. Rice has followed up her Olympics with a disappointing 2009 Worlds as she won silver in the 200 IM, bronze in the 400 IM, and silver in the 4X100 medley relay. She experimented with adding the 200m freestyle to her program, but finished a disappointing 16th. Rice will be 24 during the London games, and will look for 3 more golds.
Rebecca Bross, gymnastics (United States)
Bridget Sloan is the reigning world all-around champion, and Nastia Liukin the reigning Olympic all-around champion, but it is Bross who will be the American’s best hope for all-around gold. She will be 19 during the London games and at the most recent World Championships she was in 1st by a wide margin going into her final event. Unfortunately she fell on her final tumbling pass on the floor exercise, missing out on the Gold by less than .1 points. In the 2008 Pacific Rim championships she won gold in the all-around, beam, bars and floor exercise ahead of, among others, Nastia Liukin. At her most recent big event, the 2010 American Cup, Bross won the all-around, and gold in every event except for the vault. She will definitely be among the heavy favorites in 2012.
Cesar Cielo Filho, swimming (Brazil)
If Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world for winning the 100 meters, then Cielo Filho is the fastest man in water for winning the 50m freestyle. He did so in Olympic Record time. He also won a Bronze in the 100m freestyle. But Cielo Filho cemented his legacy as one of the fastest swimmers ever at the 2009 Worlds, when he won gold in both the 50 and 100 meter freestyle events. His 100m time set a world record, and his 50m time was a course record. By winning the 50m and 100m, he became only the third person to accomplish that double in a single World Championships. And he became only the 2nd person, after Russia’s Alexander Popov, to win the 50m in the Olympics and World Championships in succession.
Paula Radcliffe, marathon (Great Britain)
Radcliffe is one of the most accomplished long distance runners ever. She won the 2000, 2001 and 2003 World half-marathon titles. In 2002 she set the World’s best time of that year in her first ever marathon. Later in the Chicago marathon she smashed the old world record by about a minute and a half. She then set the world record again in the 2003 London Marathon, which is one of the highest IAAF scores ever. In the 2005 World Championships she won the gold medal, despite having to take a break to, um, attend to some business. But one thing is missing from her resume: an Olympic gold. Radcliffe hurt her leg before the 2004 Athens games, and her anti-inflammatory drugs had adverse effects on her system, forcing her to drop out of the race after 36 kilometers. In 2008 Radcliffe struggled with a stress fracture in her femur and fought cramps during the marathon to finish a disappointing 23rd. The 36 year old will give it one final shot in her home country, where she has had plenty of success in the past.
Dayron Robles, track (Cuba)
When Liu Xiang injured his achilles at the beginning of the 2008 Games, Robles became the prohibitive favorite in the 110 hurdles. He didn’t disappoint, winning gold with a blistering time of 12.93 seconds. He also owns the world record time in the 110 hurdles with a 12.87 second mark set in 2008 at a meet in the Czech Republic. Robles followed up his 110 gold with a gold in the 60m hurdles at the 2010 indoor world championships in Doha. In that race he beat his two closest competitors: Xiang and Terrence Trammell. Robles will likely have to beat them both again to take gold in 2012.
Rebecca Adlington, swimming (Great Britain)
At just 19 years of age, Addlington went double gold in the 400 and 800 freestyle. Her 800m time of 8:14.10 still stands as the world record. That record was one of the most hallowed in all of the Olympic events, as it was set by Janet Evans in 1989 when Adlington was 6 months old. At the time it was the longest standing record in swimming. She had a rougher time at the 2009 Worlds, getting only a bronze in the 400 and a bronze in the 4X200 relay, but she will be the home team’s best bet for multiple swimming medals in London.
Jamie Dwyer, field hockey (Australia)
Dwyer is probably the best field hockey player in the world right now. In 2002 he was named the Young Player of the Year when he scored 24 goals in 34 matches. He recovered from a terrible knee injury to win three player of the year awards. He is only the second player after Teun de Nooijer of the Netherlands to win the award three times. Dwyer was part of the 2004 Australian gold medal winning team, and of the 2008 Bronze medal winning team. Earlier this year he captained Australia to the championship of the 2010 Hockey World Cup. Dwyer had 5 goals in the event for the Aussies, who will be among the medal favorites in 2012.
Michael Phelps, swimming (United States)
The other 11 people on this least are known basically only by Olympics buffs. But Phelps transcends all. So why him, when I could have picked a lower profile athlete? With just 3 medals, Phelps will become the most decorated Olympian ever, passing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. Phelps already has 14 golds, the most of all time. In 2008 Phelps became only the second person to win 8 medals in a single games, and of course the first to win 8 golds. Eric Heiden’s 5 for 5 in 1980 was impressive, but Phelps’s 2008 performance is probably the best of all time. It’s still yet to be determined what Phelps’s program will be for the 2012 games, but he is a near certainty for Golds in both IMs and in the medley relay. Barring injury, Phelps will cement his place as most decorated Olympian ever in just over two years time.