2012 Summer Olympics: Trio of U.S. Athletes Being Replaced in Limelight

Dustin HullAnalyst IJune 5, 2012

2012 Summer Olympics: Trio of U.S. Athletes Being Replaced in Limelight

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    The 2008 Beijing games were yet another highly successful one for the United States, led by the extraordinary performance of Michael Phelps.

    As the 2012 London Olympics quickly approach, many athletes that earned medals in 2008 have now retired from their respective sports, making way for new names to enter in and take over our televisions for a couple of weeks this summer.

    Then there are the star athletes who still remain from '08, with their competitive greatness and unmatched work ethic keeping them up for yet another go-round of the world's biggest sports spectacle.

    But for three athletes, despite returning with gold medals in mind, they will be forced to take a back seat to fresh faces that will make their way onto the scene in London. 

Nastia Liukin, Women's Gymnastics

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    Nastia Liukin was America's golden girl in the Beijing Olympics, dominating the competition on her way to the all-around title.

    But with a new crop of talented gymnasts having arrived onto the scene, even Liukin must now pass the torch on to someone else.

    That someone else appears to be Jordyn Wieber, who won the all-around gold at the 2011 World Championships. Wieber seems to be a clear contender to take home multiple individual gold medals after she touches down in London.

    Liukin, on the other hand, would enjoy just having a chance to contribute to the team, but it's obvious to everyone that she will expect more of herself.

    It's hard to imagine Liukin, pure grace in motion, being only a specialist for the U.S. team. But it goes to show just how deep this squad will be.

    Along with Wieber (16) comes other young, yet highly-competitive gymnasts, such as Alexandra Raisman (18) and McKayla Maroney (16).

    Then there's Liukin, considered old for the sport at 22, one of four returnees from the 2008 Olympic squad that were attempting a comeback for London (now three with Shawn Johnson's retirement).

    So even though it may be hard to bet against such a gamer as Liukin has always been, the reality is Wieber is the future of USA gymnastics.

Abby Wambach, Women's Soccer

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    This one is a bit harder to comprehend for some, especially with how well Abby Wambach played just last year in the World Cup.

    But even with the athleticism that has put her beyond the rest of those on the field with her, she may have to share the role of star player in London. Not that she wouldn't mind having someone else take a bit of the load off her shoulders.

    Which leads us to Alex Morgan, the striker with speed to kill, a spark-plug on the World Cup team in 2011. Morgan was used as a volt of electricity off the bench, and provided tremendously in the United States' run to the final in Germany.

    But Morgan will no longer be the sneaky attacker, but rather the catalyst to the U.S. squad. While she certainly won't steal all the thunder from Wambach, it's clear Morgan is becoming one of next great women's soccer players.

    While always being equipped with supreme agility and talent, Morgan has lately developed a strong increase in awareness and has almost concluded her transformation into a complete player.

    Wambach has been the biggest factor for the U.S. team since scoring the game-winning goal against Brazil in the gold medal match of 2004.

    Even at 32, she can still be considered her sport's most intimidating and over-powering athlete, with the savvy you expect from a veteran leader.

    But with that in mind, Alex Morgan is the new shining light in red, white, and blue. Both will perform greatly, but don't be surprised if Morgan takes the game-winning shot were accustomed to seeing Wambach take.

Michael Phelps, Swimming

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    After completing the greatest feat in Olympic history by compiling eight gold medals, Michael Phelps is back to prove he still has enough left for a strong encore performance.

    There's no doubt that Phelps will garner the most media attention going into the London Games, and with good reason. But he is no longer the best swimmer in the world.

    That honor now belongs to Ryan Lochte, whose drive and work ethic have clearly improved over the years. And in return, his results have also improved immensely.

    Lochte is in fact older than Phelps but is peaking much later in his career. Lochte and Phelps have recently developed quite a friendly rivalry, and Lochte has begun to come out victorious more often than not.

    Lochte's load will be much heavier than it was in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but the exact number is not yet known.

    Meanwhile, Phelps will not come anywhere close to touching the insane number of events he participated in when swimming in Beijing. Phelps has also expressed that he wishes to end his career after the Olympics, and with good reason.

    Lochte though, is finally becoming the swimmer he always had the natural talent to become. He beat Phelps in the individual medley event at the World Championships in record time.

    Though Phelps defeated Lochte in their last duel, Phelps' dominance is clearly fading away. This has opened the door for many other swimmers.

    And most of all, it will play a part in Lochte becoming the world's premier swimmer.