The 2012 Olympic Games are on the horizon and that means America will soon fall in love with a new slew of athletes. But comeback athletes may well receive the most support because viewers tend to be more sympathetic to those who have overcome long odds to put themselves in a position to compete for glory.
Here are five comeback athletes who missed the 2008 Beijing Games, but share the dream of making it onto the medal stand in London.
At the 2000 Sydney Games, Ed Moses won the silver medal in the 100-meter Breaststroke and was a member of the USA's world record-setting 4x100 Medley Relay that won the gold medal.
He failed to make the U.S. national team in 2004, and stopped swimming shortly thereafter, instead choosing to try to make the PGA Tour.
Moses is saying all of the right things about how difficult it will be for him to get back to the pinnacle of the sport, as he said the following:
“It’s going to be tight on time,” said Moses, who attended the University of Virginia. “I knew that when I started. It’s going to be hard. . . . That doesn’t deter me, though, from believing I can do it.”
The USA is home to many of the best swimmers in the world and it will not be easy for Moses to qualify for the London Games.
If he is able to qualify for the Olympics, he will get the chance to win another medal 12 years after he won his first two.
Joanna Hayes won the gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the Athens Games in 2004. In that race she set the world record with a time of 12.37 seconds although her world record was later broken by Yordanka Donkov.
Hayes failed to qualify for the team in 2008, as she suffered a serious knee injury and it appeared as if her career was over.
According to Sam Stites at DailyEmerald.com, Hayes said the following about how her experience at the 2008 Olympic Trials:
“It left a bad taste in my mouth that year,” she said. When I’m done I want to be done and say goodbye to track and field competitively in a positive manner and so this year I just wanted to come and have a really good time, enjoy every moment of this incredible sport, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Since then, she has had surgery on her knee and also had a baby. It will have been eight years since Hayes last competed for Olympic gold if she is able to qualify for the American team.
Hayes started her career racing in longer events, but eventually settled into the race that made her who she is today, the 100-meter hurdles.
She will be facing tough competition from fellow Americans Dawn Harper, Danielle Carruthers and Kellie Wells in the upcoming trials.
Janet Evans made her Olympic debut way back in 1988 when she won three gold medals. She was just 16-years-old when she won gold in the 400-meter freestyle, 800-meter freestyle and the 800-meter Individual Medley.
She won another gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games and also competed at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Now at 41-years-old, Evans has the itch to get back into the pool and to compete against women half her age.
Some have questioned the reasoning behind the return of Evans, but she has said the following about those who inquire:
"It's funny, my husband says that to me all the time," Evans said in a recent telephone interview. "He says, 'I'm sure people think you had your time.' But isn't that sport? I mean, whose time is when? It's sport. Competition is competition, and it really doesn't matter who it is or how old they are, it just matters that you've got to compete."
She has qualified to swim the 800-meter freestyle and the 400-meter freestyle. In fact, Evans still holds the American record in the 800-meter freestyle and she has the heart of a champion.
It will not be easy for Evans, who competed in her first Olympic Games 24-years ago, to qualify for the Olympic Games. If she somehow does qualify though, she will have the support of millions as she chases a gold medal on the other side of 40.
Anthony Ervin was the first African-American male to make the U.S. Olympic swim team, when he qualified for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
In Sydney, he won the gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle, which is one of the most exciting races in all of swimming.
Ervin retired from swimming in 2003, but recently got back into the sport. According to John Crumpacker of SFGate.com, Ervin said the following about his comeback:
"The process of getting back into the sport was simple," he said. "I was switching over from leading a very unhealthy lifestyle for a number of years. I felt compelled to make a return to the water. It was a health thing. I wasn't even thinking of competition."
It appears that getting back into the water, even if it was for his health, re-motivated the short-distance swimming expert.
Getting back his world-class speed won't be easy, as it has been 12 years since he won the gold medal in Sydney.
Justin Gatlin won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2004 Athens Games. He followed that victory by winning the same event at the World Championships the next year.
Unfortunately for Gatlin, he tested positive for "testosterone or its precursors" in 2006. He was ultimately banned from the sport for four years and his reputation was tarnished forever.
The USA is home to a ton of amazing sprinters that Gatlin will have to compete with. Track stars like Walter Dix and Tyson Gay will also be vying for one of the three spots that will allow him to race in the 100-meter dash later this summer in London.
Gatlin is in good form at the moment, as he ran a 9.87 second 100-meter dash in a meet in Doha in May. Thus far this season, only Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake have run a faster time over that distance.
Gatlin won't be as well received as the other athletes on the list if he is able to qualify because of his history of doping. It won't be easy for him to win over the public, but if he wins another gold medal in London it will be a start.