London 2012: U.S. Olympic Trials, from American Hopefuls to Event Primers
After a giddy, four-year wait, Olympic trials season is finally upon us—a cornucopia of athletic tension made for the Summer Games glutton inside all of us.
From June 21 through July 2, Team USA will pick its London Olympics hopefuls in three marquee sports: track and field, swimming and gymnastics.
Then, it's on to London and a shot at Olympic glory everlasting.
To help you keep tabs on all of the storylines and Olympic implications, we've compiled a list of our events and athletes to watch.
Happy watching, happy rooting and, for the sake of your loved ones, please remember to take shower breaks.
Track and Field Trials: Quick Facts
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Where: Hayward Field; Eugene, Ore.
When: June 21-July 2
Track and Field Events to Watch
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Men's 100-Meter Dash
The 100-meter sprint always draws intrigue, but this year's version has an extra kick.
American record-holder Tyson Gay is fighting his way back from injury in hopes of making a second straight Olympic team. Walter Dix, a 2008 bronze medalist in the 100 and 200, is back for another go 'round. And then there's Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who has returned from a four-year doping ban at age 30 to post the best American time of the season.
Each veteran harbors legitimate medal hopes, but only one will emerge as Team USA's best bet to beat the Jamaicans in London.
Women's 200-Meter Dash
This field is absolutely loaded, starting with two-time 200-meter silver medalist Allyson Felix. Felix has made no secret of her desire to win this event, even dropping the 400 in order to channel her energy toward the 200 triumph.
She'll get a stiff challenge from Carmelita Jeter, the 100-meter specialist who surprised most observers by beating Felix in the 200 at 2011 Worlds.
But neither woman has the season's best time. That honor belongs to red-hot Sanya Richards-Ross, who is after an ambitious 200-400 double and seems to be peaking.
Men's 5,000-Meter Run
Distance legend Bernard Lagat has moved up from the 1,500 in search of his fourth Olympic appearance and second as a naturalized American citizen.
Lagat has the closing speed to spare, but 10,000-meter maven Galen Rupp will give him all he can handle at the top of the race.
If either should falter, Sudanese refugee and 2008 flag-bearer Lopez Lomong waits in the wings.
Women's 100-Meter Hurdles
Hurdling beauty Lolo Jones is no lock to make the Olympic team, with strong contenders like Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, Kristi Castlin and Danielle Carruthers all in the mix for Team USA's three slots.
Combine fierce competition with the treachery of wooden barriers, and you've got the potential for one heck of an event final.
This could be America's best decathlon team ever, but each of Team USA's top three contenders has a potentially fatal flaw.
Defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay is on the mend from injury and hasn't completed a full decathlon since 2010. Two-time defending world champion Trey Hardee had Tommy John surgery less than a year ago and will be severely handicapped in the throwing events.
Rising prodigy Ashton Eaton is the healthiest of the three, but youth could prove his undoing.
If each rises to the occasion, America could be set for its first decathlon podium sweep since 1952.
Track and Field Athletes to Watch
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Justin Gatlin (Sprints)
Crazy as his comeback seems, it's become impossible to ignore Justin Gatlin. After a four-year drug suspension and a brief flirtation with the NFL, the 30-year-old returned to track in 2010 and now looks like America's fastest man.
If he can top Tyson Gay and Walter Dix at Trials, the 2004 Olympic champion suddenly becomes a medal favorite.
Galen Rupp (Distance)
Rupp, simply put, is the best American-born distance talent of the past decade. The Portland, Ore., native harbors legitimate medal hopes at both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter distances, and could someday take a serious stab at the 1,500 or marathon if he's so inclined.
He's one of just two non-African runners to clock under 27 minutes at 10,000 meters, and his standing American record in the event, set in September of 2011, would be the world's best time this year.
Lolo Jones (Hurdles)
Looks, backstory, personality—Lolo Jones has it all.
But is she still fast enough to win the Olympic medal that eluded her in Beijing?
After a dramatic fall quashed her 2008 medal hopes, Jones has struggled on and off with injury. If those ghosts resurface in Eugene, Jones might not even make London.
Christian Taylor and Will Claye (Triple Jump)
Triple jump doesn't usually push the needle, but a fantastic rivalry is brewing in one of America's strongest field events. Christian Taylor and Will Claye attended the University of Florida together before turning pro together in August 2011.
Both athletes made an immediate impression, with Taylor winning the 2011 world outdoor title and Claye taking third in a new personal best. The former Gators will be up against each other once more this week in what should be a gold medal preview.
Allyson Felix (Sprints)
Felix is the undisputed golden girl of American sprinting, but near-misses at consecutive Olympic Games have capped her considerable crossover appeal. London is Felix's last, best chance to win an individual Olympic gold and establish herself as a true star.
Trials will provide an excellent litmus test, with a deep roster of challengers in the 100- and 200-meter field set to test her physical and mental fitness.
Swimming Trials: Quick Facts
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Where: CenturyLink Center; Omaha, Neb.
When: June 25-July 2
Swimming Events to Watch
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Men's 200-Meter IM
Any head-to-head showdown between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte figures to make headlines, but the 200-meter individual medley has extra zest. Both swimmers are renowned for their versatility, and there's no greater test of a swimmer's all-around ability than the IM.
Lochte broke Phelps' world record in the event at the 2009 World Championships, and then beat Phelps head-to-head two years later at the 2011 World Championships. If Phelps can turn the tables and beat Lochte here, there's no telling what he might accomplish in London.
Women's 100-Meter Backstroke
Future meets present in what should be one of the marquee showdowns on the women's side.
Veteran Natalie Coughlin has won each of the last two Olympic titles in this event, and in London, she could become the most decorated American female Olympian.
She'll be up against 17-year-old phenom Missy Franklin, who didn't swim the event at the 2011 World Championships, but did earn a bronze in the 50-meter back and a gold in the 200-meter back.
Women's 100-Meter Breaststroke
It's all but certain that Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy will earn Team USA's two Olympic bids in this event, but the sight of these two going head-to-head will whet many a palette.
Soni is the reigning world champ in the event, but Hardy is the world record-holder. After serving a two-year suspension for doping, Hardy is eager to take the title back.
The winner in Trials becomes a pre-London favorite for gold.
Swimmers to Watch
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Yes—the Janet Evans. At 40 years old and 16 years removed from her last Olympic appearance, the legendary distance freestyle swimmer is aiming to make her fourth Olympic team.
The odds are against Evans earning a spot in the 800-meter freestyle, but swimming fans won't mind. A chance to see the great one back in action will more than suffice.
After sweeping the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events at 2011 Worlds, Rebecca Soni is in line for a breakout Games.
That's saying something when you consider that Soni won a gold and two silvers as a 21-year-old in Beijing.
This time around, a three-gold performance is very much within her reach.
Ryan Lochte very simply has been the best swimmer of the past four years. With Michael Phelps on something of a training hiatus, Lochte dominated the 2009 and 2011 World Championships and was named FINA Male Swimmer of the Year each of the last two seasons.
As Phelps rounds back into shape, swimming fans will be eager to see if Lochte's dominance holds.
If you haven't heard about Missy Franklin yet, it's high time you learned. The rising high school senior has been tearing through the swimming world as of late, winning five medals at the most recent World Championships and earning recognition from FINA as its 2011 Female Swimmer of the Year.
Franklin's versatility and natural talent have drawn comparisons to Phelps, and with an ambitious program at Trials, she could soon be on her way to similar heights.
Primarily regarded as a 200-meter freestyle specialist, 22-year-old Allison Schmitt opened eyes this June by winning the 100-meter free at the Longhorn Aquatics Elite Invite in Austin, Texas.
Another solid 100-meter free swim at Trials could put her in line for two individual medals and could add to her relay bounty.
Gymnastics Trials: Quick Facts
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Where: HP Pavilion; San Jose, Calif.
When: June 28-July 1
Gymnastics Events to Watch
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Expect a battle between young and old, as Olympic veteran Alicia Sacramone takes on teen upstart McKayla Maroney for one of five U.S. team spots.
Maroney is the defending world champ on the apparatus, but a recent injury has thrown her fitness into question. Sacramone has ample experience and a bit more range, but lacks Maroney's degree of difficulty.
Women's Uneven Bars
National Team coordinator Marta Karolyi will have her hands full when it comes to filling the uneven bars. She could go for a specialist like Nastia Liukin or Anna Li, or she could opt for a more versatile gymnast like Bridget Sloan with an eye toward other duties.
Obviously, results at Trials will go along way toward tipping the scales.
John Orozco and Danell Leyva staged an epic duel at Visa Nationals earlier this month, and they'll be at it again next week. The winner should contend for a medal, but both will play a key role in what could go down as the best U.S. men's team ever.
Gymnasts to Watch
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With Shawn Johnson's recent retirement, Nastia Liukin is the last of 2008's gold medal winners still gunning for London. If she makes it back, it'll be on the strength of her bars routine—not as an all-arounder.
Nineteen-year-old John Orozco scored a rather significant upset when he beat Danell Leyva at Visa Nationals earlier this month to win the men's all-around. Though he won't wow in any single event, Orozco's versatility reflects the character of a U.S. men's team that has remarkable depth.
At Nationals, Gabby Douglas proved that the gap between her and world champion all-arounder Jordyn Wieber isn't as big as some might imagine.
After Day 1 of the all-around competition, Douglas was tied with Wieber and looked every bit as formidable. A fall on balance beam the next day ended her hopes, but she recovered to finish second and almost certainly locked up a spot on the U.S. team.
Michigan native Jordyn Wieber is the only stone-cold lock to make a highly competitive women's Olympic gymnastics team. The defending world all-around champ won her second consecutive national title this year and is favored to take the individual Olympic title this summer in London.
With a strong meet, Wieber can stay a step ahead of Russian rivals Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina.