U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team 2012: Top 10 Feel-Good Stories

Blake DorfmanFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2012

U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team 2012: Top 10 Feel-Good Stories

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    Track and Field is a sport of heartbreak and triumph, and both will be featured in London. This time around, in particular, there are some American track athletes with backgrounds and personalities that beg for attention. They might make you shed a few tears (it's OK, it's the Olympics) of joy or sorrow with their performances, so you should get to know them. 

    Here are the top 10 feel-good stories to watch out for in London...

10. Amy Acuff

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    One of the fellow high-jumpers competing with Amy Acuff in Eugene was not even born when Acuff made her first Olympic team.

    Remember Michael Johnson's golden shoes? Yeah, she was on that Olympic team.

    The 36-year-old mom returned from retirement and made her fifth Olympic team in Eugene, giving herself one more shot at an elusive Olympic medal.

    “You come back stronger after having a baby...There’s definitely some mama power,” she said to the New York Times.

9. Ryan Bailey

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    The 23-year-old Bailey was ecstatic to make the U.S. squad in the 100-meter dash, and while he is a long shot to win a medal, he's got a backstory (nicely outlined by our own Red Shannon here) that makes him a guy to pull for.

    Bailey, like Lolo Jones, overcame extreme poverty to get to where he is today, and he's got a little son that rivals Chris Paul's on the extreme cuteness factor. 

8. Sanya Richards-Ross

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    Richards-Ross had a rough time in Beijing while dealing with the pain of a skin disease that was possibly misdiagnosed. The 27-year-old has overcome injury as well, but she's coming off of a world indoor title in the 400-meter dash this spring and looks poised for gold in London.

    She now has her disorder under control.

    "The medications were a bit harsh and I could tell they were taking a toll on me as far as fatigue and I was even having some depression on them, which was tough," she said. "But now I'm on over-the-counter medications and I'm not struggling with it nearly as much."

    Another nice addition to the storyline is that the Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed her husband, cornerback Aaron Ross, to go to London and see her run. That is a privilege he was not given by Giants coach Tom Coughlin back in 2008.   

7. Ashton Eaton

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    The decathlon was an event in which the Americans had a shot for a one-two-three finish in London.

    Things went sour in Eugene, however, when defending gold medalist Bryan Clay flamed out and didn't make the team. The young and raw Eaton, recognized as the sport's next star, sweetened the atmosphere by turning in the best performance of the Trials, setting a decathlon world record.

    "He just didn't let down," former champion Dan O'Brien told USA Today. "I don't know if I had been in the same position I would have run my guts out in the 1,500. But he absolutely went for it. That's what separates him. With that mindset and that ability, no one will be able to touch him."

    This makes him the new face of American track and field. What's scary is that he feels he has a lot of room for improvement, and he alone will be quite an athlete to document as he leads the field in the grueling event in London.

6. Wallace Spearmon, Jr.

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    While Usain Bolt was acting a fool after setting the 200-meter dash world record in Beijing, Wallace Spearmon Jr. was celebrating a bronze medal. His jubilant moment in the Bird's Nest was cut short, however, when he was informed that he stepped out of his lane near the start of the race and was disqualified.

    Now he's got a chance to put a Band-Aid on that wound in London. Spearmon won the 200 at the Trials by 0.32 seconds with a wind-aided time of 19.82, looking good enough for a bronze and maybe more in London.

5. Jeneba Tarmoh

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    A lot of people are frustrated with Jeneba Tarmoh right now.

    Her now-infamous tie with Allyson Felix for the third and final spot in the women's 100 at the Trials put her in a very awkward situation (thanks to USA Track and Field inexplicably not having a tie-breaking procedure set). Although many think it was Felix who should have conceded the spot to focus on the 200, Tarmoh gave up the spot to her elder training partner before a runoff could decide the tie.

    There are many reasons to be puzzled by her decision, but through the whole debacle she was graceful and smiling. She claimed her heart wasn't in it, and perhaps the stress and frustration of the situation took its toll. Regardless, it was a selfless act in an event where egos are often prominent.

    She should win a medal in the 4x100-meter relay, and she deserves it.

4. Reese Hoffa

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    Reese Hoffa, 34, won his second consecutive Olympic Trials in the shot put but has yet to win an Olympic medal. 

    The lovable 315-pounder was given up for adoption at age four, but he bounced back from being an orphan to become a remarkable individual. He won world titles in 2007 and 2008, and the Olympic podium is something he has one more chance at.

    He can also solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute, does cartwheels, eats turkey legs after he wins and was really good on Jay Leno before the Beiijing Games.

    What's not to love? 

3. Bryshon Nellum

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    Bryshon Nellum will almost certainly not win an individual 400-meter medal in London, but the fact that he will be there is remarkable.

    In 2008, the USC graduate was shot in the legs three times by gang members who mistook him for a rival.

    "It's crazy because I never did fall to the ground. I kept going, just to run to safety," said Nellum in a recent Los Angeles Times interview. "I hopped and skipped on one leg to safety. And ever since then I've just been recovering."

    Here's hoping he finds the podium as a member of the American 4x400 relay team, which has won the last seven Olympic golds. 

2. Lopez Lomong

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    There's a reason why Lopez Lomong was the flag-bearer for the U.S. contingent at the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing.

    The 5,000-meter runner, who somehow escaped a horrific childhood as a Sudanese Lost Boy, got to run in front of his similarly rescued younger brothers at the Trials and finished third behind Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat.

    "There are a lot of kids who are still going through the same thing I went through, who are still getting kidnapped, who are still being trained as child soldiers, who are going through all these things," said Lomong (via ESPN). "I didn't want my brothers to be kidnapped like I was, I wanted them to be safe and come live in the United States like I did."

    On top of all that, he ran an incredible race in April, forgetting how many laps he had completed but still running the world's leading time.

    If anybody deserves an Olympic medal, it's this guy.

1. Lolo Jones

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    You've been living in a cave if you don't know who Lolo Jones is yet.

    The sparkling and stunning 100-meter hurdler grew up in complete poverty and even periodic homelessness, emerging to become the most popular name in American Track and Field today.

    She was favored in Beijing but stumbled out of the race, then overcame a spinal cord injury to return and barely qualify for a spot in London. She's also a 29-year-old virgin who is saving herself for marriage, and she is a gem on Twitter.

    Could she be the female Tebow? Yes, and they would make a great couple with some ridiculously athletic kids...as long as those kids don't try throwing a football.

    You can love or despise Tebow, but Lolo's pretty hard to root against.