2012 London Games: Top 5 U.S. Women Olympians
With the 2012 London Olympics two weeks away, the anticipation for the Games is at an all-time high.
As the U.S. team prepares to cross the pond—in what they hope will be a strong performance as they've grown to expect—we count down the athletes and teams that should make the biggest impact in London.
We start with today's list of the top five female Olympians on the U.S. squad, with women from five different sports: swimming, track, soccer, gymnastics and volleyball.
These Olympians have extreme talent and great expectations to win gold. Whether in individual events or by leading their respected teams, don't be surprised to see these elite athletes at the top of the podium.
Honorable Mention: Gabby Douglas, Abby Wambach and Candace Parker
It was hard to give just one of these great athletes this spot, so I had to include all three.
Candace Parker, despite her battle with injuries in the past, will be relied upon to lead the U.S. women's basketball team, who is a clear favorite to once again take gold.
Even though Parker is considered one of the younger players at 26, she is sure to carry a heavy load in London. But, she will have plenty of talent around her.
Gabby Douglas will know that feeling as well.
The women's gymnastics team comes into London with a loaded roster, led by Douglas and Jordyn Wieber. The two gymnasts could go first and second in the all-around event, and the odds of a team gold medal are within grasp.
After winning the Olympic Trials all-around ahead of Wieber, Douglas is clearly performing with a head full of steam. She will be a force to be reckoned with to stop her from winning multiple golds.
In women's soccer, there will be another strong one-two punch for the Americans.
Veteran striker Abby Wambach is one-half of the USA's dynamic duo, and has been dominating competition ever since she stepped on the national stage.
Look for more of the same in London, when Wambach and teammate Alex Morgan lead what could easily be the best squad in the field.
5. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor
It's nearly impossible to say one of these names without blurting out the other one, so we have to put them together.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are as in-sync as teammates could possibly be. How else would they be going for a third consecutive beach volleyball gold medal?
The two legends may be nearing the end of their playing careers, but there's no reason to think that, with their experience, chemistry and overall ability, they can't make one more run for the top of the podium.
The two have been hampered by injuries over the past few years, which reached a climax when May-Treanor tore her Achilles tendon and missed well over a year of competition.
Injuries aren't the only difficulty that will stand in the pair's way. There are quite a few teams that appear strong enough to end their reign.
Julianna Silva and Larissa Franca, the top-ranked duo in the world, look prime to give Walsh and May-Treanor their biggest challenge—and may be too much for anyone on the beach to handle.
Knowing the two Americans, it's hard to picture them going down without the fight of their lives. If they're firing on all cylinders come London time, they very well could earn the three-peat.
4. Alex Morgan
At the tender age of 21, Alex Morgan stepped onto the biggest stage of her life and was a spark plug off the bench for the U.S. team in the World Cup.
This year, though, she will the lightning rod that drives the American squad.
Morgan has progressed even more from her already elite goal scoring abilities, and has lately transformed into an even more complete player.
While Abby Wambach will be the unquestioned leader on the team, Morgan very well may make the biggest impact.
Fast, agile and athletic, Morgan is clearly above and beyond most of her competition. And, with that being said, the Americans have possibly the two best forwards in women's soccer today.
Now 23, Morgan will be the clear X-factor that determines how far the red, white and blue go in the London Games.
If she plays at the level of her recent performances, the U.S. team is clearly the favorite to bring home the most coveted hardware.
3. Allyson Felix
Even though swimming has more than taken over as the most intriguing sport to watch for Americans at the Olympics, there is sure to be a lot of attention drawn to Allyson Felix on the track.
After helping the USA 4x400-meter relay team to gold in the Beijing Games of '08, Felix will be looking for an individual gold on top of team accomplishments.
Felix was the silver medalist in the 200-meter competition in China, but handily won the event at the U.S. Trials. She looks to be the favorite going into the race this time around.
After her controversial 100-meter finish at trials, in where she tied Jeneba Tarmoh, Felix will now run in three events (the 100, the 200, and the 100-meter relay).
Winning the 100 seems a stretch for her to win, but her presence on the relay team instantly enhances the likelihood of the group snatching gold—though they will have take on an impressive Jamaican squad.
USA will have other popular runners, including Sanya Richards-Ross and Lolo Jones. But, Allyson Felix will indeed be the U.S. darling on the track in London.
2. Jordyn Wieber
It seemed that, at one time, Jordyn Wieber was America's golden girl in-waiting.
That has slightly changed over the last few months with the emergence of Gabby Douglas, but Wieber will still have the target on her back when the Olympics begin.
It's clear that the USA gymnastics team is stacked to the brim with talent, and Wieber and her teammates are easily the top contenders for London gold.
But, the individual all-around is where the pressure-cooker will be for Wieber.
With Douglas having continued to improve her routines, the Nastia Liukin-Shawn Johnson first-second finish in the '08 Beijing Games is a very likely avenue for Wieber and Douglas.
Though Douglas finished ahead of Wieber at the U.S. Trials, the latter of the two has been the consistent one all along.
Even though Douglas may have a head full of steam going into the competitions across the pond, Wieber seems to still have control.
It should be an incredible battle between the two, the "Flying Squirrel" taking on the sensation that's become "Wieber Fever."
Wieber performed better on the floor exercise and nearly equal on beam and vault rotations.
If Wieber can improve on her uneven bar score of 15.350—where Douglas posted—15.900, she will be in the driver's seat in the all-around.
1. Missy Franklin
Some say that Michael Phelps racing eight events in the 2008 Beijing Olympics was an amazing feat, let alone winning all of those events.
What about a 17-year-old racing in seven events? Missy Franklin will do just that in London, setting herself up for possibly the most successful runs in Olympic history.
If that run does indeed come to fruition, it will be only three months removed from her 17th birthday.
Though her name is just now starting to make the rounds among casual Olympic fans, it's clear she will be one of the prime subjects of conversation during the Games.
If she stays on schedule, Franklin will participate in four individual events (100-meter and 200-meter races for both backstroke and freestyle), and also will represent the U.S. in three team races.
The fact that this is only an introduction to Franklin is what seems to bring the most amazement. The world-record holder in multiple races, Franklin could easily pull off two more Olympic runs before her time is up competing in the water.
But, it all starts in London. And it could start as the most dominating performance in women's Olympic swimming history.
Consider that the all-time record for women's swimming gold medals at the Olympics is eight, set by Jenny Thompson (though all her golds were on relay teams).
Franklin has her chance to put a very large dent in that record and, along with that, be the leading lady at this year's Olympics.
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