London Olympics 2012: 13 Athletes on Hot Streaks as the Games Begin
Athletic success cannot be sustained on talent and technique alone. Confidence is essential, too.
Thanks to fiery hot streaks, these Olympians arrived in London equipped with that all-important third element.
Performing well in regional leagues, tune-up tournaments and exhibitions puts competitive minds at ease heading into the 2012 Games.
Prevailing against motivated opponents raises their expectations and gives them reason to believe that such feats can be repeated on the international stage.
All indications suggest that the following athletes will be in medal contention.
Robert Harting, Germany (Track & Field)
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Discus thrower Robert Harting has been winning world championships since 2001, when he was 16 years old. Between then and now, he has rarely placed poorly at an event.
By Harting's standards, though, 2010 was a down year. Rival Piotr Malachowski out-gained him at the European Athletic Championships and IAFF Diamond League.
The hot streak began soon after.
Harting achieved a personal best of 69.69 meters in 2011, and followed it up with a 70.31-meter toss this past May. He won gold medals for both efforts.
It's time to add some Olympic hardware to his collection.
Sally Pearson, Australia (Track & Field)
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Australia has sacrificed quantity for quality by sending its smallest delegation in two decades.
Sally Pearson—runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles at Beijing—is supposed to contribute to the Aussie medal count once again.
Pearson is the reigning IAAF Female Athlete of the Year, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. During that period, she set the bar pretty high by completing her signature event in 12.28 seconds.
In 2012, she's off to a solid start. Pearson was crowned winner of the 60-meter hurdles at the Indoor World Championships in Istanbul.
Connor Fields, USA (Cycling)
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BMX prodigy Connor Fields had to recover from an unwell body and mind to reclaim his rightful place at the pinnacle of the sport.
He blew a commanding lead at the junior world championships in South Africa a couple summers ago after crashing on the final lap.
In doing so, he suffered a knee injury and a battered psyche, and the latter needed about seven months to heal.
Fields has momentum back, however, with a record-setting streak of three consecutive World Cup final wins intact.
Bartosz Kurek, Poland (Volleyball)
A year ago, the Polish men's team won bronze at the FIVB Volleyball World League thanks to the brilliance of Bartosz Kurek, who was named "best scorer" of the tournament.
This time around, the group turned it up a couple extra notches.
Kurek and his countrymen eliminated the United States in straight sets to clinch the 2012 gold medal, with Kurek earning MVP honors. Neither of those accomplishments had been claimed by Poland—or a Polish player—during 22 previous appearances.
Kurek was also voted "best server" and "best spiker" at the Euorpean Championships and CEV Champions League, respectively.
Vasyl Lomachenko, Ukraine (Boxing)
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In an Olympic preview for SI.com, Chris Mannix calls Vasyl Lomachenko "the most high-profile fighter in the tournament."
His statement can't be contested.
Lomachenko dominated flyweight opposition in Beijing and hasn't really been challenged in the interim.
Moreover, the 24-year-old amateur has an extra incentive to win. Ukrainian athletes will reportedly be paid $100,000 per gold medal!
For the London Games, he is fighting in the lightweight division.
Marco Fabian, Mexico (Soccer)
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The Mexican midfielder led his country's under-23 team to recent victories at the CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament and Toulon Tournament. He scored 13 goals in 12 total games, and most notably netted a hat trick vs. Trinidad and Tobago.
He has enough quickness to create his own scoring chances, as well as the passing ability to set up opportunities for others.
SI.com's Grant Wahl includes Marco Fabian on his list young footballers to keep an eye on.
Race Imboden, USA (Fencing)
The Brooklyn native is a rising star in the fencing world.
He took gold at the Pan American Championships in 2011 and the North American Cup this past January.
However, the highlight of Race Imboden's fencing career occurred at the most recent senior world championships.
Imboden opposed veteran Peter Joppich in the table of 16. Though among the eldest participants, Joppich was intimidating because of his refined technique and Olympic experience.
Nonetheless, Imboden came out on top in a 15-14 thriller. It was a truly miraculous upset.
Qui Bo, China (Diving)
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Diving from a 10-meter platform is a frightening activity for most people—athletes included—but Qiu Bo has nearly perfected it.
The 2011 FINA Male Diver of the Year was the key to Chinese dominance at the most recent World Aquatics Championships.
Qui won his individual event by a slight margin, and enjoyed a more convincing victory in the synchronized contest when paired with Huo Liang.
He's the odds-on favorite to stand atop the London podium.
Gabby Douglas, USA (Gymnastics)
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Gabby Douglas' "Flying Squirrel" nickname perfectly suits her performances on the vault and uneven bars.
She surprised fans and analysts at the U.S. Trials and won the all-around, which was widely expected to go Jordyn Wieber's way.
Douglas is a six-time gold medalist in senior level competition. She was also a difference-maker for her country at the 2011 world championships.
Yohan Blake, Jamaica (Track & Field)
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But assuming that he runs at a realistic pace, Bolt's top threat will be fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake.
Blake beat the international icon fair and square at the Jamaican trials in two short-distance races.
Serena Williams, USA (Tennis)
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Don't worry about Serena Williams.
She withdrew from a World Team Tennis match this past weekend to rest her back, but her performance at the Olympics will not be affected.
Since a disappointing first-round exit at the French Open in late May, Williams vanquished three top-10 players en route to winning at Wimbledon, and claimed another tour victory—Bank of the West Classic—the following week.
Overall, the 30-year-old is 38-3 in WTA events in 2012 (four titles).
Neymar, Brazil (Soccer)
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Any athlete whom SportsPro Media considers the world's most marketable must be excelling on the field.
Brazilian forward Neymar is the reigning South American Footballer of the Year, an award he won by a record margin.
His elite offensive skills led to 40 goals in 62 appearances during the 2011-12 season. Neymar was similarly effective against Great Britain during a July 20 exhibition, scoring once and orchestrating a teammate's shining moment.
So as of last week, he remains hot.
LeBron James, USA (Basketball)
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LeBron James has been scorching for many months.
The 2011-12 NBA MVP silenced his naysayers this spring by leading the Miami Heat to a championship. During the playoffs, he averaged 30.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.6 APG and 1.9 SPG. King James was finally coronated in June after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
He looked sharp through USA Basketball exhibitions, too. The squad went undefeated as James shot 59 percent from the floor and played suffocating defense, even though team injuries forced him to play out of position.
Anything less than a gold medal will be inexcusable.