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2016 Olympics: Early Look Ahead to the Stars of Rio 2016

John RozumCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2012

2016 Olympics: Early Look Ahead to the Stars of Rio 2016

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    We just can't get enough of the Summer Olympics.

    For one, the 2012 London Games literally flew by faster than Usain Bolt. So, we now have to prepare for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

    And in honor of the best Olympic stars from London, let's take a look at who we can count on shining bright four years from now.

Missy Franklin: USA, Swimming

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    USA's Missy Franklin left her first Summer Olympics with five medals which was the second most to the six of Michael Phelps.

    Considering that she's only 17 years old, Franklin will be nearing prime form as a swimmer by 2016 and possesses the potential to make a swim at Phelps' medal count. Four of her five London medals were gold and a clean sweep in Brazil would only stir more recognition for the 2020 Olympics.

    When it's all said and done Franklin could surpass Phelps. And a strong performance in Rio will be needed.

Usain Bolt: Track, Jamaica

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    Usain Bolt is turning 26 years old shortly after the 2012 Games, so it's reasonable to suspect he won't put on a show in Rio like Beijing or London.

    Nevertheless, this is the world's fastest man.

    For as much natural and complete talent that Bolt possesses, the man has at least one more Summer Olympics left in him. He'll enter as the two-time defending champion in the 100 and 200-meters, so why not try for the hat trick?

    Bolt doesn't have anything more to prove and Rio is simply another opportunity for him to enhance the resume.

Sally Pearson: Australia, Track

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    Arguably the most popular athlete in Australia, Sally Pearson could certainly defend her 2012 Olympic gold in Rio.

    Winning the women's 100-meter hurdles with a time of 12.35 seconds, Pearson is one of the greatest hurdlers of all time. Entering London she had already won the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Indoor Championships, and living up to the pressure was most impressive.

    Putting her 2016 odds in perspective, Pearson will be age 29 once the Rio Games begin. USA's Gail Devers took a silver medal at the 2001 World Championships at age 35 with a time of 12.54.

    So Rio has great potential and although the 2020 Games are ways away, Pearson is certainly capable.

Arthur Zanetti: Brazil, Gymnastics

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    Arthur Zanetti will be a big face during the 2016 Rio Games.

    A native of Brazil, Zanetti will look to defend his gold medal in the men's rings. It's his signature event of gymnastics and he's only going to get better.

    Once the next Summer Olympics roll around Zanetti will be 26 years old and simply have that much more experience. And because of that, we can then also expect him to be a solid medal contender in the all-around competition.

Ye Shiwen: China, Swimming

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    Only 16 years old, China's Ye Shiwen won two gold medals in London and will challenge USA's Missy Franklin in Rio.

    A dominant force in the 200 and 400-meter individual medley races, Ye will only develop a more eclectic repertoire over the next four years. Regardless of which events she competes in during the 2016 Games, you can easily anticipate her to win multiple medals.

    A new rivalry in women's swimming may also brew, because taking home the most [gold] medals will be a dual with Ye and Franklin.

Katie Taylor: Ireland, Boxing

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    As one of the most famous athletes in Ireland, Katie Taylor took home gold in London as women's boxing made its Summer Olympics debut.

    Even more impressively, Taylor has four amateur world and five European gold medals to her credit. She's won gold at an astounding rate on the international and European landscape, but the Olympics is another level.

    Taylor is one of the most recognizable faces in women's boxing and a run for a second Olympic gold does quite a bit for her stature. More importantly, though, her presence alone does a lot for women's boxing.

Kirani James: Grenada, Track

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    Kirani James has been one of the most impressive Olympians despite only racing the 400-meter dash.

    For one, James brought Grenada its first ever Olympic medal and he did so by winning gold. Plus, James was clocked at 43.94 seconds and he's only 19 years old.

    Michael Johnson's world record still stands at 43.18, but James has ample time to make up that 0.76 second differential. Rio will be a great opportunity to do so and for everything this man has already accomplished, James is just beginning his journey.

Danell Leyva: USA, Gymnastics

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    Taking bronze in the men's all-round for the USA in London, Danell Leyva will be a definite challenger to gold in Rio.

    He's only 20 years old at the moment and the potential to crush in 2016 is there. He won gold at the 2011 World Championships on the parallel bars, so Leyva has a great strength point to start from.

    Lest we forget he was the top qualifier going into the finals in London. The Rio Games will just be a matter of finishing the job en route to all-around gold.

Katie Ledecky: USA, Swimming

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    Katie Ledecky almost set a world record at age 15.

    Taking gold in the women's 800-meter freestyle, Ledecky is among the next wave of American swimmers who look to dominate at the Olympics. Along with Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt, Ledecky can only get better for the next Summer Games.

    By then she'll be 19 years old and we can only expect her to expand the event repertoire.

Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida: Japan, Wrestling

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    Japan simply owns the wrestling world in women's freestyle.

    And two of their wrestlers—Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida—each pulled off a golden three-peat at the 2012 Summer Olympics and have a combined 16 World Championship gold medals.

    The dominant duo certainly has nothing more to prove on the mat, but a historic opportunity presents itself in Rio de Janeiro. And that opportunity is to do something no wrestler of any kind at any weight class has ever accomplished before: winning four straight Olympic gold medals.

    Currently both are tied with Russia's Aleksandr Karelin who won three straight greco-roman golds and was upset by Rulon Gardner of the U.S. in 2000.

    Sports, Olympic, wrestling and Japanese history are all at Icho's and Yoshida's doorstep. "Wow" is about the only thing you can say.

     

    Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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