July 25, 2012

OLYMPICS: Five Olympians to watch

YOU DO NOT know her yet. Soon, you will love her.

YOU DO NOT know her yet. Soon, you will love her.

Right now, he is just another athlete in just another sport, a stranger who competes in familiar colors. Soon, you will cheer his name.

The Olympics are like that. For three years, athletes you don’t know compete in sports you don’t care about somewhere on fields you never notice. Then the Olympics roll around, and the flags wave and the anthems sound and the lights turn on, and for 17 delicious days of discovery, you learn everything about them.

No, we are not talking about the celebrity Olympians. By now you are fully aware of Michael Phelps, who wants to win more gold medals and sell you more sandwiches. You know how you feel about LeBron James and Serena Williams and Roger Federer and Usain Bolt and Hope Solo and Kobe Bryant and the rest. Anymore, much of the Olympics is like an episode of The Love Boat: a lot of people come on board with their fame established.

Ah, but then there are the rest, the athletes who have been sweating for four years to try to make a lasting memory, the athletes who view the Olympics as the ultimate stage for their sport.

So who are you going to love? Let us fix you up.



Let’s face it. America loves gymnasts, whether they are Mary Lou Retton or Kerri Strug or Nadia Comaneci. This time, everyone is going to love the beaming smile and oversized personality of the 4-foot-11 Douglas.

Have you seen her yet? It doesn’t matter how you feel about gymnastics. Douglas will make you watch. She is all energy, twisting and bouncing like a sparkler stuck inside of a carbonated drink. The only thing between her and fame may be teammate Jordyn Wieber, who has some sparkle of her own.



Who doesn’t like athletes who win a lot of medals? Who doesn’t like athletes who have cool nicknames? From here, it seems like “Missy the Missile” is going to get to stardom before she gets to her senior year in high school.

She is 17, but already Franklin is poised out of the pool and explosive in it. Also, she is ambitious. She is down to swim seven events, the most any U.S. woman has attempted. In other words, those size 13 feet of hers are going to churn a lot of water.



Think Tim Tebow in spikes. Jones is open enough to talk about faith and doubt and, yes, her much-advertised virginity. If the hurdler clears enough of the hurdles in front of her, she could become viewed as one of those throwback athletes from a purer time.

First, though, she has to win. And if she doesn’t, the face of U.S. track might be taken over by Allyson Felix. After all, it’s hard to beat a nickname like “Chicken Legs.”



Some athletes are so remarkable that their nationality no longer matters. Pistorius, the “Blade Runner,” the Fastest Man on No Legs, is one of them.

Pistorius is the double-amputee runner from South Africa who runs on prosthetic blades. After years of fighting organizations that wanted to restrict Pistorius to the Paralympics, he has made it to the Olympics this time, in the 400 meters and 1,600 relay. It is an amazing sight to watch him run, and it figures to be as inspiring as any story in the Games.



When an athlete competes in 10 events, eventually you have to notice him. That’s the case with decathletes, and that’s the reason no one puts up much of an argument when the event’s champion comes with the designation of World’s Greatest Athlete.

After all, this was Dan O’Brien’s event, and Daley Thompson’s and Bruce Jenner’s and Bob Mathias’ and Jim Thorpe’s. After Eaton set the event’s world points record at the U.S. Olympic trials, it now seems to be Eaton’s.

There are others who will vie for your affection. Alex Morgan, the soccer player. Brittany Viola, the diver. Mary Killman, the synchronized swimmer. Because Americans love an upset, Tyson Gay could do himself a lot of good if he knocked off Usain Bolt in the 100.

Soon, it will be someone. Maybe a lot of someones. Odds are, you don’t know them yet. Odds are, you will love them soon.

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