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Meet Team USA

America's 531 Olympians include artists, doctors, soldiers, physicists, high school students and even a 52-year-old retiree

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By Julia Morrill

2004_olypreview_280.jpg
utter Adam Nelson and Javelin thrower Breaux Greer
Shot Putter Adam Nelson and Javelin thrower Breaux Greer
Michael O'Neill/SI

The winnowing took months, and it was merciless. At the swimming trials, Sydney medalists Brooke Bennett, Megan Quann and Ed Moses all finished third or worse and saw their Athens dreams vanish. In gymnastics, teenager Chellsie Memmel, world champion in the uneven bars, failed to survive a cutthroat selection camp. At the wrestling trials, former Olympic silver medalists Brandon Paulson and Dennis Hall grappled t hrough nearly 11 minutes of overtime in their Greco-Roman final before Hall scored the winning takedown and the two fell into an exhausted embrace. But when the culling was complete and the tears had dried, America had a new set of Olympians, 531 strong, drawn from 46 of the 50 states and, this being a land of immigrants, 20 countries. The U.S. team has 274 men, 257 women, 52 past gold medalists and 334 first-time Olympians, from 15-year-old swimmer Katie Hoff to 47-year-old tennis player Martina Navratilova (an immigrant, of course). It has Northerners and Southerners, favorites and long shots, millionaire pros and starving amateurs -- all soon to bond in ways only past Olympians fully understand. The U.S. Olympic Committee has set a goal of 100 medals for this team, but unless swimmer Michael Phelps wins seven or more golds, no number will begin to sum up the glories and disappointments -- the human stories -- of the class of 2004.

Most Decorated

Jenny Thompson, swimming, 10 medals (eight gold). The 31-year-old Columbia medical school student is competing in her fourth Games. She could finish with 13 career medals, which would put her in a four-way tie for third among Summer Olympians, behind Soviet gymnasts Larisa Latynina (18) and Nikolay Andrianov (15).

Gary Hall Jr., swimming, eight medals (four gold). Despite having battled diabetes since 1999, the 29-year-old Phoenix native and avid musician qualified for his third U.S. team. "The bad news is I'm getting old," he says. "The good news is, it proves I haven't been spending all my time playing guitar." Hall's dad was also a three-time Olympic swimmer.

Youngest

Katie Hoff, swimming, 15. The homeschooled ninth-grader from Abingdon, Md., is a club teammate of star Michael Phelps (page 90) and could win a medal in each individual medley. She gets some of her athleticism from her mother, Jeanne, a former Stanford basketball great. The team's youngest male is boxer Rau'Shee Warren, a 17-year-old southpaw from Cincinnati who will fight at 106 pounds.

Oldest

Elizabeth (Libby) Callahan, shooting, 52. The three-time Olympian is a retired Washington, D.C., police lieutenant who learned to shoot five years after joining the force in 1975. "If you stay active it will keep you young for many years," she says. "I've never related my accomplishments to my age." The oldest male is archer Butch Johnson, 48, a 1996 team gold medalist who's going to his fourth Games. His Woodstock, Conn., house has an archery range in the basement.

Shortest

Courtney McCool, gymnastics, 4'9". The 16-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., was the all-around champ at the Athens Olympic test event in March.

Tallest

Tim Duncan, basketball, 7 feet. The San Antonio Spurs forward was a competitive swimmer in the U.S. Virgin Islands and dreamed of following the path of his sister Tricia, who swam in the 1988 Olympics. But when Hurricane Hugo destroyed his local pool in '89, Duncan turned to hoops.

Strongest

Shane Hamman, weightlifting. The 32-year-old superheavyweight from Mustang, Okla., has hoisted as much as 517 pounds overhead. The 5'9" 350-pounder can dunk with two hands, do a standing backflip and perform a number of other jaw-dropping tricks. "One time I moved a Volkswagen Jetta over three parking spots," he says. "In three seconds I can rip a phone book in half."

Most Controversial

Marion Jones, track and field. The five-time Sydney medalist is embroiled in the BALCO drug case, and in July two newspapers reported that her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, had told investigators that she had used performance-enhancing drugs before and during the 2000 Olympics (an allegation she denies).

Tammy Crow, synchronized swimming. A judge agreed to postpone Crow's serving a 90-day sentence for two counts of vehicular manslaughter until after the Games. Crow was behind the wheel in a 2003 accident in California that killed her boyfriend and a 12-year-old passenger.

Brothers and Sisters

The eight sets of siblings include tennis players Serena and Venus Williams and swimmers Kalyn and Klete Keller and Dana and Tara Kirk (the first sisters to make the U. S. Olympic swim team). Identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan are the second brothers to represent the U.S. in Olympic tennis. The first: Joseph and Arthur Wear, great-great-uncles of President George W. Bush, in 1904.

Other Family Ties

Taylor Dent, tennis, is the cousin of beach volleyball Olympian Misty May and the son of former Australian tennis star Phil Dent.

Hazel Clark and Jearl Miles-Clark, track and field, are sisters-in-law and will run the 800 meters -- Miles-Clark for the fourth straight Games.

Rebecca Giddens, kayaking, is distantly related to suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Most Team Members

1. California (140)
2. Texas (29)
3. Florida (25)
4. New York (22)
T5. Colorado (21)
T5. Ohio (21)
(Based on athletes' hometowns)

No Members

Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia..

Most Superstitious

Lisa Fernandez, softball. Besides having lucky socks, shoes and glove, the star pitcher says she always follows the same pregame ritual: "I take a cup of water and drink three swigs. The first I spit out, the second I swallow, the third I spit out. Then I leave my cup in a specific hole in the fence by the dugout. Finally I have my catcher hand off my glove to me like a quarterback to a running back, and I burst onto the field."

Most Artistic

Cheryl Haworth, weightlifting. The 2000 superheavyweight bronze medalist is a junior at Savannah College of Art and Design. She spent eight weeks this spring working on a nine-foot-high pencil drawing of a figure wearing a gold leaf crown, sitting on a rock surrounded by serpents.

Cael Sanderson, wrestling. At Iowa State, Sanderson was undefeated on the mat (159-0 with four NCAA titles) and impressive in his work as an art and design major. He plans to pursue a career in advertising design.

Hero

Jason Read, rowing, is chief of operations for a volunteer rescue squad in Ringoes, N.J., and worked at Ground Zero after Sept. 11.

Miracle Man

Tony Azevedo, water polo. When the U.S. team's star was four and playing in his backyard in Long Beach, Calif., he fell and broke open his trachea. At the hospital he stopped breathing for two minutes and doctors said he would be on a respirator for life. He recovered in just eight months. "I showed them," says Azevedo, 22, who's renowned for his toughness in the pool. "My motto is, you can overcome anything."

Most Inventive

Steve Tucker, rowing. Tucker, a 35-year-old MIT-trained physicist, created a training aid he calls an "accelerometer" that he and partner Greg Ruckman, 30, a Harvard philosophy grad, wire into their lightweight doubles scull. The device measures speed, oar-lock angle, seat position and other data, which the duo study later on a laptop or Palm Pilot.

Uniquely Funded

Carol Cronin, sailing. After the 40-year-old Yngling-class (three-person keelboat) racer lost five pounds on the Atkins diet, she approached Atkins Nutritionals and received $244,000 over two years in sponsorship for her team.

Mohini Bhardwaj, gymnastics. She received $20,000 in training funds from Pamela Anderson, a former gymnast who wanted to help the Cincinnatian make her first Olympic team.

Craziest

Shawn Crawford and Reese Hoffa, track and field. Crawford, a sprinter, outran a giraffe but lost to a zebra on Fox's Man vs. Beast TV special in January 2003. Two years ago he wore a Phantom of the Opera mask during a 200-meter race in Milan; the mask slipped over his eyes, causing him to stray from his lane and be disqualified. Hoffa, a pro wrestling fanatic, calls himself the Unknown Shot-putter. He, too, competed in a mask (black, with a red X on it) at a meet in California last year, but with better luck: He threw a then PR of 68'7".

William Tell Award

Vic Wunderle, archery. The 28-year-old from Lincoln, Ill., once demonstrated his sport in front of a class of kids by piercing a balloon and then hitting progressively smaller targets, culminating with a Tic Tac.

No Stopping Them

Collyn Loper, shooting. The 17-year-old trapshooter from Birmingham was born blind in her right eye, so even though she's righthanded she shoots lefty.

Kevin Hall, sailing. In 1990, as a senior at Brown, he was found to have testicular cancer and had both testicles and many abdominal lymph nodes removed. Now cancer-free, he takes weekly testosterone injections, with approval from the U.S. and international governing bodies.

Rulon Gardner, wrestling. Since winning gold in Sydney, the Greco-Roman heavyweight from Afton, Wyo., has had a toe on his right foot amputated because of frostbite, survived a motorcycle crash and -- just weeks before this year's trials -- dislocated his right wrist playing basketball.

The Doctor Is In

Several Olympians are in medical schools or residencies. In addition, high jumper Amy Acuff (who made news by posing for the September issue of Playboy) is studying to become an acupuncturist and doctor of Oriental medicine.

Other Careers

Barb Lindquist, triathlon, will soon open a bed-and-breakfast in Alta, Wyo.

Lori Harrigan, softball, is a security supervisor for Las Vegas's Bellagio hotel-casino.

John Magera, archery, is the refuge manager of the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in Marion, Ill.

Jennifer Nichols, archery, is a dance instructor in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Kathy Colin, kayaking, designs, develops and tests hardware and software for military tactical data systems at a San Diego company.

Dan Kellner, fencing, was nominated for two Daytime Emmys for his graphic-design work on the titles for The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

Ellen Estes, water polo, studied roller-coaster design as an engineering intern for Disney.

Tela O'Donnell, wrestling, was a fisherman in her native Alaska.

Fastest

Marty Nothstein, cycling. The 2000 sprint gold medalist attended drag racing school in Maple Grove, Pa., in June and hit 158 mph on a quarter-mile dragster run.

CONTINUED

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