Meet Team USA: Get to know the nearly 600 Olympians in Beijing
The U.S. has sent nearly 600 athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games. But who are they? America's new set of Olympians are from 47 of the 50 states -- as well as athletes who were born in 28 other countries -- and includes identical twins, teenagers, a cancer patient and the daughter of a Super Bowl champion. Who's from the smallest hometown? Which team is the brainest? Which college is represented by the most Olympians? Get to know a little more about Team USA.
When Dara Torres won her first Olympic gold medal -- in Los Angeles in 1984-26 of the 42 members of this year's swim team hadn't been born. No wonder 23-year-old Michael Phelps calls Torres his "sort-of mom." On a team full of prodigies Torres, 41, who came out of retirement after having a daughter two years ago and undergoing shoulder and knee surgeries in the last year, could be the story of the Games; in her fifth Olympics she'll likely add to her career haul of nine medals. Natalie Coughlin, who broke the 100-meter world backstroke record at the trials in Omaha, tied a record at the 2004 Games with five medals (two of them gold) -- a total that could be eclipsed by Katie Hoff, who will swim six events in Beijing. Another backstroke ace is Margaret Hoelzer, the reigning 200-meter world champ and world-record holder. Beyond Phelps, the men's team is deep and experienced. In Athens, Aaron Piersol won three gold medals, while Ryan Lochte took a relay gold and an individual silver. Then there are newcomers Garrett Weber-Gale, 22, a surprise winner of the 50- and 100-meter freestyles at the trials, and Cullen Jones, a Bronx native who set a U.S. 50-meter free record in Omaha. Jones is just the second African-American swimmer to qualify for an Olympic individual event.
TRACK AND FIELD
Pro wrestling fan Reese Hoffa used to wear a black mask to meets and call himself the Unknown Shot Putter. No more: By the end of the Games, Hoffa, who beat world champ Adam Nelson at the U.S. trials in Eugene, Ore., could be one of many household names on a team that should dominate. In Eugene, decathlete Bryan Clay, the 2005 world champ, had the world's highest score in four years. Allyson Felix sprints for gold in the 200 meters and the 100- and 400-meter relays. Four years after taking up the pole vault, Jenn Stuczynski the leading career hoops scorer at NAIA Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y. -- is already the U.S.-record holder and a gold contender. LaShawn Merritt upset reigning Olympic 400-meter champ Jeremy Wariner at the trials. And 110-meter hurdler Terrence Trammell, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and part-time real estate speculator, will try to close the deal at his third Games.
The women's all-around gold could come down to a battle between Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, gymnastics' dream duo. Johnson, 16, is the reigning world champ; Liukin, 18, the daughter of two former Soviet gymnastics champions, has held the U.S. uneven bars title since 2004. Bitter rivals? Not quite. "We've always had a close relationship," says Liukin. "We're teammates and friends first."
She's happy to help people in her sales job at The Home Depot, but on the water Michelle Guerette works alone. The 2005 world single sculls bronze medalist is aiming for the event's first U.S. Olympic title.
An Olympic gold isn't California dreamin' for goalie and Michigan grad Betsey Armstrong. She and attacker Heather Petri led the U.S. to the 2007 world title; Armstrong is the only national-team player from a non-Cali college.
U.S. Olympians in need of tour guides in Beijing should seek out the table tennis team: All four members -- Gao Jun, Crystal Huang, Wang Chen and David Zhuang -- were born in China. Gao, 39, who won an Olympic doubles silver for China in 1992, became a U.S. citizen in 1994. This year she led Team USA, which has never won a medal at the Games, to its highest finish (12th) at the world championships since 1989.
The U.S. has won all three golds since the sport joined the Games in 1996 -- and outfielder Laura Berg has been on each of those squads. She should go 4 for 4 this year; Team USA is stacked. In 2004 third baseman Crystl Bustos set Olympic records with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Ace Cat Osterman pitched the title-clinching games at the 2006 worlds and '06 and '07 World Cups. The rotation also has Jennie Finch and Monica Abbott , who went 6- for the U.S. team last year and didn't allow a run. The full squad: catcher Stacey Nuveman, outfielder Caitlin Lowe, Osterman, Abbott, third baseman Vicky Galindo, outfielder Jessica Mendoza, infielder Tairia Flowers; Bustos, infielder Andrea Duran, catcher Lauren Lappin, Berg, Finch, shortstop Natasha Watley, outfielder Kelly Kretschman, second baseman Lovieanne Jung. Because the IOC voted to drop softball from the Games after '08 (but will reconsider it next year), "we've got two things in mind: win gold and get softball in people's minds," Berg says. "There are 128 countries that play the sport. It is important the IOC sees that."
Ronda Rousey may have golden genes. Her mom, AnnMaria DeMars, is the only U.S. woman with a world judo title.
The U.S. sends two current world champs to Beijing: flyweight Rau'Shee Warren , 21, the only U.S. holdover from the 2004 Games; and welterweight Demetrius Andrade, 20.
She missed the 2004 Games with a torn ACL, but freestyler Marcie Van Dusen is back -- and is a 121-pound medal hope.
A junior star, Sarah Hammer quit cycling in 2002 and sold her gear on eBay. But watching the 2004 Games rekindled her interest -- and her skills came back as easily as, well, riding a bike: Hammer, 24, won world individual pursuit titles in '06 and '07.