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 through 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.
? 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.
? 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.
?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.
? 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.
? 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.
?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."