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Six team members—softball players Vicky Galindo, Lauren Lappin, Jessica Mendoza and Stacey Nuveman, 15-year-old swimmer Elizabeth Beisel and race walker Philip Dunn—were among the 130 international athletes who in June signed a letter to President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders asking them to try to ensure that during the Games an Olympic truce is observed in Sudan, home to the violence-torn Darfur region. The letter was given to Bush by former Olympic speedskating champion Joey Cheek, the head of an international athletes' organization called Team Darfur.
Through appearances and promotion of a website (crohnsandme.com), sprint kayaker Carrie Johnson works to raise awareness of Crohn's Disease, a chronic and often debilitating inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract from which she and softball infielder Tairia Flowers (and an estimated 500,000 other Americans) suffer.
Ben Askren, wrestling. The former University of Missouri star is known for the long blond curls that he braids or styles into a mullet for matches. "I actually don't really like my hair that much, but I'm a man of realism, and I realize people like gimmicks," he says. "[In Beijing] my hair's going to be my gimmick. Hopefully, I'll get a sponsorship or two, maybe get some money out of having stupid, curly hair."
WHAT A DIFFERENCE
Anna Willard will compete in Beijing as the American-record holder in a new Olympic track event, the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase. Four years ago, during the Games in Athens, she was waiting tables at the Fish Monger in Woods Hole, Mass.
In June, SHEILA TAORMINA blogged about her desire to torpedo the idea that "a person is too old at age 39 to learn new sports and ... that it takes 10 years or more to learn a sport." Mission accomplished. In the last four years the 1996 swimming relay gold medalist and 2000 and '04 triathlete picked up shooting, fencing and riding; she'll be the first U.S. woman to compete in three Olympics in three different sports.