Saturday, August 9, 2008

13 Athletes To Keep Your Eyes On In Beijing

Winning a gold or medaling for that matter, means different things to different athletes. For some it is vindication of their journey, others it is about joining Olympic history and still for some athletes winning an Olympic gold medal can mean financial security for the their lives.

Will the situation be too much for some athletes or will we see a glorious triumph that sends a nation rocking. Think Cathy Freeman mesmerizing performance. Or Michael Johnson's iconic moment in Atlanta.

We took the time to gather 12 athletes you should watch during the Olympics.

Allyson Felix, 200-meters, U.S., – What can’t this daughter of a Baptist preacher accomplish? She skipped collegiate track and field altogether instead she opted to turn pro while at the same time taking a full courses load to graduate from USC in four years. This past December she graduated with a degree in education.

She is almost as well known for her beaming style and telegenic looks as she is for long strides that have carried her to the top of the track world. Allyson is the heavy favor to win the 200-meters.

Asafa Powell, 100-meters, Jamaica – He is the sprinter formerly known as the World’s Fastest Man until countryman Usain Bolt broke his world record with a time of 9.72 seconds in the 100-meters in New York City.

He has not won a major championship up until this point and Beijing is his chance to quiet his critics, which is pretty much anyone with a computer and a mouse, on the subject. This from a man who admitted that he tightened up in finals of the World Championships last year.

Can Powell claim the title again after being the events leading men over the last several seasons?

Tyson Gay, 100-meters, U.S.– The U.S. best hope to win the 100-meters is this silent sprint giant. Gay is the fastest of them all. He ran 9.68 at the Olympic Trials final, but is not considered for a world record because wind reading (+4.1) exceeded the allowable limit. The lingering question of course is whether the reigning 100 and 200-meter World Champion is 100% when the gun goes off for the first round of the 100-meters in Beijing.

The crowd at the U.S Olympic Trials in Eugene watched in dismay, as he strained his hamstring and fell to track while trying to qualifying for the 200-meters. Gay’s dream of competing in the 200-meters was gone. He did not complain about the Olympic Trials process or linger on the fact he will not be able to run the 200-meters at the Olympics.

Usain Bolt, 100-meters Jamaica – His name is an easy set up for his nickname “Lightning” Bolt. Bolt lays claim to the fastest time in the world and is one of the sports most intriguing figures.

The 6 foot, 5 inch, charismatic Jamaican has been known as a “200 man” for all of his professional career. Bolt took up the 100-meters and then set the new World Record of 9.74 in just his second outing of the season. The question is whether he can beat seasoned vets in Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell when it really, really counts.

Jeremy Wariner, 400-meters, U.S.: The most dominant sprinter over the last four years is back to the Olympics with a goal to be the second person in history to win a two gold medals in the 400. The first person is his mentor and agent, Michael Johnson, whose world record of 43.18 he is also chasing.

This time around Wariner has a new coach, a new rival in LaShawn Merritt, and media circus following his every move to determine if he walks differently now that he is no longer with long time coach Clyde Hart. Wariner is focused, determined, and sensational when it count but now he will need deliver his best performance ever to win.

Pamela Jelimo, 800-meters, Kenya: Kenyan teenager Pamela Jelimo is poised complete her rise to the top of the game in Beijing. In high school Jelimo competed in the 400-meters and her experience in the 800 goes back a whole four months.

Every games has a phenom that takes the world by story. Jelimo has run the fastest time the event has seen in 11 years. In one of her European races she finished four seconds in front of the second place competitor. Will she solidify her status as the '08 kid wonder?

Bryan Clay, Decathlete, US: Bryan Clay is probably the world’s best male athlete that no one has heard of. He surpassed the U.S. Olympic Trials record in putting down 8,832 points in June. Clay could probably go to a restaurant today without being recognized as one of the best male athletes in the world.

David Oliver, 110-hurdles, U.S.: – Looking like you could be a hit man albeit a very nice one is not a requirement to be contender in the hurdles. The 6 foot, 3 inches Denver native arrived as a freshman at Howard University to play football. During his tenure at the historically black university he developed into an elite hurdler.

It would be easy to call his rise to U.S. Olympic Trials champion could easily be mislabeled as an overnight success. It has been old school hard work and elbow grease under the tutelage of coaching legend Brooks Johnson. Oh, it doesn’t hurt that he comes from good stock. One day in high school he came across a bunch of medals displaying his mother’s name. His mother Brenda Chambers ran hurdles at George Washington and Colorado and competed in Beijing in 1980 for the U.S. National Team and at the 1980 Olympic Trials. Twenty eight years later her son is slated to taking the blocks in Beijing. Can this all come circle for David and Brenda?

Lolo Jones, 100 hurdles, U.S.:– She may not appear on Forbes list of highest paid professional athletes, but she doesn’t have to worry about paying her bills anymore. After failing to qualify for the 2004 Olympic team Jones hit some rough financial times. Without a shoe contract Lolo had to take up jobs as an outdoor cashiers job at Home Depot in sweltering Louisiana and a waitress job at a Cajun restaurant.

Those realities are long behind her. Today Jones receives support from sponsors Asics and Oakley which have allowed Jones to focusing on hurdling. She would have broken Gail Devers American record had the wind reading been over the allowable limit in winning the Olympic Trials. She is the 2008 World Indoor Champion and hasn’t lost a race since gas was less than $3.00 a gallon.

Liu Xiang, 110 Hurdles, China: Xiang’s is such a valuable cultural asset to the People’s Republic that in ’07 his legs were insured for $13.7 million. Little did anyone know at the time that the 2004 Olympic gold champion would have been one of the most rarely seen athletes on the international track scene.

His health status is still a mystery. He did not race at the Prefontaine Classic and then was disqualified for a false start at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York City. Since then he has been away in training and has not been scene much in public. Coming into the season he was considered the hands down favorite to win goal but that was before Cuba’s Dayron Robles broke Xiang’s World Record in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

If the pressure was not enough, things have certainly been kicked up a notch especially considering Xiang is probably China’s best hope for gold.

Lopez Lomong, 1,500, U.S.: His journey has taken him thousands of miles, he has been to hell and back and has been the journey has littered with obstacles the entire way.

He had near death experiences in Sudan, he was imprisoned, and he lived in a refugee camp before even making it to the United States. Lomong fought through a gimp foot in Eugene to qualify for at the Olympic Trials and now he is living the American dream. There will be millions cheering for this young man to reach Olympic glory.

Sanya Richards, 400-meters, U.S.: The charismastic 23-year-old star has done everything in the sport except win Olympic. Sanya was the youngest person to run under 49 seconds and she has won every national and international championship until the 2007 brought an unforeseen medical challenge. Richards was diagnosed with Behcets syndrome a rare condition that attacks the immune system. Her tongue became so swollen

Bernard “Kip” Lagat, 1,500-meters, U.S.: The U.S. has not won a 5,000-meter medal in a generation and Lagat is the nation’s answer to the medal drought. The Kenyan born runner has won Olympic medals for his native country but will compete for the U.S in Beijing. known for his trademark kick, Lagat that has reeled in some of the world’s top middle distance runners. Lagat’s

Kip became the first man in the sport to win the 1,500 and 5,000 meters in gutsy, dominating performance in Osaka last year. He is doing the double in Beijing.

By Jay Hicks.

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