A woman who can hoist 525 pounds. The Cold War reenacted on the balance beam. And America's next teen swimming sensation. Don't blink. The fastest, greatest superhumans come to the Games beginning in London on July 27.
The Beijing Olympics unquestionably belonged to Michael Phelps, but Ryan Lochte believes he can be King of the Pool in 2012. And while the 27-year-old Floridian lost to Phelps in three out of four events at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier this month, he is quietly confident. "Honestly, I feel like this is my time," he said after the trials. Fortunately for Lochte, he will only face his rival Phelps in two of four individual races.
With the Olympics taking place in London, the pressure on British athletes to win will be enormous. Among those expected to medal are cyclists Mark Cavendish and Sir Chris Hoy, and swimmer Rebecca Adlington. But perhaps no athlete faces higher expectations than Jessica Ennis, the 26-year-old former world champion in the heptathlon and pentathlon, who is looking for gold in the latter event.
The London Games provide this star U.S. hurdler with a chance at athletic redemption. Favored to win the 100m in 2008, she tripped on the penultimate hurdle in the finals and finished seventh. Jones overcame another major obstacle in the years since Beijing: she is recovering from a recent surgery to repair a tethered spinal cord. The 29-year-old made headlines earlier this year by confessing she is still a virgin.
A classic Cold War rivalry is expected to heat up in London, when the United States and Russia battle for dominance in gymnastics. On the American side, 16-year-olds Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber will square off against 17-year-olds Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina. Of the four, it's Mustafina who has the most to prove in London. The 2010 all-around world champion had knee surgery last year.
This 22-year-old Ohioan is headed to the games as a superheavyweight weightlifter on Team USA. Mangold, the younger sister of New York Jets center Nick Mangold, is a former high-school football player who dropped out of college to train for the Olympics. While the 350-pound star can lift an astonishing 525 pounds, she is not expected to medal. Then again, she wasn't expected to make the team until 2016.
Every four years the U.S. produces another teen swimming phenomenon. In 2012, the one to watch is Missy Franklin, a 17-year-old Coloradan with size 13 feet. Franklin was dazzling at the U.S. Olympic trials this summer, qualifying for four individual events (the 100m and 200m freestyle, and the 100m and 200m backstroke). She will also compete in three relays-the first U.S. woman to swim seven events at an Olympics.
An alternate on the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic diving teams, 25-year-old Brittany Viola was determined to make the 2012 squad. She succeeded, winning the Olympic trials on the 10m platform. Her father, pitching ace Frank Viola, is in awe of what Brittany can do on a 33-foot-high platform. "No lie," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I go up 10 feet to put Christmas lights on and I'm panicking."
The U.S. had every reason to dream of going 1-2-3 in the decathlon. Then, reigning Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay had a disastrous performance at the U.S. trials and failed to qualify for …