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U.S. Olympic Trials

These hopefuls could soon become stars

June 13, 2008|Diane Pucin, Helene Elliott, Lisa Dillman

U.S. Olympic Trials for three major sports will be held over the next few weeks. Some of the athletes are already stars, their names well known: gymnasts Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin and Paul Hamm, track stars Allyson Felix and Jeremy Wariner and swimmers Amanda Beard, Katie Hoff and Michael Phelps. There are other athletes, however, who aren't yet so well known but that could soon change, given recent performances.

Gymnastics

Kevin Tan, 26: He may do only a couple of events well but on his specialties, Tan is outstanding. One of the best still ring competitors in the world, he cemented that reputation with a win at nationals. He also contributes on parallel bars and pommel horse. A native of Fremont, Calif., Tan was an All-American at Penn State.

Shayla Worley, 17: She became "Shayla Who?" when she missed nationals because of a back injury and when Chellsie Memmel rocked two uneven bar routines, one of which carried a world-class 7.0 start value. Worley earned a spot on last year's team because of her bar work and absence in an Olympic year does not make team coordinator Martha Karolyi's heart grow fonder.

Samantha Peszek, 16: She made only one major mistake in eight routines at nationals (her final floor exercise was a bit shaky) and her fourth-place overall finish and her top-10 results on every apparatus are the kind of consistency that impresses coaches.

-- Diane Pucin

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Track and field

Jenn Stuczynski, 26. She didn't take up pole vaulting until college but is a quick learner. Stuczynski set an American record of 16 feet, 3/4 inch at Carson in May, improving on her silver-medal performance at the world indoor championships. She has also recorded four of the world's top five jumps this season. She lives in Churchville, N.Y., shunning warm-weather training sites to stay close to family.

Tyson Gay, 25: He won the 100-200 sprint double at last year's World Championships and also took home gold from the 400-meter relay. His time of 19.62 seconds in the 200 at last year's U.S. championships was the second-fastest ever, and he has a world-leading time of 20.00 this season. His top 100 time this season is 9.85. He trains in Fayetteville, Ark., with coach Lance Brauman.

Shalane Flanagan, 26: She made her debut at 10,000 meters a memorable one last month by setting an American record of 30 minutes 34.49 seconds. Flanagan won the U.S. title at 5,000 meters last season and made the Athens Olympic team in the 5,000, finishing 11th in the semifinals. She's entered in both events at the trials. The women's 10,000 is the first finals, on June 27.

-- Helene Elliott

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Swimming

Ben Wildman-Tobriner, 23: How can last year's world champion in the 50-meter freestyle be considered a dark horse? It's simple, really. Wildman-Tobriner, a Stanford grad, had shoulder surgery in December, and, secondly, competes in perhaps the most-competitive event at trials, a field littered with stars. There's two-time defending Olympic champion Gary Hall Jr., veteran Jason Lezak and rising stars Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and teenager Nathan Adrian. A true shame someone has to stay home.

Jessica Hardy, 21: The 100 breaststroke might well be the women's version of the men's 50 free, in terms of depth. But Hardy, of Long Beach, the one-time world-record holder in this event, seems due after having finished fifth at the 2004 Olympic trials. She has the third-fastest time in the world this year, going 1:06.39, in May, at Irvine.

Julia Smit, 20: One race turned the Stanford swimmer into a genuine contender to make the Olympic team in an individual race, and an even better prospect for a relay. Last weekend, at the Janet Evans Invitational at USC, she mounted a serious charge in the 200 freestyle to chase down Natalie Coughlin, winning in 1:57.34. Only one American woman has recorded a better time this year: Katie Hoff.

-- Lisa Dillman

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