Who to Watch on Team U.S.A.

People, Sports, Traditions
on July 24, 2012
Courtesy of London 2012

The US has some golden picks that every home will be rooting for. Both up-and-coming athletes and tried and true veterans are competing in the games, and it can be difficult to choose a favorite. We narrowed down our three favorite sports to watch, and from there picked who we'll be following and why. Let the games begin!

Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, and all things chlorinated is one of the events where the U.S. dominates. In fact, the U.S. fanaticism for swimming is one of the reasons there are so many summer and year-round swim leagues, with events for kids as young as 5.

Things to know:
Competitions are held in an Olympic pool, which is 50 meters by 25 yards. Swimming is intensely competitive, but there are several rules of good showmanship. If you see swimmers talking to each other behind the blocks, they’re most likely wishing each other good luck. Before they leave the pool, the swimmer must shake the hands of the swimmers in the left and right lane from them. If you don’t, it’s considered very rude, as it’s an honor to compete in a race with others.

Swimsuits offer different abilities to wick water away from the body, but there are also a few other physical changes that help swimmers. Shaving off all their body hair—including a totally shaved head—is not uncommon. Body hair adds “drag,” and extra weight that holds you back in the water. While it seems that it wouldn’t help, hair removal can shave off seconds—the difference between first and tenth in a meet this huge. Just ask Michael Phelps, who, in 2008, won his 16th medal by a tenth of a second.

People to watch: 

  • Michael Phelps, 27, is competing in his third Olympics. Out of his 16 medals, 14 are gold—the world record for one person. Known as The Baltimore Bullet, Phelps is competing in seven events this year. He also holds the record for most medals won in a single Olympic Games. There’s no doubt he’ll impress.
  • Ryan Lochte, 27, often gets overshadowed by Phelps’ prowess. But don’t let this name escape you: his times in the trials were all exceedingly close to Phelps’, and many analysts have said Lochte wasn’t doing his best. Don’t be surprised if he walks home with just as many gold medals as Phelps.
  • Allison Schmitt, 22, the Queen of Distance Freestyle, is making her second appearance on Team U.S.A. She makes the long yardage seem effortless, and had very promising times at trials. Her chances of being on the podium are incredibly high.
  • Missy Franklin is 17, but don’t let her age fool you. This young woman is a powerhouse in the pool: she holds the world record for 200-meter backstroke (shortcourse) and American records for 100- and 200-meter backstroke (long course). Missy’s sure to be a family favorite.

For those kids who couldn’t get enough of balancing precariously, or wanted to work in the circus, there’s the wonderful genre of gymnastics.

Things to know:
There are three different kinds of gymnastics: artistic (horizontal bar, pommel horse, balance beam, and other classics), rhythmic (also known as all-round, where multiple people participate and often include different props), and trampolining.

Gymnasts will often put their hands and feet in a bin of chalk: it helps them maintain grip and prevents blisters and tears to the skin.

Injuries seem to happen often in this sport. While you don’t want anyone to get hurt, don’t be terribly surprised if someone suffers an injury on camera. Just because you’re an Olympian doesn’t make you immune to injury!

People to watch:

  • Gabby Douglas, 16, is entering her first Olympics, but is expected to win big. Nicknamed the Flying Squirrel for how much height she gets on the uneven bars, the teen trains with 2008 champion Shawn Johnson. Keep an eye out for this bundle of energy.
  • Jordyn Wieber, 17, is entering her second Olympics and is the reigning all-round world champion. She has determination, experience, and strength, and since her hometown’s adopted the nickname Wieber Fever, there’s no doubt that she’s got tons of fans.
  • Danell Leyva, 20, was born in Cuba, but he immigrated early to the U.S. He’s the 2011 parallel bars reigning champion, and is more than excited to be at his first Olympics. The gymnast also has a pet tarantula named Rosie.
  • Jonathan Horton, 26, is a U.S. favorite who won a silver medal in Beijing in 2008. He is considered “old” by gymnastic standards, but he’s more than ready to give it another go this year.

Pop, pop, pop—try to keep track of the ball between rackets! Tennis is a world favorite, and since Wimbledon just finished, it’ll be interesting to see who’s improved since their last court time.

Things to know:
There are men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.

Tennis is often the time to see colorful, interesting new athletic wear in use.

Unlike most Olympic sports, it’s common for a tennis player to compete in more than three Olympic games as there isn’t a widely accepted “peak” age.

People to watch:

  • Andy Roddick: 29 still going strong, Roddick is the male U.S. force to be reckoned with. He collects titles left and right, and shows absolutely no signs of stopping. If you use Twitter and need someone funny to follow, he’s a great one that’s full of every day funny things and altheticism (@andyroddick)
  • The Williams Sisters: You can’t mention one without the other. Venus and Serena Williams are domination station when it comes to the court. They’ve had it for years, and if they have any say, they’ll keep owning it.