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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Olympic spotlight: Trials season heats up

By Jim Caple

The Olympics are still six months and three weeks away, so there's still a little time to order a copy of Michael Phelps' "London on 10,000 Calories a Day" guidebook. The U.S. Olympic trials season, however, is just about to heat up.

Mark the following events and dates on your 2012 Mayan calendar if you want a head start on crushing all opponents in your Olympics Fantasy League.

(Disclaimer: This isn't all of the trials since some sports don't have them, but this list is a lot to put on your plate without also explaining the selection process for the modern pentathlon team.)

Shalane Flanagan
Shalane Flanagan will be one of the favorites heading into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

Jan. 14: Marathon

Begin the long, grueling season of Olympic athlete trials and qualifications with -- what else? -- the marathon in Houston. The U.S. women may have their deepest field ever, including Desiree Davila, Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan and 38-year-old Deena Kastor. On the men's side, Ryan Hall is the favorite, but don't rule out 36-year-old 2004 silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, who set a personal record in the recent ING New York City Marathon. By the way, top marathoners average just under five-minute miles. For 26.2 miles. You'd be lucky to average that in Houston at rush hour in a car.

Jan. 19-29: Women's soccer qualifying tournament

Sadly, Hope Solo's "Dancing with the Stars" season finished shy of the coveted mirror ball. If she wants a shot at adding another Olympic gold medal to her collection, she and the rest of the U.S. women must first secure a spot. A field of eight countries from the Americas will compete in Vancouver, British Columbia, for two slots in London. The United States is in Group B with Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, but another interesting story should be Group A in which Haiti will face Canada, Cuba and Costa Rica. Let's just hope Vancouverites don't burn down the city if Canada doesn't qualify.

Feb. 13-19: Women's boxing

Qualifying for the Olympics is a two-step process for the U.S. women. Boxers must win the trials in Spokane, Wash., in February. Then those boxers must finish among the top eight in the three weight classes at the world championships in China in May. This will be the first time women's boxing will be on the Olympic calendar.

USA
The U.S. women's soccer team will compete in Vancouver for a spot in the Olympics.

March 22-April 2: Men's soccer qualifying tournament

Because of the age restrictions, men's Olympic soccer isn't viewed as big a deal as it is for the women. But can Freddy Adu and his teammates grab the spotlight away from the women with a medal? Well, the Americans will first have to get there. The qualifying rounds will be played in Nashville, Tenn., and Carson City, Calif., before the semifinals and final March 31 and April 2 in Kansas City, Kan. Don't drip your scarves in the barbecue.

April 21-22: Wrestling

In addition to the usual hopefuls, there are two possible wrestlers who could make this event very interesting. Both 2000 gold medalist/"Biggest Loser" competitor Rulon Gardner and 1996 gold medalist/pro wrestler Kurt Angle have said they will attempt to make the team. A slimmed-down Gardner is working at the Olympic training center, while Angle is training on his own. No chairs, please, Kurt.

Late spring, basketball roster selections

The Olympic spots are set, it's just a matter of hearing the final rosters. The men are coming off gold in 2008, while the women are 33-0 in the Olympics dating back to 1992. BTW: If men's coach Mike Krzyzewski needs a vowel, he can buy it from women's coach Geno Auriemma.

Tyson Gay
Will Tyson Gay be healthy in time for the track trials?

June 17-24: Diving

With barely a month to go before the Olympics, this is when the qualifying period gets very hectic. First up, the diving trials in Federal Way, Wash. Troy Dumais will try to qualify for his fourth Olympics, while the women look to find an heir to Laura Wilkinson. To really appreciate what these people do, you need to go to the top of the high platform. I did when the 2000 trials were in Federal Way ... and I'm still dealing with the vertigo. Even the World's Most Interesting Man wouldn't try a dive from there for a free case of Dos Equis.

June 22-July 2: Track and field

Next comes the track and field trials in Eugene, Ore., aka Track Town U.S.A., where our top sprinters will race for the honor of going to London and losing to Usain Bolt. Calm down, that's just a joke. The U.S. will bring home many medals from the eventual qualifiers. Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter will look to build off their performance at the 2011 world championships, while the men need to work on their exchange rate. Let's just hope Justin Gatlin avoids getting frostbite from wearing wet socks in a cryogenic chamber this year.

June 25-July 2: Swimming

The 2008 track and field trials slogan in Eugene was "Home to the Toughest Team to Make." That's because only three athletes qualify for the Olympics in each event there. Well, at the swimming trials, pretty much only the top two finishers in each event qualify (along with the top six in the 100 and 200 free), so in some ways, this is even tougher. Especially since swimmers must compete against Phelps, plus friend/rival Ryan Lochte. Oh, and if you thought Dara Torres was an amazing story swimming in her fifth Olympics at 41 years old in Beijing, be prepared: She has qualified for a chance to try for her sixth Olympics at 45, which would just about tie the record for most Olympics currently held by Bud Greenspan.

June 28-July 1: Gymnastics

And then we have the gymnastics trials in San Jose Calif. Jordyn Wieber is the new star on the women's side, while Danell Leyva and his exuberant coach and stepfather, Yin Alvarez, are the ones to watch on the men's side. If they can count Yin's wild celebrations into his overall score, Leyva is golden.