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The opening ceremony for the London Games takes place one year from today in Olympic Stadium. Here at espnW, we can't wait to start our couch camp-out, during which we'll watch the world's best athletes competing in 302 medal events across 29 sports. In honor of the one-year-out mark, here are 10 female athletes to keep an eye on in advance of next year's Games. Whether they compete in the pool, on the beach, on the roads or in the gym, you can expect to see them on the medal stand.
Athletes: Paula Radcliffe | Carmelita Jeter | Allyson Felix | Rebecca Soni | Federica Pellegrini | Chen Ruolin | Paula Findlay | Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh | Rebecca Bross | Aliya Mustafina
|Paula Radcliffe, after winning the 2009 New York City Half-Marathon.|
Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain, Marathon
Paula Radcliffe's career has been defined by remarkable, record-setting runs -- and by Olympic disappointment. The 5-foot-8 Englishwoman has run the three fastest marathons in history, including an otherworldly 2 hours, 15 minutes, 25 seconds in the London Marathon in 2003. No other woman has come within three minutes of that effort, during which Radcliffe averaged an astounding 5:10-per-mile pace over the 26.2-mile distance.
But though she is one of the greatest distance runners in history, she has no Olympic medals to show for it. At the 2000 Sydney Games, Radcliffe led for 24 laps of the 25-lap 10,000-meter final before being outkicked in the final 400 meters and finishing fourth. She entered the 2004 Athens Games as the world record holder and favorite in the marathon, but dropped out 22 miles into the race; devastated, she sat down on the sidewalk and sobbed, head in hands. Injuries hampered Radcliffe's preparation for the 2008 Olympic marathon in Beijing, where she struggled to a 23rd-place finish in another major disappointment for the woman adoring English fans call "our Paula."
Now a mother of two (daughter Isla was born in 2007; son Raphael was born in 2010), Radcliffe will be 38 when she races in her home Olympics next summer. Though she admits that 2:15 is probably no longer obtainable for her, she can still keep pace with the best marathoners in the world. If she stays healthy in the run-up to London, Radcliffe could cap her storied career with the one credential her résumé currently lacks: an Olympic medal. -- Abigail Lorge
Carmelita Jeter, U.S., Track and Field
Six years ago, Carmelita Jeter was a former NCAA Division II sprint star struggling with debilitating hamstring issues. Today, she is the second-fastest woman in history at 100 meters. Jeter (pronounced "JEHT-er," not "JEET-er," as in Derek) ran wind-legal times of 10.67 and 10.64 seconds over an eight-day span in September 2009. The 10.67 moved her into third place on the all-time list, behind the late Florence Griffith Joyner and the since disgraced Marion Jones. The 10.64, recorded in Shanghai, moved Jeter ahead of Jones; Griffith Joyner is the only woman who has ever gone faster.
Jeter's times were, inevitably, met with skepticism, particularly considering they represented such a dramatic improvement at a relatively advanced age -- two months before her 30th birthday. But the Los Angeles native credits her astounding performances largely to the instruction of her coach, John Smith, whose tutelage she sought after she failed to make the 2008 Olympic team. A bronze medalist in the 100 meters at the 2007 and 2009 world championships, Jeter will seek her first world title in Daegu, South Korea, later this summer. And assuming she remains healthy, the reigning U.S. champion at 100 and 200 meters will be a gold-medal favorite at the shorter distance in London, where she will be making her Olympic debut at age 32. -- A.L.
Allyson Felix, U.S., Track and Field
Felix has won three world titles and two Olympic silvers at 200 meters -- and she's still only 25. The sprint prodigy claimed her first world championship in 2005 at age 19, and followed that with wins in 2007 and 2009 (she goes for her fourth straight world crown later this summer in South Korea). But the Los Angeles native is still seeking her first individual Olympic gold medal; she was upset by Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown in the 200 final at the Beijing Games, and had to settle for her second consecutive Olympic silver. That loss still haunts and motivates her.
A devout Christian and the daughter of a minister, Felix earned her degree in elementary education from the University of Southern California even while she was competing professionally. Felix, who is coached by track legend Bob Kersee, is contemplating adding the 400 to her Olympic program -- an ambitious undertaking, considering only two women in history have won the 200-400 double at the same Games. Felix's best chance at an individual gold is her specialty event, the 200. -- A.L.
Read ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford's profile of Felix
Rebecca Soni, U.S., Swimming
Soni, 24, may be the new queen of the breaststroke. The former University of Southern California swimmer is perhaps best known for upsetting Australian legend Leisel Jones to win the 200-meter gold at the Beijing Olympics. Since then, Soni has accumulated medal after medal, including two at the Rome world championships in 2009 (gold in the 100; silver in the non-Olympic 50) and four at the Dubai short-course world championships last year. Soni's also got a secret weapon in training mate Jessica Hardy, who is one of her toughest competitors in the 100 breaststroke. Soni set the world record in that event at the Rome worlds in 2009, and Hardy bested it 11 days later. The swimmers' rivalry, played out every day in the pool in practice, may well propel Soni to a sweep of the breaststroke events in London. -- Amy Van Deusen
Federica Pellegrini, Italy, Swimming
The only woman in history to break the four-minute barrier in the 400-meter freestyle, Federica Pellegrini will be just 23 when she competes in her third Olympics next year. Her 2008 Olympic gold medal in the 200 free, an event in which she is also the world-record holder, made her the first Italian woman to earn an Olympic gold medal in swimming.
A favorite of the Italian media, Pellegrini's personal life made a splash on the international swimming scene before the Beijing Games, when she began dating the former fiance of her French rival, Laure Manaudou. Love triangles aside, Pellegrini will be favored in both the 200 and 400 free in London. She won the 400 free by a wide margin at the world championships in Shanghai last week, and then won the 200 free there on Wednesday. She also won both events at the 2009 world championships. -- A.L.
Chen Ruolin, China, Diving
For the past two decades, China has been the dominant nation in both men's and women's diving. Chinese women have won 16 of the 20 Olympic gold medals awarded since the 1984 Games, including six straight in the 3-meter springboard (a run that dates to the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and five of the six golds awarded in the synchronized diving events, which were introduced to the Olympic program in Sydney in 2000.
Chen Ruolin, now 18, is already part of her country's stellar diving legacy: She won both the individual 10-meter platform and the synchro platform event (with teammate Wang Xin) at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Now half a foot taller than she was at those Games, Chen is still one of the foremost platform divers in the world, as she won both the individual and synchro platform events at the world championships in Shanghai last week. A native of Nantong, a city in eastern China on the border of the East China Sea, Chen is looking to become the first woman to successfully defend her Olympic platform title since Fu Mingxia won back-to-back golds in 1992 and 1996. -- A.L.
Paula Findlay, Canada, Triathlon
In just more than a year of racing professionally at the Olympic distance (0.93-mile swim, 40-mile bike, 6.2-mile run), the 22-year-old Findlay has collected more International Triathlon Union World Championship Series (WCS) victories than any other triathlete in the event's history, winning five of the six races she has entered since 2010.
The daughter of a former nationally ranked rower (mother) and a neurosurgeon (father), Findlay was a swimmer, runner and dancer before taking up triathlon. The Edmonton native handily won her first race at age 17, then quickly progressed in the junior rankings, eventually placing third in the under-23 world championships in 2009. In 2010, Findlay capitalized on her impressive speed (she typically completes the 10K in less than 34 minutes) to run away with unprecedented back-to-back WCS victories against the world's best athletes. This year has brought Findlay three more wins and the distinction of being the winningest woman in the three-year history of the series. Having taken a break from her studies at the University of Alberta to focus on making the 2012 Olympic squad, Findlay's first chance to qualify for the Games will be at the London WCS event on Aug. 7. -- Sarah Wassner Flynn
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, U.S., Beach Volleyball
Two of the most highly promoted athletes at the Athens and Beijing Games, where they won back-to-back golds, Southern California natives Walsh (pictured left) and May-Treanor (pictured right) are hoping for a third Olympic title in London. The 6-foot-3 Walsh, who turns 33 next month, has had an eventful couple of years off the beach since Beijing: In the span of less than a year, she and husband Casey Jennings, also a pro beach volleyball player, welcomed sons Joseph and Sundance. But Walsh isn't about to trade in her skimpy suit for mom jeans just yet. She announced earlier this year that she and May-Treanor, generally considered the best women's beach volleyball duo ever, would be pursuing a third gold.
The post-Beijing road has been eventful for May-Treanor, too. She ruptured her Achilles while practicing for "Dancing With the Stars" in the fall of 2008 and was forced to leave the show. She has since successfully rehabbed the injury, partnering with other players while Walsh was on maternity leave. May-Treanor, who turns 34 on Saturday, is married to Matt Treanor, currently a catcher for the Kansas City Royals. And her athletic pedigree runs deep: The daughter of a father who was an indoor volleyball Olympian and a mother who played professional tennis, she is the first cousin of retired tennis pro Taylor Dent.
May-Treanor and Walsh have been impressive, if not invincible, since their return to the beach. The pair won a couple of FIVB Tour events this summer, and finished second to the top Brazilian duo at the world championships in Rome in June. -- A.L.
Rebecca Bross, U.S., Gymnastics
Rebecca Bross has history in her favor: The past two Olympic all-around champions (Nastia Liukin in 2008 and Carly Patterson in 2004) have come from the same gymnastics club -- WOGA, in Plano, Texas -- where she trains. And like Liukin and Patterson, Bross is a tough competitor. She was the rock of the American squad at last year's world championships, leading the team to a silver medal, just behind Russia and ahead of Olympic champion China, and then winning a bronze in the all-around despite a leg injury that had left her competitive status questionable just days before the meet. That injury ended up requiring surgery after worlds, and Bross has been out since November recovering. Bross, 18, and Jordyn Wieber, 16, are two of the best all-arounders in the U.S., and are likely to anchor the team at this year's worlds and next year's Olympics. Bross has six world medals and a national championship under her belt, and her experience will come in very handy in London, where she's hoping for a major all-around title -- the one accolade that's eluded her so far. -- A.V.D.
Aliya Mustafina, Russia, Gymnastics
Aliya Mustafina's performance at her first world championships last year can only be described as awesome. Mustafina, 16, led Russia to its first world team gold, then earned the all-around title and a trio of silver medals on vault, bars and floor. That she is so strong on both bars and vault -- two events that require completely different athletic skills -- is evidence of her depth of talent. Mustafina is both strong and flexible, a powerful tumbler yet a graceful dancer. A knee injury suffered at this year's European championships will probably keep her off the roster for the 2011 worlds, but with a full recovery, she'll be a favorite to win in London. If she does claim the all-around title next summer, Mustafina would become the first Russian-born woman to do so since Yelena Shushunova at the 1988 Seoul Games. -- A.V.D.