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Olympic stars still on our radar

7/28/2011

The main problem with the Olympics is that its offseason is way, way, way too long.

I mean, imagine if the baseball season, including the World Series, lasted just 17 days and was followed by a three-year, 11-month, one-week, six-day hot stove league. Even the most devoted (i.e., pathetic) fantasy leaguers might lose track of where Johnny Damon is playing, let alone whether he's worth drafting.

So now that we're one year from the 2012 London Games, it's time for an update on some of the stars from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Michael Phelps (swimming)

His 2008 Olympic performance electrified the U.S. and brought it to a standstill (sort of like an electric car stuck in rush-hour traffic) when he raced for his record-tying seventh and record-breaking eighth gold medals. Since then, he had a little run-in with a certain non-performance-enhancing drug that led to such an overblown scandal that Nancy Grace's outraged screams probably could be heard only by dogs. He won two individual gold medals and three relay golds at the 2009 world championship. He repeated the feat at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships but also got beaten in a preliminary heat of the 400-meter individual medley by Ryan Lochte and didn't qualify for the finals. Phelps went on to lose the 200 butterfly at two other meets, ending a nine-year winning streak.

He has upped his training and will swim in London but has said he won't compete in as many events as in 2008. With 14 gold medals and 16 total, he's still a good bet to pass gymnast Larissa Semyonovna Latynina (18 medals) for the distinction of most decorated Olympian ever.

Usain Bolt (track and field)

Bolt took home three gold medals in Beijing -- the most in track and field since Carl Lewis won four at the 1984 Los Angeles Games -- but he took home something even more amazing from the 2009 world championship in Berlin. After lowering his own world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints (to 9.58 and 19.19 seconds, respectively), Bolt received a 3-ton section of the Berlin Wall. That's too large for even the flamboyant Bolt to drape around his neck. He has had some injuries in the past year, in which his best time in the 100 has been 9.91, and lost to Tyson Gay. In other words, Bolt might have to sprint for the entire distance to win in London, but he still should bring home souvenirs somewhat more impressive than a faded Will and Kate wedding T-shirt.

Shawn Johnson (gymnastics)

Johnson was the gold medalist in the balance beam and silver medalist in the all-around in Beijing. She followed that up by saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention, then participated in an even grander display of American patriotism by leading the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley Field. After recovering from a torn ACL she suffered in a skiing accident, she's back in the gym and aiming to be one of the relatively rare gymnasts to return to a second Olympics and the even rarer "Dancing With the Stars" champion to do so.

Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball)

It was easier in the days before reality TV. Back then, Olympians just had to avoid paper cuts while opening Wheaties boxes with their pictures on them. May-Treanor, on the other hand, tore her Achilles on "Dancing With the Stars." Nonetheless, she and Walsh are competing and hoping to extend their dominance to another Olympics after winning back-to-back Olympic golds in 2004 and 2008. We can only hope that this time the Visa commercial will show them playing in some really unpleasant weather conditions -- such as the bitter cold and icy rain of London in July.

Hope Solo and the U.S. women's soccer team

Hmm. You might have heard about what they've been up to lately.

The U.S. men's basketball team

So what does the NBA lockout mean for the U.S. team? Not much. The team qualified for the Olympics by winning last year's world championship, and Mike Krzyzewski will coach the team again. But it could hurt several other teams because of player insurance issues, as ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan explains here. Or perhaps LeBron James will just get all his friends together on one world team based in Miami.

Allyson Felix (track and field)

Felix took the silver medal in the 200 at what was an underwhelming Beijing Olympics for American sprinters. She came back to win gold at the 2009 world championship in Berlin, though, and is determined to win in London, where she will be the favorite in the 200. She will attempt the 200/400 double at the world championship next month. Will she do the same in London? And if so, will she have to declare her medals on her customs form when she returns to America because the price of gold is so high?

Tyson Gay (track and field)

Gay injured his hamstring in the 200 at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials and didn't qualify for the 100 final in Beijing. He also botched the baton pass when the 4x100 relay team failed to qualify for the final. He finished second to Bolt in the 100 at the 2009 world championship despite running a U.S.-record 9.71. He finally beat Bolt last year, although he did not receive a chunk of the Berlin Wall for doing so. He and Bolt will make for a much-anticipated matchup in London, and let's hope it goes better than Dan vs. Dave.

Dara Torres (swimming)

Depending on your view, Torres raised either goose bumps or eyebrows by returning to the 2008 Olympics and winning three silver medals to give her 12 for her career. She has undergone surgery on both shoulders and a knee since then, yet she still is training for the U.S. trials next summer in an attempt to make the Olympics again. If she does so at age 45, she would be the oldest swimmer in Olympics history, with a 28-year span between first and last Olympic appearances. If, that is, she retires after 2012.

Stephen Strasburg and Jennie Finch (baseball and softball)

Strasburg and Finch pitched for the U.S. teams in Beijing, but do not pick them for your fantasy teams. Baseball and softball have been dropped as Olympic sports. Apparently, being the national pastime of at least three countries (United States, Cuba and Japan) with all-star players from three continents (North America, Asia and South America) and big leaguers from five continents and more than a dozen countries wasn't enough to keep baseball in the Olympics along with such colossal global sports as trampoline.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His website is at jimcaple.net.