TO WIN IT IN LONDON, you have to be in it -- that is, survive the brutal U.S. Olympic trials in gymnastics, track and field and swimming and land a spot on the team. Here are six athletes who are poised to make a dramatic statement when their trials kick off in late June.
Nastia Liukin, 22
Liukin wants to be the first reigning individual all-around gold medalist to return to the Olympics since Nadia Comaneci in 1980. "I hope I can play a role
RUNNING FREE OF PAIN
Tyson Gay, 29
"I didn't know there was this much bad luck in the world," says the former 100-meter world champ, the only man since 2008 to beat Usain Bolt. Last July, Gay had arthroscopic surgery to fix a torn labrum in his right hip -- the most recent in a series of injuries that began in 2008 with a strained left hamstring. "It's not going to be easy," he says, "but that just makes the story sweeter."
Brendan Hansen, 30
Hansen once held the world records in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. But after not making the team in the 200 and finishing fourth in the 100 in Beijing, Hansen retired from competitive swimming. After prodding from his wife, he's back. Last year, Hansen swept the 100 and 200 breaststroke at both the summer and winter nationals. Says Hansen, "This time, there's no pressure."
HURTLING INTO VIEW
Gabrielle Douglas, 16
Two years ago, the Virginian moved all the way to Iowa to train with Liang Chow, coach of Shawn Johnson, winner of four Olympic medals in 2008. "Shawn's a mentor," says Douglas, whose skill on the uneven bars got her the nickname Flying Squirrel. Douglas, though, isn't just a specialist. As an alternate, she earned the highest score (61.299) in the all-around at the AT&T American Cup in March.
RUNNING FREE OF PEDs
In 2004, he won gold in the 100-meter and was the world's fastest man. In 2006, he tested positive for elevated testosterone and was hit with a four-year ban. Now he's fighting to come back. "I figured if I can get my weight and confidence back, I could compete with the best," he says. He's done all of the above, dropping to his Athens weight of 183, then running 9.87 to beat Jamaican Asafa Powell in May.
Eric Shanteau, 28
One week before the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials, Shanteau was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He delayed treatment and made the team in the 200-meter breaststroke but lost in the semifinals. Now he's cancer-free and is the American record holder in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. "It will mean a lot to make the Olympic team," he says. "But I'm not letting myself look past the trials."