By The Associated Press
While the United States has led the medal count at the last four Summer Games, China finished just 10 total medals (110-100) behind the American team at the 2008 Beijing Games. And China did take home 15 more gold medals (51-36).
While the United States leads the all-time medals list with 2,302 total medals, more than twice the 1,122 earned by the USSR, there has been talk the Americans won’t win the most medals at the 2012 London Games.
During a news conference in May, U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst addressed a comment by Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, who predicted not only would the United States not win the medals race, but would finish third behind China and Russia.
“We properly chastised him,” Probst said, “and hopefully we can prove him wrong.”
So who will lead the U.S. charge in London? A look at the U.S. athletes to watch in London:
Swimming: Eight gold medals in Beijing, six gold medals (and a couple of bronze ones) in Athens. He’ll be in seven events this time around, skipping the 200 freestyle for a more manageable schedule. It would not be a stretch to think Phelps, 27, can earn another seven medals — four individual events and three relays. But will all those medals at the 2012 London Games be gold?
Gymnastics: She led the U.S. team to the gold and took all-around honors at the 2011 World Championships. The two-time U.S. champion did lose to Gabby Douglas at the Olympic Trials, which only shows the strength of the U.S. team. Former U.S. coach Bela Karolyi, who knows a little something about the sport, said Wieber, 17, is pretty close to the level of Nadia Comaneci.
Men’s basketball: King James now has his NBA title. He has an Olympic gold medal from 2008, and knows what it is like to not bring home the gold (bronze in 2004). The international game is no longer a cakewalk for the United States, even with NBA players. And, one last time, there was only one Dream Team, so someone please inform Kobe.
Swimming: Lochte, 27, is competing in his third Olympics, though you tend to get overshadowed when Michael Phelps is your teammate. But Lochte won four individual titles at last year’s world championships, and let’s just say that might have motivated Phelps. Still, Lochte already has six Olympic medals, including three golds, and could double that medal total in London. The Lochte-Phelps duel in the individual medleys (200 and 400) will be worth watching.
Track: Felix was just 18 when she finished second to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown in the 200 at the 2004 Athens Games. Not too bad for someone who started running track as a high school freshman. In 2008, Campbell-Brown edged her again for the gold in the 200. But Felix, 26, looks primed to finally win the gold, posting the fourth-fastest 200 (21.69) in winning the Olympic Trials.
Swimming: Franklin has all the ingredients to make a — ahem — big splash at the London Games. Making her Olympic debut, the 17-year-old Franklin is poised to win multiple medals and garner lots of TV time. She won the 100 and 200 back, and was second in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the Olympic Trials. Oh, and she has the nickname — Missy The Missile.
Taekwondo: Lopez won gold when taekwondo made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Games, defended his title four years later, and then took bronze in Beijing. His sister, Diana (bronze), and brother, Mark (silver), also earned medals in Beijing; Diana has qualified for the London Games. Lopez, 33, has won five world titles.
Track: After serving a four-year suspension for doping, Gatlin is one of the more intriguing stories. In 2005, he won world titles in the 100 and 200, then set the world mark (9.76) before testing positive for testosterone. He already has struck Olympic gold in the 100, blowing past the field at the 2004 Athens Games. Does he still have what it takes?
Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh-Jennings
Beach volleyball: When the duo took their second gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, it was supposed to be their last. Walsh-Jennings had a couple of kids and May-Treanor went off to dancing as a star. But now they are back and, in their early 30s, will look to rely on experience to make another medal run.
Track: Jeter, 32, won the 100, anchored the winning U.S. 400-meters relay team and took silver in the 200 at the world championships in 2011. She won the 100 at the U.S. Olympic Trials and was second in the 200 but will be pressed by Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the defending Olympic champion who owns the world’s fastest time in the 100 this year.
Shooting: In double trap, Rhode won her first Olympic gold medal at age 17 at the 1996 Atlanta Games, took bronze four years later, then won gold again in 2004. After the double trap discipline was eliminated, Rhode turned to skeet and earned silver in 2008. She will shoot for medals in skeet and trap, and also shoot to become the first U.S. athlete to medal in five consecutive Olympics.
Fencing: Zagunis, 27, is the only woman to have won a gold medal in sabre, winning the title in the discipline’s Olympic debut in 2004, and again 2008, when she also helped the United States win bronze in team sabre. Her parents were Olympians who met at the 1976 Olympic Trials in rowing, and both competed at the Montreal Games.
Women’s basketball: Catchings is pursuing her third Olympic gold medal. She was the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011 and is a four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. The United States has won the gold medal six times and is 50-3 in eight Olympic appearances.