Here Are U.S. Olympians to Watch - TheStreet

Here Are U.S. Olympians to Watch

Don't get caught watching the Games without knowing who the key players are. Here's our guide.
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In less than one month, the 2008 Summer Olympics will officially get under way in Beijing, China. As is the case every four years, nations from every corner of the globe will send their top athletes in a quest for the gold.

The U.S. has long been a dominant force at the Summer Games, and this 29th installment looks to be no different. Here are a few notable names to keep an eye on who could be bringing home gold for America.

Michael Phelps

Phelps is one of the rare athletes that come along once in a blue moon, and as long as he is healthy enough to swim, he will dominate the men's swimming competition. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he won six gold medals, one shy of the record held by Mark Spitz.

This year, Phelps is an early favorite to once again win gold -- he's the world record-holder in several of his events.

All eyes in the swimming world will be on him anytime he enters the pool, and by participating in eight different events, he once again has a chance to break that record of Spitz's.

Kathryn Hoff

In Athens, then-15-year-old swimmer Hoff crumbled under the pressure of the world's watch and didn't even make it out of the preliminary round.

What a difference four years makes.

In the past few weeks, Hoff tore through the trials in Omaha, even taking the spotlight from Phelps for a bit. She won Olympic spots for eight events, setting a new American record in the 200 meter individual medley by narrowly beating the previous record-holder, fellow competitor and Olympian Natalie Coughlin.

Natalie Coughlin

Speaking of Coughlin, she joins Hoff as one of the premier American swimmers heading to Beijing. In the recent trials, she went head-to-head with Hoff -- and their performances helped create instant buzz around the female swimmers.

Coughlin may have lost her American record to Hoff, but she responded by setting a new world record later the same day, when she won the 100 meter backstroke.

Together with Hoff, the 25-year-old Coughlin looks to dominate the women's swimming events just as Phelps tries to do in the men's.

Men's Basketball Team

Four years ago, the men's squad of Team USA lost three games en route to a bronze medal, a performance considered an epic disappointment for a star-studded team that has been the most dominant in Olympics basketball history.

This year, the NBA's top players return under the watch of legendary Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and 10 more of America's best professional players will head to Beijing, looking to erase any memories of 2004 and reclaim the title of the world's most dominant basketball country.

Tyson Gay

One of the world's fastest sprinters, Gay was once a "sure thing" for Beijing, but now it is uncertain after a minor injury suffered in the 200 meter trials early this month.

Gay had already qualified for the 100 meter event with a wind-assisted world record time, but went sprawling to the ground about 40 meters into the heat for the 200m qualifier.

Because of track and field rules that strictly take only the top three finishers, Gay did not qualify for the 200. If he makes it to Beijing, he'll compete only in the 100m event, where he will go up against another contender for world's fastest man -- Jamaica's Usain Bolt.

As for the injury that could possibly sideline him, Gay's manager, Mark Wetmore, said "there is no apparent damage," giving hope that we'll see America's fastest man in China after all.

Women's Fencing

When it comes to Olympic teams to keep an eye on, fencing doesn't immediately leap to mind. Yet the American women's fencing team, comprised of Rebecca Ward, Sada Jacobsen, Mariel Zagunis and Dagmara Wozniak, may currently be the least-talked-about team that's favored to bring home gold. They're ranked first in the world, and last month at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, made quick work of France to win the championship.

While it may not garner the attention and acclaim of some of the larger sports this August, if the women's squad can live up to its ranking, it's sure to be making a much bigger name for itself.