With Beijing in the rear-view mirror, here are athletes to watch for 2010, 2012
There's no question there were memorable moments from Beijing.
Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt. Nastia Liukin. Beach volleyball.
But those great Olympic moments were so, well, yesterday.
In 536 days, on Feb. 12, 2010, the Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver. Four years from now, the Olympic torch will be lit for the Summer Olympics in London.
The host countries usually make an extra push for the medal podium, and Canada and Great Britain are no exceptions to this rule. Canada ranked third overall with 24 medals in 2006 (seven gold, 10 silver, seven bronze), an improvement from 17 in 2002. Back in 1988, when Canada previously played host to the Winter Games in Calgary, the home country didn't bring home any gold (two silvers and three bronze).
Great Britain, meanwhile, captured 30 medals in Athens in 2004 (nine gold, nine silver, 12 bronze). In Beijing, however, the Union Jack was flying proud with 47 medals -- 19 gold. With two-time Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe in charge of the 2012 Games, you can count on the competitive fire to be burning in London.
Although predicting Olympic futures is hardly an exact science -- wasn't Tyson Gay supposed to be a headliner in Beijing? And wasn't Bode Miller predicted to be the king of Torino? -- we've tried to compile a list of athletes who should figure prominently in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the Summer Olympics in London.
We'll check back in 2010 and 2012 to see how these hopefuls pan out.
What about Team USA?
Five players from the 1992 team (Barkley, David Robinson, Pippen, Karl Malone and John Stockton) stayed with the U.S. national team for the 1996 Olympics, but only one player from the 1996 team, Gary Payton, was on the 2000 Sydney Olympics team.
James has hedged in conversations with ESPN.com regarding whether he wants to be part of the 2012 Olympics team, and Bryant will be 33 when the London Games open. Anthony, however, has already strongly stated his intention to return, as has Dwight Howard.
Team director Jerry Colangelo has been stocking the USA Basketball pipeline by selecting several up-and-coming American players for the U.S. Select Team that scrimmaged against the Senior Team in Las Vegas the past two summers, but the only one of them who should be considered a virtual lock to be wearing red, white and blue in 2012 is Kevin Durant.
"They forgot this was a six-year commitment," Colangelo joked from the interview podium as the 12 Team USA members sat to his right, each wearing a gold medal. "We're going to celebrate, and we're going to talk about the future going forward. But the good news is this: Unsolicited, five or six of these guys have already said they want to be a part of what we do going forward. But we have plenty of time to sort through it. They need some time off, they really do."
The next competition for Team USA will be the 2010 world championship in Turkey, a country James, Wade, Anthony and Boozer visited four years ago on their pre-Olympic tour prior to the Athens Games. If the Americans win it, they'll earn an automatic berth into the 2012 Games, and there will be no need for the main players to sacrifice another one of their summers to compete in the 2011 Tournament of the Americas. So the best chance America has of seeing a large chunk of the Redeem Team together again in London is to have many of them on board for the trip to Turkey two summers from now.
And their coach -- whether it's Krzyzewski, Gregg Popovich, Mike D'Antoni, P.J. Carlesimo or someone else -- can have the opportunity to shoot down the inevitable questions about "Dream Team 9" the same way Krzyzewski patiently shot them down here in Beijing.
-- Chris Sheridan
2010 Vancouver Games
Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley et al: You get the idea, eh? Canada didn't have much to brag about during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, but Canadians like their Olympics cold. And you can bet that in 2010, in puck-crazy Canada, hockey won't be just on Saturday night. The Canadians, which won gold in 2002 with Wayne Gretzky serving as the hockey team's executive director, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals four years later (also with the Great One as the boss), desperately want to be on their top game on home ice.
Lindsey Jacobellis: Known best for falling as she approached the end of the snowboard course in Torino, Jacobellis isn't about to celebrate too early in Vancouver. Should she win gold, she could be redeemed.
Julia Mancuso: An unexpected winner in the giant slalom in Torino, Mancuso hopes she can regain her top form in Vancouver. Following the 2005-06 season, she underwent hip surgery. That hasn't seemed to slow her down. In 2007, she ranked third in the overall World Cup skiing standings.
Lindsey Vonn: Some might remember this skier as Lindsey Kildow. Now married, she's Lindsey Vonn. By any name, she's a winner. Since her marriage in 2007, she won the overall alpine skiing World Cup title. Vonn hopes her new identity changes her Olympic luck. She made her Olympic debut in 2002; but then, in 2006, she crashed and was hospitalized overnight. Still, she managed to compete and finished eighth.
Apolo Anton Ohno: When he's not dancing with the stars, he's quite a short-track speedskater. Ohno, who has won five Olympic medals (two gold) in two trips to the Winter Olympics, could be back on the medal stand in 2010.
Shaun White: The Flying Tomato continues to soar. Winning an Olympic gold in Torino (in addition to sporting that long, flaming red hair) made White one of the most popular athletes of the 2006 Games. Expect more in Vancouver.
Mao Asada: Two years ago, many thought the best skater in the world wasn't at the Olympics. That skater was Japan's Mao Asada, who was too young to compete in Torino. Two years later, she became the world champion. One of the few women in the world who has landed a triple axel, Asada became the first to land two in a program. Now training with Tatiana Tarasova, the Russian who guided Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin to Olympic gold, Asada hopes she can stay on top.
Jeffrey Buttle: Canada has had a long history of churning out great male figure skaters -- Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko, among them -- but none was able to win an Olympic gold. The last time the Winter Games were held on Canadian soil, back in 1988 in Calgary, Orser narrowly lost to American Brian Boitano in the famed Battle of the Brians. Buttle is the reigning world champion, but if others can land quads, he could extend the Canadian curse.
Mirai Nagasu: The reigning American champion hasn't been old enough to compete at the world championships (nor have top American rivals Caroline Zhang and Rachael Flatt). But Nagasu & Co. will be age eligible by Vancouver, and if these youngsters can maintain their high level of athletic and artistic abilities, they could fare better than established veterans like Kimmie Meissner, who won the world title in 2006 and the U.S. crown in 2007, but had a disastrous showing in 2008. One problem: At most, the U.S. will be able to send three women skaters to Vancouver. At least one, possibly two, of these talented skaters will be watching on TV.
Natalie Darwitz: Captain of the U.S. women's ice hockey team, which won the 2008 world championships title, Darwitz was also a member of the U.S. squad that won Olympic silver in 2002 and bronze in 2006. Although it will be tough to defeat Canada's two-time Olympic gold medalists on their home ice, Darwitz tries to lead the Americans to their first gold since the sport made its Olympic debut in 1998.
Shani Davis: Competing in Canada shouldn't be too problematic for U.S. speed skater Shani Davis considering he's trained in Calgary since 2002. The gold and silver medalist at the 2006 Olympics, Davis could find himself a champion again in Vancouver. For his sake, however, he hopes that controversy won't find him there. In 2002, there was talk that Ohno threw a race to help Davis make the Olympic team. And in 2006, Davis was criticized roundly for not participating in the team pursuit, an event he hadn't planned on entering, but one many thought the United States could win with him in the lineup.
Cindy Klassen: Klassen always dreamed about competing in the Olympics, but she thought that dream would be in ice hockey. When she didn't make Canada's team in 1998, so she decided to switch to speedskating. It proved to be a wise choice. Four years later, in Salt Lake City, she won a bronze medal. In Torino, she became Canada's most decorated Olympian, winning five medals (one gold). Now, she could win even more.
2012 London Games
Michael Phelps: Michael, who? Haven't heard much about this guy lately. Phelps has pledged to be back for the Games in 2012 (and even attended some pre-Olympic festivities in London this past week). Although the 16-time Olympic medalist probably makes radical changes to his race lineup, competing in shorter distances and in strokes he hasn't tried much in the past, Phelps Phans from Beijing will be hanging on his every stroke in London.
Christine Ohuruogu (and Victoria Ohuruogu): Born in London to Nigerian parents, Christine and Victoria Ohuruogu have become successful sprinters for Great Britain. Christine captured the 400-meter title in Beijing, besting America's highly touted Sanya Richards in the final. Her kid sister, Victoria, is only 15, but could come of age by 2012. Although Christine now owns gold, a cloud of doubt might always prevail. She was suspended from competition for one year for failing to show up for three drug tests.
Usain Bolt: This Jamaican proved to be lightning bolt in Beijing. He won the coveted double (setting world records in both the 100- and 200-meter events) as well as the 4x100 relay. Only 22, Bolt can extend his Olympic haul in London. No sprinter has ever captured Olympic gold medals in both the 100 and 200 in two consecutive Olympics. Carl Lewis came close, winning the 100 in 1984 and 1988 (although he won gold after Ben Johnson tested positive for drug use) and winning the 200 in 1984. Lewis won the silver in the 200 in 1988.
Chris Hoy: A three-time gold track-cycling medalist in Beijing who also struck gold in Athens (and silver in Sydney), Hoy is now one gold medal away from tying British great Steve Redgrave. Redgrave captured five rowing golds in five trips to the Games. Hoy, of Scotland, is the first Briton in 100 years to win three gold medals in a single Olympics and is darn close to becoming knighted.
Tom Daley: A 14-year-old diver in Beijing, Daley will still be a teenager if he makes the British Olympic team in 2012. Although much was made of Daley's publicized arguments (excuse us, "rows") with his synchronized diving partner Blake Aldridge, he was quite solid on his own in the 10-meter platform, in which he placed seventh.
Ryan Lochte: Perhaps one of the few swimmers in the world who can give Phelps fits. Lochte won two gold medals in Beijing, one in the 200 backstroke and another in a relay, but also earned two bronze medals in the 200 individual medley and the 400 individual medley.
Louis Smith: The 19-year-old became the first Briton to reach the Olympic gymnastics podium in an individual event in 100 years when he captured the bronze medal on the pommel horse in Beijing. The last Briton to do so was Walter Tysall, who won a silver medal in the all-around competition in 1908, when the Games were held in London.
Eamon Sullivan: The world-record holder in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events, Sullivan was considered a favorite to win both races in Beijing. He wound up setting a world record in a heat for the 100, but was edged by France's Alain Bernard in the final. In the 50, Sullivan, of Australia, wound up in sixth.
David Beckham: OK, so he won't be competing in the 2012 Games for England, but the most popular L.A. Galaxy star likely plays a big role in the Summer Olympics. With soccer, err, football, being England's national game, anything to do with the sport is sure to make headlines. Beckham participated in the Closing Ceremony in Beijing. Perhaps Posh sings in the Opening Ceremony four years from now.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer based in Baltimore and frequent contributor to ESPN.com.