The United States track and field team earned 23 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The following athletes are America's top medal contenders entering the 2012 London Olympic Games.
1. Tyson Gay
Gay turned the 100-200 double at the 2007 World Championships and is the last man to beat Usain Bolt in a major race. Since then Gay has suffered a series of injuries, and he underwent hip surgery in 2011. Gay returned to the track just in time earn a spot in the 2012 U.S. 100-meter Olympic team. He’s still in pain and probably doesn’t have too many races left in his body, so look for him to do just enough to qualify for the London final before turning it loose in a bid for an Olympic medal.
One of the world’s best sprinters over the past few years, Jeter nearly pulled off the sprint double in the Daegu World Championships, winning the 100 meters and gaining a silver in the 200. Only Florence Griffith-Joyner has ever run the 100 faster than Jeter. She’s almost certain to win her first Olympic medal – or medals – in London. The only question is which color it or they will be.
3. Tianna Madison
Madison was the 1995 World champion – in the long jump. Now focused on sprinting, Madison dropped her personal best 100-meter time under 11 seconds this year, twice running 10.96 at the Olympic Trials. Madison should help make the Olympic 100-meter final a primarily American and Jamaican affair.
Equally famous for his Olympic and World Championship gold medals and his two doping suspensions, Gatlin has improved steadily since returning to competition in 2010. At age 30 he was the 60-meter gold medalist at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, then won the U.S. 100-meter Olympic Trials in a personal best 9.80 seconds. He’s no doubt hungry to prove he can win again on the world’s biggest stage.
Felix helped make headlines after her dead-heat third place finish in the 100 meters at the Olympic Trials, but in London her main focus will be on the 200. Felix owns three outdoor World Championship gold medals in the 200 but was the Olympic runner-up in both 2004 and 2008. She'll no doubt be particularly hungry to turn Olympic silver into gold in 2012.
The 2008 Olympic 400-meter champ returned from his suspension in 2011 to finish second in the World Championships. Merritt’s apparently accidental use of performance-enhancing drugs left him with less of a stigma than many others in similar situations, but Merritt undoubtedly wishes to show he can win while clean. Despite his loss to Kirani James in Daegu, Merritt enters the 2012 Olympics as the 400-meter favorite.
Richards-Ross led the 400-meter final in Beijing before fading to third, but she’s been the world’s top 400-meter runner – when healthy – since her 2008 disappointment. Richards-Ross won the 2009 outdoor World Championship and the 2012 World Indoor Championship gold medals. Injuries cost her a real chance at an individual medal in Daegu, but she’s fully healthy and the clear favorite to earn gold in London.
Simpson ran in the steeplechase final in Beijing but shifted to middle distance running afterward. She was the surprise World Championship gold medalist at 1500 meters in Daegu. Although she doesn't rank high on the 2012 world list in the 1500, her strength and closing speed still put her among the top Olympic competitors.
At age 37 Lagat has enjoyed a remarkable career that includes five World Championship gold medals. But he'd no doubt like to crown his career with his first Olympic gold. Lagat has silver and bronze medals in the 1500 from the 2004 and 2000 Olympics, respectively, but if he's going to earn another Olympic medal it'll have to come at 5000 meters.
10. Galen Rupp
The 26-year-old Rupp is already a veteran of one Olympic Games and three outdoor World Championships, finishing as high as seventh in the 10,000 meters, last year in Daegu. He goes to London hoping to become the first American man to earn a 10,000-meter Olympic medal since Billy Mills' upset victory in 1964.