Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 10/19/14

Less than seven weeks remain until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Now is a good time to start familiarizing yourself with some of the athletes who will compete in this year’s games.

As usual the United States’ Olympic delegation will include dozens of international superstars and household names:

  • Swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte
  • Reigning NBA and WNBA MVPs LeBron James and Tamika Catchings along with superstars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Diana Taurasi
  • A women’s soccer squad that made a name for itself at last year’s World Cup
  • World-champion sprinter Tyson Gay.

Later this summer we’ll find out if Nastia Liukin will return to defend her all-around gold medal in gymnastics and whether two-time defending gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings will qualify in beach volleyball.

But there are plenty of other great American Olympians that the casual fan doesn’t know. At least not yet. So here are several not-yet-famous athletes that you should keep an eye on this summer.

There’s a good chance that you’ll be seeing some of them on Subway commercials or Saturday Night Live this fall.

* – I should note that the track-and-field, swimming, and gymnastics trials all are scheduled for later this month. So it is possible, albeit not likely, that a few of the athletes on the list will not qualify for the games.

If there are other U.S. Olympians that you think we should be watching—and I’m sure there are many—please mention them in the comments.

Missy Franklin, Swimming

Missy Franklin just turned 17 and will be starting her senior year of high school in the fall. When she shows up on the first day of school at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado in a few months, there’s a good chance she’ll have some Olympic medals with her for show and tell.

Franklin holds the short-course world record in the 200 backstroke and the long-course American record in the same event. She was also part of an American 4 x 100 freestyle relay team that set a short-course world record.

(In case you’re wondering, short-course refers to a 25-meter pool; long-course refers to a 50-meter pool. The Olympics use a 50-meter—”Olympic-size”—pool.)

Franklin, as a 16-year-old, won gold in the 200 backstroke at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai. She picked up another two golds and a silver as a member of the American relay teams. (Franklin also won bronze in the 50 backstroke, but that isn’t an Olympic event.) A few days after the World Championships, Franklin won the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke at the U.S. National Championships in Palo Alto.

FINA (which is like FIFA but for water sports and not nearly as shady) named Franklin its 2011 Female Swimmer of the Year.

Missy Franklin, at 16, winning the 100 backstroke at last year's U.S. National Championships. (Photo by Chuck Burton, AP)

A couple years ago, Franklin told the Denver Post that her favorite athlete was fellow backstroker and 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. This summer in London, there’s a good chance that she and Coughlin will be teammates, and that she’ll take Coughlin’s spot on the backstroke leg of the 4 x 100 medley relay.

Franklin’s high school gave her a surprise send-off last month. Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos made an appearance at the pep rally, and by the end of the festivities Franklin was doing the worm and dancing with a priest (presumably one of the school administrators).

* * * * *

Jordan Burroughs, wrestling

24-year-old Jordan Burroughs will make his Olympic debut this summer, but he will arrive at his first games as a gold-medal favorite.

Burroughs won gold in the freestyle wrestling 74kg weight class at both the 2011 World Championships and the 2011 Pan Am Games.

Burroughs hails from New Jersey but, like many elite wrestlers, spent his college years in the Midwest. As a junior at the University of Nebraska he won the 2010 NCAA championship in the 157-pound weight class; the following year he was the national champion in the 165-pound class. Both years Burroughs put together undefeated seasons.

Confidence shouldn’t be a problem for the reigning world champion. Burroughs’s Twitter handle and website URL are both “AllISeeIsGold.”

Last year Jordan Burroughs followed up an NCAA title with gold medals at the World Championships and Pan Am Games. (Photo from prommanow.com)

* * * * *

Jordyn Wieber, gymnastics

It’s possible that no member of the American women’s gymnastics team that won silver in the team competition in Beijing (along with several individual medals) will be on the 2012 team in London. Shawn Johnson recently announced her retirement, and Nastia Liukin and Alicia Sacramone will have a tough time fending off younger competitors at the Olympic trials later this month.

But even if none of the household names from 2008 are representing the USA later this summer, American women’s gymnastics will still be in good shape, thanks in large part to Michigan’s Jordyn Wieber.

Wieber made her World Championships debut last year and won gold in the all-around and led the USA to a gold medal in the team competition. She followed that performance with all-around and team golds at this year’s Pacific Rim Championships.

Jordyn Wieber with her all-around gold medal from last year's World Championships. (Photo by Lintao Zhang, Getty Images)

Wieber has won gold at the American Cup three times: 2009 (when she was 13), 2011, and 2012. The only other woman to win three American Cup titles was 1984 Olympic all-around gold medalist Mary Lou Retton.

The young gymnast has made no secret of her crush on pop star Justin Bieber. (Watch out, Selena. Personally, the idea of a family with the last name Wieber-Bieber excites me way more than it should.) If Wieber continues to perform at such a high level, “Wieber Fever” could spread beyond her hometown of DeWitt, Michigan and become a global epidemic.

(You may want to forget that you read that last paragraph.)

Here’s Wieber at this year’s American Cup:

* * * * *

Jesse Williams, high jump

High jumper Jesse Williams competed four years ago in Beijing but finished a disappointing 19th in the qualifying round. Since then he’s improved by leaps and bounds. (I can’t pass up a high-jump pun.)

By the end of 2008 he had risen to sixth in the world rankings. In 2010 he won the high jump at both the USA Outdoor and USA Indoor Championships and finished the year as the world’s second-ranked high jumper. Last year he won gold at the World Championships in Daegu.

Jesse Williams doing his thing earlier this year at the U.S. Open Track and Field meet in New York (Photo by Jason Szenes for The New York Times)

Williams is a former NCAA champion, winning the high jump for the University of Southern California at the 2006 NCAA Division I Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Earlier this year USC’s Pac-12 rival Oregon invited the 6-foot-0 Williams to compete in a slam dunk contest against former Oregon and NFL wide receiver Jordan Kent. Williams won:

* * * * *That’s four. Click to continue reading about six more remarkable athletes who will be competing for the Stars and Stripes in London this summer.

You’ll learn about…

  • Someone named Jeter doing something most people do not at the same age
  • A 115-pounder who wears size 4.5 shoes who is NOT a gymnast
  • A man soliciting donations so his family can attend The Games with him
  • The older brother of an MSF writer’s childhood classmates
  • A 16- and 15-year old trying to break one nation’s remarkable dominance of their sport.
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