July 30, 2012 at 11:04 AM ET
By Shaun Dreisbach, Glamour magazine
For the first time ever, the U.S. is sending more women athletes to the Olympics than men. Meet seven of those rock stars here — and cheer them on in London.
Chaunté Lowe, 28: The high jumper who was back on the track two days after giving birth
Chaunté Lowe literally sets the bar higher. In 2010 the two-time Olympian broke the American record in the outdoor high jump, clearing a height of six feet, eight inches. It was no small feat; before Lowe, the record had stood for 22 years. She did it again this February, smashing a 14-year record in the indoor high jump. And here’s where you start wondering if she’s hiding a superhero cape under her sports bra: She did all that record-setting less than a year after giving birth. “My doctor wanted me to wait six weeks before I started training again. I waited two days!” says Lowe, who lives in Loganville, Georgia. “I’m ready to win in London, to get on that podium.” She’s clearly got her eyes on the prize, but the rest of us are in for a treat: “I love to pump the crowd up before I compete. I want to give them a good show! If they’d let me jump in the types of outfits they wear on "Dancing With the Stars", I would.”
McKayla Maroney, 16: The best vaulter in the world, period
“This little girl definitely has something special,” says Martha Karolyi, women’s national team coordinator for USA Gymnastics. “She is, without a doubt, the best vaulter in the world.” High praise for an athlete who was virtually unknown as recently as last year. Since then, McKayla Maroney has perfected the Amanar, which is widely considered the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics and consists of a back handspring onto the horse, followed by two and a half twisting flips. (YouTube it. Insane.) This summer Maroney is hoping to prove her expertise in London. And because the U.S. women are favored to claim the top podium spot in the team competition, she stands to come home with more than one gold. The calm, scarily consistent competitor is ready: “I have been dreaming about the Olympics since I was so little,” says Maroney, who lives in Long Beach, California. “I remember thinking, OK, I have eight years before I can go, and then it was four years, and now it’s come down to days. The fact that it’s here is just crazy!”
Khatuna Lorig, 38: 'The Hunger Games' secret weapon — who used to practice archery by candlelight!
When Khatuna Lorig was in sixth grade, she joined an archery club in her native country, the Republic of Georgia, rising through the competitive ranks and earning a bronze medal as a teenager at the 1992 Olympics. But when the club shut down a few years later, Lorig was forced to train for the 1996 Games in a tiny space in her basement, by candlelight. When she failed to qualify, Lorig knew she had to make a change. She moved to the U.S. and earned her citizenship in 2005. She now trains with top-notch equipment in Chula Vista, California, and has a strong shot to medal as an American this summer. Oh, and it was Lorig who taught Jennifer Lawrence how to use a bow and arrow for "The Hunger Games". “I told Jennifer, ‘I’ll be screaming, “That’s my student!” when I see the movie,’ ” says Lorig. “And she said, ‘Are you kidding? When I see you at the Olympics, I’ll be screaming, “That’s my coach!” ’ ”
Natalie Coughlin, 29: The swimmer on the verge of history
Natalie Coughlin already has some major Olympic bling: The veteran of both the Athens and Beijing Games has medaled in every single Olympic race she’s ever entered, earning 11 in all — and if she takes home just two more in London, she’ll become the most decorated female American Olympian ever, in any sport. “There’s definitely pressure, but I’ve been here before,” says Coughlin. “I got a pretty severe injury back in 2000 and missed the Games at a time when I had been dubbed an up-and-comer. It taught me that there are so many things that could take the sport I love away from me in the blink of an eye — and I’d better have other interests to keep me balanced.” And she does. After five-hour training sessions, Coughlin goes home to her Lafayette, California, garden and five chickens, and makes risotto and fresh kale salads for herself and her husband. Oh, and remember her five-week stint on "Dancing With the Stars"? “All the things I do out of the pool make me a better swimmer, because I’m not completely fried from competing,” she explains. “When I get in the pool, I focus on my sport. And when I go home, I go home.” Shocking but true: an Olympian with a life.
Alex Morgan, 23; Hope Solo, 31; Carli Lloyd, 30: The soccer team with something major to prove
The U.S. women’s soccer team wants redemption. Last summer they narrowly lost the World Cup title to Japan in a penalty-kick shoot-out: “A World Cup win hadn’t happened for the U.S. in 12 years,” says Carli Lloyd, “and we were inches away from taking it. It was really crushing. We sulked for a little bit, but we’re determined. We’re going to London to prove something, and we’re not going to leave without that gold.” And they just may get it: Despite the World Cup loss, the U.S. women’s team remains ranked number one in the world, in part because its roster includes forward Alex Morgan, who has been called “the next Mia Hamm,” midfielder Lloyd, a top scorer for the team, and Hope Solo, who is considered the best goalkeeper of all time. They’re also one of the tightest-knit teams off the field; they do movie nights and shopping trips, and several of them have been in one another’s weddings. “There’s a real level of trust and respect between us,” says Solo. “I think that’s what makes us the best.”
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