- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

Michael Phelps

No athlete enters Beijing under more scrutiny or with higher expectations than Michael Phelps. Phelps won a record-tying eight medals —six golds, two bronze — at the Athens Games four years ago, and his tour de force at last year’s World Championships included seven golds and five record times.

Now he attempts the ultimate goal: Surpass the seven golds won by Mark Spitz 36 years ago at the Munich Olympics.

Phelps is the favorite in each of his individual events— 200 free, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley, 400 individual medley — and he will swim all three relays. He’s in great form, too: He cruised through the U.S. trials, going undefeated.

With the dominating individual success comes comparison to such dominating contemporaries like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

“Watching highlights of and seeing the heights they climb and how they carry themselves and how consistent they are, I guess we’re all probably the same way — a creature of habit,” Phelps says. “I’m sure Tiger [Woods] and Roger [Federer] go into every tournament as if it’s the biggest. I don’t like to lose either.”

Swimming

Burke

Justin Spring had two questions after he snapped an anterior cruciate ligament during a vault at last year’s nationals: How long is the recovery, and when are the Olympics?

Recovery would take nine to 12 months, and the Olympics were about a year away. No matter. Spring started training two months ahead of schedule, and he was the feel-good story of the trials in Philadelphia this summer, captivating audiences with his high-risk routines and earning a spot on his first Olympic team.

Spring, 24, grew up in Burke, graduated from Lake Braddock High School and the University of Illinois and now resides in Champaign, Ill., where he trains with longtime coach Jon Valdez and serves as an assistant coach for the Illini.

Spring’s best chances for a medal in Beijing come in the high bar and parallel bars.

“You don’t have time to get down,” Spring says. “More than anything after the ACL, I took that time to look to the future and say, ‘You’re time frame is perfect.’ I had worked too hard to let this Olympic year slide past.”

Rockville

Like many of the United States’ badminton and table tennis competitors, Bob Malaythong wasn’t born here.

Malaythong came to the U.S. from Laos at age 8 with his sister and mother and lived most of his life in the D.C. area.

He will make his Olympic debut in doubles competition in Beijing, teaming with Howard Bach.

Malaythong is replacing a champion: Bach and Tony Gunawan won gold at the 2005 World Championships — a major feat since no other American team had ever gone past the round of 16 in Worlds or the Olympics. A year later, Gunawan learned his citizenship would not be secured in time for Beijing. Enter Malaythong.

“Our partnership was pretty rocky in the beginning because it took us awhile to get acquainted and the team chemistry was hard,” he says of playing with Bach. “Both of us have a similar type of style so it was hard to mesh. It was like two magnets put together. We’re starting to learn as we go.”

Malaythong now resides in Orange, Calif., where he has coached Villa Park High School to six consecutive Southern California championships.

Karen O’Connor

Equestrian

The Plains, Va.

Karen O’Connor enters the Games as the result of a bit of good luck but recovering from a tragedy.

O’Connor was promoted from alternate to competitor last Tuesday when another rider withdrew, giving the 50-year-old a ticket to her fourth appearance in the Olympics.

Earlier this summer, O’Connor seemed a lock for the team with her horse, Theodore O’Connor. But “Teddy” was euthanized following a freak accident that resulted in catastrophic injuries.

O’Connor will compete in the eventing competition, the equestrian equivalent of track and field’s triathlon.

O’Connor has great confidence in her new horse, Mandiba, with whom she has worked from the start.

“He was already 5 years old when he got a saddle on him for the first time, and that’s an asset,” she said. “He was allowed time to grow. … He’s always been with us and I know everything about this horse.”

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