22, TRACK AND FIELD (HURDLES), HOUSTON
“I’m waiting in the shadows right now, but I’m ready. I’m ready to step up,” says the University of Texas’s Raasin McIntosh, whose debut as a hurdler was less than auspicious: She caught a hurdle at a high school meet and fell. “You can fall and some people will quit, but a good hurdler will be like, ‘No, I’m gonna go and watch film and get back up and do it again no matter how many scars I get on my knees or how much people laugh at me,'” she says. “I’m gonna get it right.” And since falling at that first school meet, that’s just what she’s done. McIntosh is a ten-time collegiate All-American, a two-time NCAA champ, and the 2003 titleholder in the four-hundred-meter hurdles at the U.S. Outdoor Championships. Athens just might be where she finds her place in the sun.
26, DIVING, THE WOODLANDS
Every Olympics has its Cinderella story. There’s the Miracle on Ice hockey team of 1980 and gutsy gymnast Kerri Strug in 1996. Four years ago in Sydney, the fairy-tale ending belonged to thenUT student Laura Wilkinson, who, despite having broken three bones in her foot a mere six months before the Games, overcame pain and a heavily favored Chinese contingent to bring home the United States’ first gold medal in women’s platform diving since 1964. As with all such stories, Wilkinson won the hearts of the public—and her face on a Wheaties box. “Walking to the grocery store to do a signing and just having this wall of me—that was a little weird,” she says.
25, TAE KWON DO, SUGAR LAND
Standing atop the winner’s platform in Sydney in 2000, a gold medal around his neck, the National Anthem playing, Steven Lopez literally pinched himself. “So many times, right before I went to sleep, I visualized being on that podium, watching my flag being raised. And there were times when I had nightmares that I’d lost, and I’d wake up teary-eyed. And so when I was up there, I had to pinch myself. I didn’t want it to be just a really good dream.” There’s a good chance Steven will soon be pinching himself again: In June he garnered a spot on the 2004 team.
20, SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING, DESOTO
Forget father knows best. In the case of Sara Lowe, it’s Grandma who’s the smart one. “When I was growing up, she’d try to teach me how to do a ballet leg and the basics in synchro,” says Lowe, who now lives in California and plans to swim for the Stanford Cardinal one day. “And then one summer there was a camp at the North Lake College pool, in Irving, and my grandma took me there.” The ten-year-old Lowe tried it, liked it, and joined an organized team the following year. “Even though I couldn’t swim a lap, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,'” she says. A decade later, Lowe is Athens-bound. What does Grandma think? “She came to watch us train and said, ‘Oh, my God, I never believed you would do this.'” Maybe even Grandma doesn’t know everything.
20, TRACK AND FIELD (HIGH JUMP), BRENHAM
Andra Manson leaped onto track and field’s radar screen with a monster performance at the 2002 World Junior Championships, in Jamaica. Six feet five inches tall, he cleared seven feet seven inches. (That’s like vaulting over Shaquille O’Neal—if he was wearing six-inch heels.) Since that record-setting jump, however, the UT freshman has been described as more of a work in progress than a sure thing, an assessment that gets under his skin “a little bit.” But when he’s on, he’s on. “When push comes to shove,” says Manson, “the bottom line is, Can you get over the bar?”
21, SOFTBALL, HOUSTON
After two phenomenal seasons as UT’s flame-throwing southpaw, Cat Osterman has traded burnt orange for the red-white-and-blue. “It was a dream come true to finally read [the national team roster] and know it was official,” says the 2003 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. The U.S. softball team has brought home the gold at the past two Summer Games, and Osterman and her teammates have good reason to believe they’ll do the same in August. Since kicking off their “Aiming for Athens” tour in February, they were undefeated at press time, having clobbered opponents by a combined score of 30510. For her part, Osterman was perfect at 10-0. “We’re going over there with nothing but gold medals on our mind,” she says.
16, GYMNASTICS, DALLAS
By all accounts, Hollie Vise arrived at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in early June—the first hurdle in making the Olympic squad—with a fifty-fifty shot at spending August in Athens. She encountered an unexpected bump in the road to Greece, however, when back spasms sidelined her from the competition. But when you spend more than six hours every day in the gym, navigating a workspace that is four inches wide and four feet above the floor, you quickly learn that falling down is a fact of life and picking yourself up again is the secret to success. Vise, who specializes in the uneven bars and the balance beam, will be allowed to attempt the next hurdle: the Olympic Trials in late June.