With the U.S. Olympic trials wrapping up, all the newly crowned Olympic athletes are surely training hard and counting their blessings as they prepare for the London games. And while every one of the world-class athletes who competed in the trials is a role model, some of their stories are especially inspiring. Breaking records, proving the power of persistence, and showing unmatched grace are just a few of the feats these Olympic hopefuls achieved. Read their stories and take a little piece of the Olympic spirit with you.
- Ashton Eaton breaks a world record
Have you heard of the decathlon, the sport that is said to determine the "World’s Greatest Athlete?" If you have, you know more about it than Ashton Eaton did by the end of his high school track career when he was considering colleges. The decathlon is a combination of track and field events, including long jump, pole vault, javelin throw, and seven other races and field activities. Eaton had competed in a few track events during high school but was recruited by only a few colleges. Then someone suggested he try decathlons at the University of Oregon, an event he’d never heard of. Just six years later he was at the Olympic trials, in the stadium in Eugene, Ore., where he first trained for decathlons, setting the new world record in the decathlon with 9,039 points — 13 points higher than the previous record.
- Missy Franklin qualifies for the most events of any American woman
Missy Franklin just finished her junior year of high school and is now potentially going to compete in more swimming events than any American woman in history. Franklin is just 17 years old but kept her composure under pressure to qualify for four individual races and all three relays. Her dual Canadian/American citizenship allows her to compete for either country’s team, but even though her mom suggested she try out for the less competitive Canadian team, Franklin went with her proud American side and blew everyone else out of the water.
- Gabby Douglas beats her rival
Gymnast Jordyn Wieber has been (and actually still is) the favorite to win gold at the Olympics, but 16-year-old Gabby Douglas pulled ahead to beat her in the trials by just 1/10 of a point. Wieber is the reigning world all-around gymnastics champion and Douglas has come up short of beating her many times in her career, but many feel the losses lit a competitive fire inside of her. Douglas, who moved away from her family two years ago to train with Shawn Johnson’s former coach, edged out her fiercest competition with her high-scoring floor routine, becoming the only gymnast with a guaranteed spot on the team. Wieber was of course selected for the team, so at the very least, the rivalry will likely inspire Americans to watch more women’s gymnastics.
- Brittany Viola finally makes it on the diving team
Making it to the Olympics is a dream of many athletes, but most will never turn that dream into a reality. Brittany Viola, though, can now consider herself one of the lucky few. Viola, a platform diver, has tried and failed to make the Olympic team twice before this year. In 2004, she finished second in trials on the 10-meter platform, and in 2008, she was named an alternate for the diving team. This year though, Viola’s 3 1/2 pike and arm stand double back somersault with 1 1/2 twists put her 60 points ahead of second place, clinching her spot on the team. She’d probably be the first to tell you that persistence pays off!
- Any story from the Paralympic team athletes
While we’ve all been focused on the highly televised track and field, swimming, diving, and gymnastics trials, the U.S. Paralympic team was holding their trials, as well. The men and women chosen for these games, which will take place in London Aug. 29 through Sept. 9, have overcome unbelievable obstacles to make it to this point. These athletes have been born with spinal conditions, injured in accidents, and served in our military. If you’re looking for inspiration, you won’t find any better than the stories of overcoming the odds, finding hope, and becoming the serious athletes that make up the Paralympic team.
- Nastia Liukin finishes her routine
Not every inspiring story from these qualifying competitions ends in success, but the way some athletes handled falling short is no less admirable. Gymnast Nastia Liukin took a few years off after winning the all-around gold in the 2008 games, and started getting back into shape a year ago to try to stage a comeback, a feat no Olympic champion has done since 1980. The sport has taken its toll on her body, and she struggled some in the competition, but it wasn’t until her uneven bars routine that the chance was over for her. She missed the bar on a release and fell flat on her face — hard. In pain, embarrassed, and knowing that her hopes of making the Olympic team were over, Liukin still got up, put some more chalk on her hands, and finished her routine. The standing ovation she received after this routine and her final routine of the night on the beam show that you haven’t really failed if you pick yourself back up.
- Dara Torres retires for the last time … we think
In the world of sports, if you’re still competing by the time you’re 30, you’re ancient. But swimmer Dara Torres is 45 and missed going to her sixth Olympics by just 9/100 of a second. While not quite what she hoped for, this fourth place finish proves that hard work matters more than age. And this isn’t the first time Torres has inspired athletes young and old. She’s already come out of retirement twice to win five medals in the Sydney Olympics and three in the Beijing games. While being on six Olympic teams would’ve been incredibly impressive, this 45-year-old has inspired us anyway.