An athlete state of mind: 100 days out
NEW YORK -- How are U.S. Olympic hopefuls faring just 100 days out from the start of the London Olympics? We caught up with a few of them during Wednesday's festivities in Times Square:
Missy FranklinThe swimming phenom from Colorado won five medals, including three golds, at last summer's world championships. Franklin, who has been called the "female Michael Phelps," could swim seven, possibly eight, different events in London if she qualifies. Though she's considered a medal favorite, the 16-year old doesn't want to get too ahead of herself.
"Right now, I'm not even thinking about the Olympics," Franklin said. "My wildest dreams would be to make the team, and that's all that I'm focusing on right now."
If Franklin does make it to London, she has a few people she wants to meet.
"I really am dying to meet One Direction because I absolutely love them, and Kate Middleton and Prince Harry and Prince William. I have a huge obsession for the Brits."
Allyson FelixFelix won Olympic silver in the 200 meters at the 2004 and 2008 Games. She also won gold in the 4x400-meter relay in Beijing. The Los Angeles native has talked about competing for the 400-200 double in London, but hasn't yet made a decision.
"I know the 200 is my priority and then I'll let my coach Bobby [Kersee] make the final decision right before trials," Felix said. "Where I really struggle is because the 400 is first. If it was the other way with the 200 first? No brainer; I'd be all in. But I don't know if I want to go into my favorite race, the race that I have two silvers in, where I'm not as fresh. So that's where I am right now."
Mike DayMike Day won the silver medal in Beijing, where BMX made its Olympic debut. After major back surgery two years ago, Day has recovered and hopes to qualify for his second consecutive Olympics. The 27-year old from Tarzana, Calif., fondly recalls his 2008 Olympics experience.
"I'm a huge basketball fan, so I was able to watch the gold-medal basketball game," Day said. "I'm from L.A., so I'm a huge Kobe Bryant fan. I was able to take a photo with him. I don't get too geeked out on sports people or celebrities, but I did get geeked out on him. Just being part of the Games, even just checking in and putting the jersey on, it's pretty overwhelming. That's my motivation now."
Marlen EsparzaEsparza won in her weight class (flyweight) at the U.S. Olympic trials in February; but, to qualify for London, she needs to finish within the top eight at the world championships in China next month. The 22-year old Houston native wants nothing more than to participate in the first Olympic women's boxing competition in London.
"I gave up school, I gave up my adolescence, I gave up everything to be in this position, and this is exactly where I want to be," Esparza said. "To be able to [represent the United States], I feel like that would complete me -- literally complete me as a person. I feel like I would be able to die happy, to live my whole life content because of what I've accomplished just now.
"It means everything I gave up, it means everything I could have, it becomes everything to my family, to my friends and to my community."
Susan FranciaFrancia won Olympic gold as part of the U.S. women's eight rowing team in Beijing. The 29-year old graduate of University of Pennsylvania is focused on winning a second consecutive gold medal, despite a herniated disc. Even with back problems, Francia remains dedicated to her preparation for what could be her last Olympics.
"The hardest thing about training is getting up on those days when you're hurting and you're sore and tired," Francia said. "But at the end of the day, you have a goal in mind and you want to get it done. Even on those days, get inspired and get fired up and go to practice. This time around, I hope to accomplish the same thing and bring back a gold medal and go fast."
Brittany ViolaViola is the 2011 10-meter platform national champion and a top Olympic hopeful for the U.S. team, though she hasn't yet qualified for London. If her last name rings a bell, it's because she's the daughter of former major league pitcher Frank Viola, who was the 1987 World Series MVP and 1988 AL Cy Young Award winner for the Minnesota Twins. The University of Miami graduate came back from a second surgery on a tendon in her right foot in 2010, which threatened her career.
"I had to be OK with maybe having to leave the sport or continuing, and I was OK with either outcome," Viola said. "I think that has really been beneficial in being able to dive because it was an opportunity, it was a gift to continue my career and have this opportunity to go to 2012.
"Through my injuries, all [my Dad] did was tell me that I could make it through, that I would be stronger when I came back. To have that truth in my heart just encouraged me all the more."
Betsey ArmstrongArmstrong is the goalie for the U.S. water polo team, which lost in a heartbreaking gold-medal match to the Netherlands at the 2008 Beijing Games. The University of Michigan graduate hopes this year's mixture of youth and experience will yield an elusive gold medal.
"Obviously, it's a huge goal for this team [to win gold] and it's the one piece for us that's missing going back to Sidney," Armstrong said. "This team is a lot different from the one we had going into Beijing. With this team, about half of us are returning Olympians; before the Beijing Games, 10 out of 13 were brand-new Olympians. That dynamic that we have heading into London is just huge in keeping a balance on the team.
"We're just looking at going in and playing the best water polo that we can and putting forth the best tournament, the most consistent tournament across all facets of our team. Hopefully that will in the end lead to a gold medal for us."
Mary WhippleWhipple won silver in Athens and gold in Beijing and will be competing in her third Olympics as the coxswain of the women's eight. The University of Washington graduate looks forward to defending her gold medal and helping to solidify her team's position as contenders. Whipple shared her favorite story from Beijing.
"I was in the dining hall at the Olympic Village and one of the U.S. women's volleyball team members saw my gold medal tucked in my shirt and she saw the ribbon and said, 'Can I see your gold medal?'" Whipple recalled. "The next day, she came and found us in the Village and said, 'I just have to tell you guys, we were down in the semifinal, and at the break, I told my team how I got to hold a gold medal at the Village and said, 'I want my own.'
"The U.S. women's team went on to win the semifinal and make the gold-medal match. They got a silver in the end, but just the fact that we helped a different sport get to where they wanted to go gives me goose bumps thinking about it."