Between now and July 2, the top American athletes in four of the Olympics’ most popular sports – diving, track and field, swimming and gymnastics -- will battle each other for a chance to compete at London 2012.
With thousands of athletes vying for a few select spots, the Olympic trials are arguably tougher gauntlets to run than the Games themselves.
They are also where relatively unknown contenders can rise to prominence and world-record holders can be sent packing.
Many of the trials will air on the NBC Sports Network. Here are some of the athletes to watch.
The trials for the U.S. diving team began June 17 in Seattle and will continue through June 24. At stake are spots in seven events: the men’s and women’s 3m diving, the men’s and women’s 10m, the men’s and women’s 3m synchronized, and the men’s 10m synchronized. The top two finishers in each individual event will go to London, as will one team from each of the synchronized events. Some divers are seeking spots in more than one event.
America’s leading contender for gold is David Boudia, a 2011 World silver medalist platform diver who competed in Beijing in 2008 and has dominated the 10m synchronized with Nick McCrory. Another is Troy Dumais, a springboard diver who has competed in three Olympics already, and is attempting to become the first male diver to make the team four times. Dumais is also a top contender in the synchronized dive with partner Kristian Ipsen.
Other returning Olympians include Kelci Bryant (3m springboard), Chris Colwill (3m springboard), Thomas Finchum (10m platform), Haley Ishimatsu (10m platform) and Christina Loukas (3m springboard).
Among those seeking their first Olympic bids are 10m platform diver Brittany Viola, daughter of Cy Young Award-winning Pitcher Frank Viola; and Cassidy Krug, who came in fourth in the 2011 Worlds in the 3m springboard.
Track and Field
The track and field trials are touted as the most prestigious of the pre-Olympic events -- and the world’s largest, drawing more than 1,000 athletes to Eugene, Ore., from June 21 to July 1. The dozens of events range from the 100m dash and the decathlon to the high jump and hammer throw.
Among the most closely watched athletes is Tyson Gay, the world’s second-fastest man and the American world record holder in the 100m. Gay is still recovering from hip surgery, but managed to win an event at a pre-trials tune-up in New York earlier this month. Gay says he’s confident he’ll make the Olympic team, but he will have competition from Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, along with Walter Dix and Mike Rodgers.
One of America’s most popular athletes is sprinter Carmelita Jeter, who plans to run the 100m and possibly the 200m in Eugene. In the 200m, her stiffest competition is Allyson Felix; a head-to-head matchup in that event would probably be one of the most exciting races of the trials.
A lot of people will also be watching troubled hurdler Lolo Jones, who stumbled in her race for gold in Beijing four years ago. This time around, she is a long shot to qualify for the Games. Lately her running has attracted less attention than her discussing her love life.
The hurdler with the best chances for gold is the dreadlocked world champion Jason Richardson, who claims to be a faster all-out sprinter than Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. His American rivals are American record holder David Oliver, and world indoor champion Arles Merritt.
The swimming trials will be held June 25 to July 2 in Omaha. The dominant story is the rivalry between Michael Phelps, who made history in Beijing with eight gold medals, and Ryan Lochte, who is arguably the better swimmer right now. They are scheduled to go head-to-head in three events at the trials: the 200m freestyle, the 200m individual medley and the 400m individual medley. Since the top two swimmers in each event advance to London, their rivalry may continue on the big stage. Phelps has also signed up for four additional events in Omaha, while Lochte intends to race in a whopping 11 total races.
Another of the sports’ great hopes is 17-year-old Missy Franklin, who broke her first world record at 16 and is considered by many to be the best young swimmer alive. Phelps calls her “a stud.” She will swim in five trial events.
Natalie Coughlin, who won six medals in Beijing, for a total of 11 medals in her Olympic career, will also compete in five races.
Dara Torres is trying to rewrite history by making her sixth Olympic team at 45. She has signed up for just one event, the 50m freestyle.
Another crowd favorite, and long shot, is 40-year-old Janet Evans, who already has four gold medals and is trying to earn a spot in the 800m freestyle.
Gymnastics is probably the signature event of the Summer Olympics, and the Americans will determine their 10-member team (five men and five women) from June 28 to July 1 in Indianapolis.
Leading the field are John Orozco, the national all-around men’s champion, and Jordyn Wieber, the reigning all-around women’s world champion.
The leading contenders to join Orozco in London are his friend, world parallel bars champion Danell Leyva; Sam Mikulak, the 2011 NCAA all-around champion; and 2008 Olympic team member Jonathan Horton. The fifth spot is considered up for grabs.
On the women’s side, Gabby Douglas has competed nearly as well as Wieber lately, and could outshine the world champion at the trials. Aly Raisman is another likely qualifier, along with McKayla Maroney, the world vault champion who injured her face during nationals earlier this month. One of the contenders for the last spot is Nastia Lukin, the reigning all-around Olympic champion who is trying to make a last-minute comeback.
Live coverage of many trials can be found on the NBC Sports Network, and select videos will appear on NBCOlympics.com. For local Olympic news, visit our London 2012 special section, or sign up for our Olympics news alerts.