Star-spangled athletics cast ready to wave the red, white and blue over London

No-one will attract more interest at the Olympics than the USA team, which is being finalised at the national trials in Oregon this weekend. Simon Turnbull assesses the American hopefuls looking to become the new Carl Lewis or Flo-Jo

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Alysia Montano (800m)

As a resident of bohemian Berkeley, the winner of the US women's 800m trial is an apposite 21st century proponent of Flower Power. It was in the university town on San Francisco Bay that the famed movement was born in the mid 1960s. A graduate in theatre and performance art from the University of California in Berkeley, Montano secured her place in the US Olympic team with a big bright-yellow hibiscus in her hair. The 26-year-old, ranked second in the world in her event this year, always runs with a flower in her hair. "It represents femininity and strength," she says.

Bryshon Nellum (400m)

Finishing third in the 400m final at the US trials, to secure selection for London 2012, was the easy part for Nellum. The hard part was surviving the horror of a random, drive-by shooting after leaving a Halloween party in 2008. "I was shot in the legs out of nowhere," he recalls. "I didn't fall to the ground. I kept going, just to run to safety. I hopped and skipped on one leg to safety. And ever since I've just been recovering." Believed to be the victim of mistaken identity in a gang shooting, the 23-year-old has had three operations to remove pellets from a sawn-off shotgun.

Lolo Jones (100m hurdles)

Thwarted at the final hurdle at the Beijing Olympics, fading from first to seventh after smacking the barrier, Jones (pictured below) booked her place at London 2012 with a third-placed finish in the trials final. On Monday, the 29-year-old appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, talking about revealing her virginity on Twitter. "I got some backlash," she said. "Everybody's mad at a girl who doesn't put out." A devout Christian, Jones – who was raised in a squat in a church basement – says preserving her virginity is "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life".

Lopez Lomong (5,000m)

Lomong was six when his home village in southern Sudan was attacked and he was taken hostage by rebel soldiers from the Sudan People's Liberation Army. After several weeks of watching other boys slowly die in a rebel camp, he escaped through a hole in the fence and ran for three days until he reached Kenya. He spent 10 years in a refugee camp before securing a high school scholarship in the United States. One of "the Lost Boys of Sudan", he carried the US flag at the 2008 Olympics and secured selection for his second Games by finishing third in the 5,000m final at the 2012 trials.

Reese Hoffa (Shot put)

The 2007 world shot-put champion was born Maurice Antawn Chism. He was four when he burned down his family home in Louisville, Kentucky. He was playing with a cigarette lighter and set fire to some curtains. His unmarried teenage mother took him and his brother to an orphanage, where he spent 18 months before being adopted by Cathy and Stephen Hoffa. He was reconciled with his birth mother in 2002 and has become a public advocate for adoption. He can solve a Rubik's cube in 30 seconds and is now preparing for his third Olympics.

Ashton Eaton (Decathlon)

A native of Bend, Oregon, Eaton opened the decathlon at the US trials with a 100m time of 10.21sec – 0.04sec quicker than Dwain Chambers' winning time in the individual 100m at the GB trials. He proceeded to clock 13.34sec for the 110m hurdles and clear 5.20m in the pole vault en-route to a world-record tally of 9,039 points. "It doesn't mean that much to the rest of the world but to me it's my whole world," said the 24-year-old who can claim to be the finest all-round athlete of all time – and who can be seen posing naked in the latest edition of ESPN Magazine.

Justin Gatlin (100m)

The career of the 30-year-old sprinter who has survived not one but two positive drugs tests (for amphetamines in 2001, for excessive testosterone in 2006) is now guided by one Dennis Mitchell. A coach at the National Training Centre in Clermont, Florida, Mitchell tested positive for excessive testosterone during his own sprinting career. He blamed it on drinking beer and having had sex with his wife "at least four times. It was her birthday. The lady deserved a treat." He was banned for two years.

Dee Dee Trotter (400m)

Trotter secured her third Olympic appearance, finishing runner-up to Sanya Richards-Ross, wearing a glitter and paint design on her face. "It gives me some type of internal empowerment and a little extra strength," she says. "I figure if I put my war paint on I better go out there and be ready for war." Born De'Hashia Tonnek Trotter, the 29-year-old is on the books of the Wilhelmina Modelling Agency in New York. She is founder of "Test Me, I'm Clean", a charity dedicated to combating the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.

Jesse Williams (High jump)

The reigning world high jump champion scraped into the US Olympic team with a fourth-placed finish at the trials because Nick Ross, in third, did not have the A qualifying standard. Ranked joint second in the world this year, with Britain's Robbie Grabarz, Williams has always relished a tussle. As a wrestler, he finished fifth in the North Carolina state championships. "It's probably my favourite sport," he confesses. "It has helped me with my high jumping. It has to do with inner will."

LaShawn Merritt (400m)

Perhaps LaShawn Merritt has learned his lesson. After the unfortunate cock-up that led to him serving a 21-month doping suspension, the reigning Olympic 400m champion and 2012 US trials winner is getting picky about labels. "People keep labelling it 'doping'," he says. "I don't get down with that whole deal." It is a pity he didn't check the label on the male enhancement product ExtenZe. He would have seen that it contained the anabolic steroid DHEA – as well as ginger and horny goat weed.