Boxing: When We Were Kings
American boxing has a storied Olympic legacy, serving as the golden launch for giants of the ring such as Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay, as he was known at the time), Joe Frazier, George Foreman, "Sugar" Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya. But in recent Games, the United States has arrived with that legacy and returned home with little (nothing) to add to it. Americans have been winning gold in several gladiatorial sports—freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, taekwondo and fencing—but since De La Hoya won gold in Barcelona in '92, only two Americans—David Reid in '96 in Atlanta and Andre Ward in 2004 in Athens—have climbed to the top of the podium. (a U.S. boxer hasn't topped the podium since David Reid in 1996). This year could be different, though. The team boasts America's first world amateur champs since 1999: Cincinnati flyweight Rau'shee Warren and Providence welterweight Demetrius Andrade.
Bicycle Motocross: Come On, Let's Go For a Ride
New Olympic sports can usually be summed up with one of three words: "fast," "sexy" or "splat." Anything that showcases speed, skin or danger makes the sport TV-friendly. Snowboard cross, with its downhill velocity and spectacular wipeouts, was a hit in its debut at Torino 2006. This summer its spiritual twin, bicycle motocross, or BMX, crashes the Games. BMX is a dirt-track race with plenty of jumps—and plenty of opportunities for catastrophe. Sand will be hot in Beijing, too. America's defending beach-volleyball champs Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh remain the gold standard—they haven't lost a match in almost a year.
Martial Arts: Fighting Family Taes
Steven Lopez is among the most accomplished U.S. Olympians you've probably never heard of. The 29-year-old Houston native will be bidding for his third consecutive taekwondo gold in Beijing. That makes him the biggest name on the American squad—even though "Lopez" is pretty much the only name on the squad: the four-person taekwondo team also includes his brother Mark, 26, and his sister, Diana, 24—the first time in more than a century that three siblings have been on the same U.S. Olympic team. And the coach? Yet another Lopez: Jean, the oldest brother and a 1996 Olympian himself. The only U.S. Olympian in taekwondo with a surname other than Lopez is Charlotte Craig.
Softball and Soccer: Goodbye, Golden Girls
Two of America's most successful women's teams are hoping that Beijing will get them headed back in the right direction. The soccer team is trying to rebound from a disappointing and dispiriting performance in last year's World Cup. The bronze-medal finish was bad enough—even worse was the rupture in the team's treasured notion of "sisterhood." The culprit was goalkeeper Hope Solo, who publicly criticized a teammate and was booted off the team right before its final game. But Solo will be back in goal for the squad's first post-Mia Hamm Olympics, and she'll have a shot to redeem herself and her team. The U.S. softballers face a taller challenge. Their sport has already been dropped (along with baseball) from future Games, meaning it will join croquet, polo and tug of war among the ghosts of Olympics past. So the goal in Beijing for the U.S. team, led again by ace Jennie Finch, is twofold: win a fourth straight gold and prove that dumping the sport was a big mistake.