TOM PAPPAS AGE 27 HOMETOWN Azalea, Ore. EVENT Decathlon THE DRAMA He has never been to the country and doesn't speak the language, but the Greeks count Pappas as one of their own. His great-grandfather left Athens for the U.S. in the early 1900s. THE COMPETITION He's the 2003 world champion but struggling to stay in top form. Roman Sebrle, a Czech, will be one of his top rivals in this two-day, 10-event contest that includes running, jumping and throwing.
STEVEN LOPEZ AGE 25 HOMETOWN Sugarland, Texas EVENT Taekwondo THE DRAMA Lopez, going for a second straight Olympic title, has moved up to the welterweight (80 kg/176 lb.) division. He stars for the sport's first family: brother Jean, 30, is his coach; sister Diana, 20, is an Olympic alternate; Mark, 22, nearly faced big brother at the trials (he lost in the semis). THE COMPETITION Although it's a Korean sport, Cuba's Angel Matos Fuentes won the welterweight gold in Sydney. Newcomer Yousef Karami of Iran has also impressed.
NATALIE COUGHLIN AGE 21 HOMETOWN Concord, Calif. EVENTS Swimming--100-m freestyle, 100-m backstroke, relays THE DRAMA Coughlin could have raced in five individual events but chose only two, so she'll be in peak form for the three team relays. THE COMPETITION Don't miss the 100-m freestyle, where she faces world-record holder Lisbeth Lenton of Australia and reigning Olympic champ Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands. Coughlin is the first and only woman to swim the 100-m backstroke in under 60 seconds; she's untouchable.
LAURA WILKINSON AGE 26 HOMETOWN Spring, Texas EVENTS Diving--10-m platform THE DRAMA Craving suspense? Watch Wilkinson. She won gold in Sydney by making a memorable leap from eighth place. Made the 2004 team on a nail-biting final dive. THE COMPETITION Wilkinson is a wonder, but she'll have Lao Lishi of China and Emilie Heymans of Canada on her heels.
MAURICE GREENE AGE 30 HOMETOWN Kansas City, Kans. EVENTS 100-m dash, 4 x 100-m relay THE DRAMA A motorcycle accident has slowed this brash sprinter since he won gold in 2000, but like Muhammad Ali, Greene claims to be "the greatest." He was superb at the U.S. trials. THE COMPETITION Teammates Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin and Jamaican Asafa Powell should make the 100 a (quick) race.
SADA JACOBSON AGE 21 HOMETOWN Dunwoody, Ga. EVENT Saber THE DRAMA Yale student Jacobson is the first U.S. woman ranked No. 1 in the world in saber. In Athens watch for a sibling square-off; sister Emily qualified in the same event. THE COMPETITION Few will be able to parry Jacobson's advances to gold in this event's Olympic debut (a cavalryman's discipline, it joins foil and epee). But Russia's Elena Netchaeva and first-time Olympian Anne-Lise Touya of France will certainly try.
PAUL HAMM AGE 21 HOMETOWN Waukesha, Wis. EVENT Gymnastics THE DRAMA Hamm won the world all-around title in 2003, the first U.S. man to do so. His strength is the high bar--he's the only gymnast who will do three release moves in a row off that apparatus in Athens. THE COMPETITION The big challenge now comes from Asia, not Eastern Europe. China is intent on retaining its Olympic team title, and in the race for all-around champ, Hamm will have to repeat his historic feat and outscore Yang Wei of China and Hiroyuki Tomita of Japan.