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U.S. set for battle to top London medal table
DALLAS (Reuters) - The United States Olympic Committee's media summit wrapped up on Tuesday with no bold predictions but plenty of expectations as American athletes again look to top the medal table in London.
The United States has led the Summer Games medal count since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and while the USOC was reluctant to put a number on their goal for the 2012 Games the target remains the same - top spot.
China and Russia pose a serious threat to U.S. domination of the medal table but American athletes made it clear throughout the three-day summit in Dallas that they will not be conceding first place without a fight.
"The U.S. will always be favorites," U.S. women's soccer player Lauren Cheney said. "I look at the USA, not just soccer, I look at Team USA from track, gymnastics from anything. You see the American flag I feel like you get labeled a favorite.
"A target is always going to be on our backs. We do embrace it."
The USOC used the summit to introduce over 500 members of the media to many of the athletes they expect to carry U.S. medal hopes at the July 27-August 12 Games.
Some of the faces were familiar but most were anonymous names competing in obscure sports who will try to seize their moment in the London Olympic spotlight.
Swimmer Michael Phelps, the winner of a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was one of the athletes who needed no introduction.
Phelps is poised to once again take centre stage in London as he looks to add to his haul of 16 medals, needing just three more to move past Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina as the most successful Olympian of all-time.
A secretive Phelps and longtime coach Bob Bowman were summit headliners in Dallas but refused to offer even the slightest insight into their London game plan.
"Bob and I have plans and he is the only person that has really helped achieve my goals," explained Phelps. "My mom doesn't even know my goals. She isn't jumping in the pool and training with me.
"We've been working together as a team for so long, we've never shared our goals."
Despite being one of the most successful Olympians, Phelps must earn his ticket to London like every other athlete and will be part of the U.S. swim trials in Nebraska from June 25-July 2.
Athletics and gymnastics team trials will also be taking place over the same period as the U.S. team, estimated at 525 athletes, takes shape.
The summit offered glimpses into some of the compelling storylines these athletes will write as they chase Olympic glory.
Judo's Kayla Harrison, a victim of sexual abuse by a coach, Vietnam-born badminton player Howard Bach and wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who has not lost a match since 2009, are all world champions in their respective sports with inspiring narratives.
Michelle Obama, who will lead the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, also made a brief appearance at the summit to offer athletes a pep talk and to launch a program aimed at getting children active.
"One of my happiest memories center around watching the Olympic Games on TV when I was a little girl," the U.S. first lady said. "Like so many others I was awed and inspired by those athletes ... I would dream that maybe one day, if I worked hard enough, I too could achieve something great.
"So when I'm sitting in that stadium in London cheering on Team USA ... I'll be thinking of the power of the Games to truly inspire a generation and how our Olympic and Paralympic athletes can serve as role models."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Dallas; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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