Afp/Getty Images, Alexander Nemenov,Afp/Getty Images
Friday night they will march into Olympic Stadium in London wearing the colors of their countries and carrying the hopes and dreams of a lifetime.
The athletes are what make the Olympic Games so memorable. It's their stories, their challenges, their triumphs and even their heartbreaks that pull even the casual sports fan into the 17-day experience.
Fourteen of those athletes who will walk through Olympic Stadium Friday night have ties to Utah. Four are native Utahns, while 10 others came to Utah for college or professional athletic opportunities.
Some have had a clear and easy to watch path to these games, while others have toiled in obscurity, fighting through adversity to be able to compete on the world's largest sports stage.
The pull of the Olympics is that the games are not just about athletic achievement but also about human interaction and accomplishment. Not all of those with Utah ties will wear red, white and blue, but they have fan support, regardless of the uniform they wear.
Here are the athletes with Utah ties who will compete in London over the next 17 days.
Arielle Martin was in elementary school when she first started dreaming of being an Olympian. It was the 1996 gymnasts who earned her adoration.
But while the Cedar Hills native loved sports like track and soccer, her heart belonged to BMX racing. She'd been riding as long as she'd been walking. In fact, she admits she started racing so young, she doesn't remember her first competitions.
But very quickly, the 26-year-old became one of the world's best racers and was the youngest woman to go pro in the sport at age 15.
She was the front runner and favorite to represent the U.S. in her sport's first Olympic appearance — Beijing 2008. She crashed in the quarterfinals of the World Championships and her training partner passed her in qualification points.
"It was pretty horrible, to be honest," said the Lone Peak High graduate.
"Looking back, though, it taught me a lot about perseverance," she said. "It humbled me, and I am a better rider, a better person and a better athlete for it today, without a doubt. And while it was heartbreaking, it makes it all a little sweeter now."
Four years after that devastating crash, Martin will realize her dream of representing the United States in the sport she loves on Aug. 8 and 9 in the 2012 London Games. She placed fourth in the World Championships on May 30 to earn her spot.
"It's overwhelming," she said of realizing a childhood dream to be an Olympian. "The first Olympics I watched were in 1996 in Atlanta, and I remember being completely inspired by the U.S. women's gymnastics team. I said, 'I want to do that. I want to be an Olympian.' "
Former Highland High standout Logan Tom been called the "glue that holds the American (volleyball) team together" by Sports Illustrated.
It's no surprise as the 31-year-old Stanford alum has been on the national team since 2000. The 6-1 outside hitter is consistent and athletic.
The U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the world and that's largely because the squad is deep at every position. Interestingly, another native Utahn, Kristin Richards (Timpanogos High/Stanford), is an alternate for the team at the same position — outside hitter.
The U.S. women have won two silver and one bronze medals, but they are hoping 2012 will be year the women's team wins gold.
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