Behind the Olympics: Rising stars to follow

Michael Phelps. Tyson Gay. Shawn Johnson. These Olympians have become household names, and they’re getting their share of the airtime, no doubt about that.

But there’s a whole cast of characters with equally captivating narratives that unfortunately have been dwarfed in their shadows.

  • In wrestling, there’s Laura Flessel-Colovic of France, who’s perhaps better known by her nickname, “the wasp.” The 36-year-old gave birth in 2001 but is still going strong, winning gold last year at the European Championships. This is probably her last Olympics, so she’s looking to go out strong.

  • In tennis, there’s Sania Mirza of India, who is known for her looks, country of origin (India is not a tennis powerhouse to say the least), if not her backhand and serve. She’s India’s best tennis player in history, by far, and is an absolute sports legend in that country. She was recently voted one of the top 10 most attractive tennis stars in an international survey. Her Chinese counterpart, by the way, is Li Na, the first from China to break the top 20 in the players’ rankings.
  • In boxing, there’s Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand, who achieved notoriety by beating world champion Willy Blain to win gold at Athens in the light welterweight (64 kg) class. He’s got quite a colorful history as a wild partier (cashing in his $600,000 Athens win on football bets and booze). But maybe he’s turned a corner, seeing as he spent some serious time in a monastery.
  • In table tennis, there’s Wang Hao of China, who is the equivalent of Yao Ming, just in a slightly less popular sport in the West (ping pong). He’s the number one player in the world, but who suffered an all-around embarassing defeat to South Korea in the finals during Athens. No doubt “Hurricane Hao,” as fans like to boast, is gearing up for a rematch.
  • In yachting, there’s Ben Ainslie of Great Britain, who’s looking at his third consecutive gold in the Olympics. Enough said, right? His country is pinning their highest hopes for an Olympic gold on Ainslie, who rumors has it insists on Chinese food before each race.