U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

In Sunday’s post on my trip to the Mets game, I left out some details, mostly because they were boring. However, one thing does need to be mentioned. On my way back from New York, I picked up this week’s issue of Time Magazine at Grand Central, because LeBron James is on the cover.

If you’re a non-sports magazine, and you put LeBron on the cover, then I’m buying that issue. I did it with Fortune, I did it with Vogue, and now with Time.

The actual purpose for LeBron being on the cover (besides selling issues to non-Time readers) is to promote their big story inside -- the 100 Athletes to Watch in the Beijing Olympics.

LeBron is one of them, which is fitting, since he’s also on my list of 7 athletes I’ll be paying close attention to in Beijing (why 7? Who knows. 5 seemed like too few, and there aren’t really 10 I care about). And yes, they’re all from the U.S. Ya know what, so am I. These are the athletes I know and care about.

1. LeBron James
You probably already know that I really like LeBron James. LeBron has guaranteed a Gold for team USA. He can deliver it. He’s pretty good. Plus, he’s one of the few NBA players whose game might be more suited to international play.

2. Michael Phelps
If you haven’t heard about Phelps’ run at Mark Spitz’s record for Gold Medals, you’ve been living under a rock for, oh, four years or so. I saw Phelps swim back when he was a young teenager in Towson, MD. He was great then. Now, he’s unstoppable.

3. Tyson Gay
The title of “fastest man in the world” (aka the champion in the 100m dash) used to unfailingly belong to an American. From the start of electronic timing, until 1996, it was only Americans. Now, it’s been held by Jamaicans for the past 3 years. Tyson Gay is our best hope to get the title back (especially after running a wind-aided 9.68 at the trials).

4. Shawn Johnson
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret -- I’m a sucker for Gymnastics and Figure Skating. There’s something about the grace and beauty of it that appeals to me (plus, hot women in spandex is never a bad thing). Shawn Johnson is only 16, so I can’t exactly leer at her, but I can cheer for her. She’s probably the most talented gymnast on a US team that has its best chance to bring home All-Around Gold since the 1996 team, known as the Magnificent 7, did it in Atlanta.

5. Dara Torres
This one is a little sadder to write, but I’m watching her to make sure she doesn’t fail. Not failure in the pool, but failure in a drug test. Let’s put it this way. Every older athlete who’s done amazing things in recent years (I’m looking at you Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) has ended up being on PEDs. To believe without any skepticism that Dara Torres, at 41 years old, is in the best shape of her life naturally, is hard to do. So call me a skeptic (and Dara, don’t use the “I’ve never failed a test” defense. Marion Jones never failed a test either. The only test Barry Bonds ever failed was for amphetamines. Testing is a joke).

6. Chris Paul
Right now, he’s probably my 2nd-favorite NBA player behind LeBron James. It’s amazing what Chris Paul can do with a basketball, and he showed some of that in the exhibition game against Canada. While Jason Kidd is the veteran leader at point guard for Team USA, I expect Chris Paul to be out on the floor in a lot of the key minutes.

7. Katie Hoff
This one is kind of random, but, like Michael Phelps, Hoff is a product of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and a native of Towson, MD. Ever since I roomed with a swimmer my freshman year at Towson, I’ve cared about the success of NBAC swimmers. Hoff and Phelps could easily combine for double-digit medals at Beijing.

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