SWIMMER // AGE 25 with fiance Dominik Meichtry
When she failed to qualify for the 100-meter breaststroke, an event in which she'd set a 2005 world record, Hardy was crushed. She had missed Beijing after failing a drug test due to a tainted supplement (she was cleared of any wrongdoing), and now another Olympics might slip away. But a pep talk from her fiance, Swiss team swimmer Dominik Meichtry, 27, helped buoy her. "He said, 'I love you, no matter what,'" says the Long Beach, Calif.-based swimmer. "'You need to have fun and not worry.'" She did, and triumphed in the 50-and 100-meter freestyle. Now they are headed to London. "To have him there is amazing," says Jessica. "He makes me a better athlete every day."
TAEKWONDO // AGE 21
Biggest Fan: Brother Evan
The second-youngest in a Sturgis, S. Dak., family with five adopted kids, Paige idolized her brother Evan, who was born in Korea. "He was good at everything. He was a straight-A student, so I became a straight-A student. I always wanted to do what he did," she says. That included taekwondo. By age 7, she was sparring with Evan in training-and the living room. Eventually the sport became "the only thing I'm better at than him." Now a drill sergeant in Afghanistan, Evan, 23, won't get to see his sister compete in person, but, he says, "I'm very proud of her." Adds Paige: "In a way I'm following his footsteps, representing the U.S.A. I owe everything to him."
DECATHLETE // AGE 24 with mom Roslyn
"Her Olympics was to raise me well," says Ashton of Roslyn, 47, who brought him up solo in Bend, Ore., often working three jobs. Her dad played college football, and her mom was a swimmer (and still plays softball), but Roslyn didn't push her son into sports. What she did do was demand excellence. "I liked to draw," Ashton recalls. "She said, 'Be a cartoonist if you want, but be the best cartoonist you can.'" He loved track more, and last month set the world record in decathlon. Roslyn, who has never left the U.S., will be in London to cheer him on.
WOMEN'S BOXING // AGE 22 with dad David
As a girl in Houston, Marlen Esparza loved to watch boxing with her dad. David Esparza, 52, a welding foreman, would bring his two sons to the gym, but never Marlen, though she begged. "We didn't believe in women's boxing at the time," he says. At age 11, she persuaded him. "Her first fight, it was like, Whoa! So intense! She just let go, and that [other] little girl didn't see it coming!" he recalls. Coaches took her seriously, and so did Dad. "He paid all my expenses, pawning stuff, taking out loans," says Marlen, a six-time national champ on the inaugural U.S. Olympic women's team. "A lot of girls didn't have support coming up, but I can never say that. My dad loved me so much, in every way possible."