Phelps. Bryant. May-Treanor. Solo. Bolt.
These are the names you already knew as the 2012 Summer Olympics approached.
And then there were the athletes who may have been expected to share the spotlight or gamely compete, and instead now can point to the past two weeks in London as the time and place that their individual stars launched into orbit.
Here are seven breakout stars from these Olympic Games:
1. Missy Franklin: The Pasadena, Calif.,-born 17-year-old came to London under a cloud of expectation that she would end up being a breakout star, her own personal pressure cooker. And things can go completely wrong when the hype precedes the performance (see: Jones, Lolo). But happily, Missy ended up being everything Team USA expected of her and more—the high school senior from Aurora, Colo., dedicated all of her races to her current home state in the wake of the Dark Knight Rises theater shooting and ended up with five medals, four of them gold. She also set the new world record in the women's 200-meter backstroke and swam on the record-breaking 4x100-meter medley relay team. And, even at a powerful 6-foot-1, she's just adorable! Who else is already looking forward to seeing her in Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
2. Gabby Douglas: The 16-year-old relative newcomer to the U.S. women's gymnastics team was expected to perform solidly in her Olympics debut—but she ended up being the fiercest-under-pressure star of the team, becoming the first American gymnast (let alone the first African-American female gymnast) to win team gold and individual all-around gold in the same Olympics. She didn't reach the podium in either of the individual apparatus finals she made, but the lightning had struck—the kid with the million-dollar smile and touching back story was already a full-blown celebrity.
3. Alex Morgan: Goalie Hope Solo is the glamourous goalie, Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd the revered veterans, Sydney Leroux the youngest member of the squad by just a few months. But the 23-year-old Morgan, a gold medalist in her Olympics debut with the U.S. women's soccer team, provided key assists throughout and scored the deciding goal in overtime—the 123rd minute being the latest a member of the U.S. women's team had ever scored—to keep their title hopes alive in their semifinal against Canada. "Congrats to our US Women soccer team. And to my fiancée Alex Morgan. See at at home babe," tweeted country singer Chase Rice, who is not her fiancé. But he's got competition from U.S. men's volleyball player, Matt Anderson, who also tweeted her, "@alexmorgan13 let's party dm me I'm in londontown lets making it epic." Both gents had better step—Morgan does have a boyfriend, pro soccer player Servando Carrasco.
4. Chad le Clos: If you weren't competing for Team USA, it was hard to make a name for yourself at the Aquatics Centre this year. But the 20-year-old from Durban, South Africa, managed to carve out a nice little niche in the spotlight—by both denying Michael Phelps a threepeat in the 200-meter butterfly, one of his signature races, and by crediting Phelps with making him the athlete that he is. "I told myself I would tell him he was my hero," le Clos told ESPN after sharing the podium with the most decorated Olympian ever. "So that's what I did...I never thought this would happen. From watching him in Athens to sitting here...it's absolutely fantastic." And Phelps thinks quite highly of the young man he inpsired. "It just goes to show that anything you want and anything you want to achieve, if you put your mind to it, you're going to achieve it," Phelps said. "I've said that so many times, and it's true. Chad is showing that. He has a lot more goals he wants to achieve, and I'm excited to see him continue in the sport and see what he does."
5. Claressa Shields: Not many had heard of the 17-year-old from Flint, Mich., until just a few days ago—but then she went and secured herself an enduring place in Olympics history by becoming the first gold medalist in women's middleweight boxing. That's right, ever. The fact that she's still in high school and the U.S. men's team won no medals for the first time make her victory even more of a helpful selling point for a sport still in its Olympic infancy. Shields told ESPN afterward, "I haven't been at home a lot, but I know I must have a lot of publicity. I might go in history books. People want to look at me as inspiration. I might have 2,000 new followers when I get back on Twitter. There's a lot of stuff that's gonna change. I'm going to be able to help my family out. And I got a gold medal that I can wear every day, by my choice, and it's mine.'' She also tweeted this (to her 4,393 followers and counting): "I told my dad I wasn't coming home with nothing less than gold, and I told the truth!" Sheilds already a few Twitter followers in high places: "What an amazing inspiration @Claressashields wishing you nothing but the best," wrote boxing's Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya.
6. Nathan Adrian: Those dimples! That smile! Seriously, though, the 23-year-old UC Berkeley graduate grabbed a nice slice of the American pie for himself this summer, kicking off his Olympics with a win in the 100-meter freestyle (his first individual gold medal) before winning gold as a member of the 4x100-meter medley relay team and taking silver in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay (the one Ryan Lochte bungled). Adrian told reporters he was looking forward to getting back in the pool at home—let's see if he can make it past the phalanx of girls who will be waiting for him.
7. Ashton Eaton: Check the picture on your Wheaties box in a few weeks and you may very well see this 24-year-old from Portland, Or., who convincingly won the decathlon in his Olympics debut with 8,869 points. He's just gonna be known as the greatest athlete in the world for at least the next four years, no big deal. "Ashton Eaton is the greatest athlete that's ever walked the planet, hands down," raved silver medalist Trey Hardee after his friend and teammate's dominant victory. "He's going to start a fire in the United States and we're going to have a whole slew of 8,900-point decathletes in the next 10 years. The scary thing is, I think he's still a couple years away from his best." None other than Usain Bolt, who remains the fastest man in the world, offered this compliment: "I'm a great athlete, but to do 10 events, especially the 1500 (meters), I gotta give it to him."
So do we.