1. Missy Franklin, Swimming
Missy Franklin, a 17-year-old from Colorado, is the first American woman to swim in seven events during the same Olympics game. NBC says she’s the “new face everyone will love.” The Guardian calls her the “future of women’s swimming” and distinguishes her from other hyped-up swimmers — including “new face of men’s swimming” Ryan Lochte: “If we’re going to talk about Missy Franklin, let’s get one thing straight first. Missy Franklin is not the next Michael Phelps. Nor is Missy Franklin the next Natalie Coughlin. And Missy Franklin is most certainly not the next Ryan Lochte. Missy Franklin is the first Missy Franklin.”
The problem with The Guardian’s assessment is that in 2008, Michael Phelps was also the first Michael Phelps. Coughlin was also the first Coughlin. But every four years, we need a new darling to hinge our hopes on. Someone like Couhglin goes from being called “Olympic star” to “seasoned Olympic veteran,” while someone like Franklin becomes the “next big thing.” Blame it on the transient nature of the games — Olympians rarely stay at their athletic peak for more than four years, let alone eight. As Franklin’s coach Todd Schmitz told Knox News, “Michael and Natalie Coughlin will be done after these Olympics, and we’ll need a new face for swimming.”
2. Jordyn Wieber, Gymnastics
Jordyn Wieber became the “new face” of her shortly after Beijing 2008, an Olympics ruled by Shawn Johnson, the gold medalist who was declared the “new face of women’s gymnastics” at age 15, but recently retired at age 20.
Since winning gold at the American Cup as a junior in 2009, Wieber has racked up a series of medals and become a world champion. Now, the Bleacher Report predicts that the 17-year-old gymnast will “steal the show” in London, while Shawn Johnson spends her free time sleeping in and going to family weddings.
3. Alex Morgan, Soccer
In her first year as a starter, Alex Morgan was responsible for 25 percent of the points scored by the U.S. women’s national soccer team. Now that she’s competing in the Olympics, the New York Times calls the 22-year-old the “next face of women’s soccer.”
It must be a liiittle awkward then for Morgan to play on the same team as Hope Solo, the “next face” of yesteryear. Even worse? Attributing Morgan’s newfound status to her hot body-painted bod. As Bleacher Report (pretty disgustingly) puts it, “Hope Solo had her time in the spotlight, but Morgan is the future. Let’s be honest—Tom Brady would be a household name one way or the other, but he wouldn’t be nearly as iconic if he wasn’t an attractive, fashionable man.”
4. Evelyn Stevens, Cycling
Stevens, a former Wall Street banker is competing in her first Olympics, just five years after taking up the sport — a “new face” indeed. But leading up to the 2008 games, Kirsten Armstrong was the new star cyclist with the underdog inspirational story. Like Stevens, Armstrong had also only started cycling a few years earlier. She wasn’t a banker, but she was a recovering triathlete who had just been diagnosed with arthritis in both her hips. She also jumped from eighth place in the 2004 Olympics to first place in 2008.
5. Maya Moore, Basketball
At 23, Maya Moore will be the youngest member of the U.S. women’s basketball team. When she was drafted to the Minnesota Lynx last year, MinnPost called her the “new face of the franchise” and the best hope for the team’s success.
Like Alex Morgan, Moore is emerging from the It-girl shadows of her teammate. That’s Diana Taurasi, who the Hartford Courant describes with this analogy: “Diana Taurasi is to women’s basketball in the United States what fish is to chips in Great Britain.” While Taurasi might be the most famous women’s basketball player, she’s aging and recovering from injury, as the Courant points out, leaving the media scrambling to find her replacement.
6. Queen Underwood, Boxing
All right, in this case, Queen Underwood is calling herself the “new face” of boxing, but it’s kind of fabulous, in context. This is the first year women’s boxing will be a part of the Olympics, and Underwood is favored to medal as the biggest-name competitor in the U.S. She told NBC News, “I’m going to be that new face that you guys are probably going to recognize and connect with women’s boxing, but there’s so many people that I’ll be fighting for.”
Still, it might be more accurate to call Underwood the “first face” of women’s boxing. After all, while female boxers competed throughout the 20th century, the only female boxer to really break into American consciousness in a big way was fictional Maggie Fitzgerald of Million Dollar Baby.