It usually begins with an "Olympic dream."
A young person watches the Olympic Games on TV and says "I want to do that." Dedication, sacrifice and daily reaffirming effort comes after that. Olympic-sized dreams come true for only a very few but for those athletes who will compete for the United States track team in London, high school competition is usually where the competitive fire was stoked.
Not everyone on this list was a high school track star. For some, the combination of dream and talent didn't combust until later. For others, it can be traced as far back as age-group track. Some trained with sophistication in high school. Others were lightly trained.
There are many paths to the Olympic team. High school stardom isn't required. NCAA championships aren't required. The dream, and the desire, are universal. It's the timeline that varies.
Yet, for almost everyone on this list, a state championship meet was an end-all, be-all event somewhere between the ages of 15 and 18. Before these athletes wore the colors of the country, they wore the colors of a high school.
We, at Dyestat, have been privileged over the years to witness talented athletes emerge and mature on the way to successful lives. And we're proud to recognize that a few of them have also become Olympians.
Here is an athlete-by-athlete breakdown of where the members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic track and field team come from (high school) and a brief rundown of their high school accomplishments.
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Tyson Gay (100), Lafayette (Lexington, Ky.): Broke the Kentucky state record in the 100 meters when he ran 10.46 in 2001 and he also placed second in the 200 meters (21.23). ... American record holder at 9.69 seconds.
Justin Gatlin (100), Woodham (Pensacola, Fla.): Won Florida state titles in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles as a senior before turning his focus to the flat sprints. Placed third in the 100 (10.36) at Outdoor Nationals. Four years later he won the Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters in Athens.
Ryan Bailey (100), McKay (Salem, Ore.): Made his initial mark as a high school senior, breaking out with Oregon records in the 100 (10.45) and 200 (21.11) and a second place finish at Nike Outdoor Nationals (10.48).
Wallace Spearmon, Jr. (200), Fayetteville (Fayetteville, Ark.): A top basketball player and wide receiver on the football team, Spearmon did a little bit of everything on the track, including long jump (23-5), triple jump (45-8.50) and high jump (6-6). He won the Arkansas Meet of Champions 200 in 21.51.
Maurice Mitchell (200), Raytown South (Raytown, Mo.): Won the 200-400 double at the Missouri state meet as a senior and concluded the 2008 season ranked US#5 in the 100 (10.24) and US#3 in the 200 (20.74). He won the Kansas Relays 100 as a junior and senior.
Isiah Young (200), Junction City (Junction City, Kan.): One of the more improbable stories on the team, he was a weight lifter in high school who finished last in the Kansas 6A 100 meters final, running 11.11 seconds. He never met the DyeStat Elite cutoff; four years later he's on the Olympic team.
LaShawn Merritt (400), Woodrow Wilson (Portsmouth, Va.): A supreme high school talent who was undefeated as a senior and won the gold medal in the 400 at the World Junior Championships (45.25). He won 2004 Virginia state titles in the 100, 200 and 400 and was US#1 in the 400, US#3 in the 200 (20.72) and US#12 in the 100 (10.47). ... 2008 Olympic champion in the 400 meters.
Tony McQuay (400), Suncoast Community (Riviera Beach, Fla.): He won Florida 2A titles in the 100 and 400 his senior year and was second in the 200. His best time of 46.84 in the 400 was good for US#14 in 2009.
Bryshon Nellum (400), Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.): Who can forget his stirring anchor leg on the 4x400 relay at the 2007 Penn Relays when he split 44.6 to hold off Jamaican Yohan Blake? Nellum won the 200-400 double two years in a row at the California state meet and was US#1 in 2007 in both events with 20.43 and 45.38.
Nick Symmonds (800), Bishop Kelly (Boise, Idaho): As a senior in 2002, Symmonds won the Idaho state title in the 800 with US#67 1:53.62. He was not recruited by a Division I school and settled on Division III Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where is career took off.
Duane Solomon (800), Cabrillo (Lompoc, Calif.): He was US#1 in the 800 as a senior in 2003, running 1:49.79 in the California state meet finals. He also won the Golden West Invitational and Arcadia Invitational that spring.
Khadevis Robinson (800), Trimble Tech (Fort Worth, Texas): Turned to track after he broke his wrist playing football as a junior. He ran 47.0 seconds on a relay leg of the 4x400 and placed fourth in the 800 at the 1994 Texas state championships.
Leo Manzano (1,500), Marble Falls (Marble Falls, Texas): Won four state titles in Texas, including back-to-back 800 meters titles as a junior and senior. He was fourth at the 2004 Outdoor nationals in the 800, running US#8 1:50.48.
Matthew Centrowitz (1,500), Broadneck (Annapolis, Md.): Son of Olympian Matt Centrowitz (1976 and 1980), those great genes were evident in high school. After finishing eighth at the 2006 Foot Locker XC championships, he ran 4:03.40 (mile) and 8:41.55 (two-mile) during a stellar senior track season. ... 2011 World bronze medalist in the 1,500.
Andrew Wheating (1,500), Kimball Union (Meriden, N.H.): A Vermonter who attended school across the river in New Hampshire, his enormous potential was almost completely untapped by the time he graduated. He ran US#10 3:54.28 and placed eighth at U.S. Juniors in June of 2006. Two years later, he made the Olympic team in the 800 as a University of Oregon sophomore. ... His PR, from 2010, is 3:30.90.
Evan Jager (3,000 steeplechase), Jacobs (Algonquin, Ill.): As a senior, he was 15th at Foot Locker Midwest but won the Illinois 2A title in the 3,200. At Outdoor Nationals, he was third in the mile (4:05.68) and fourth in the two-mile (8:47.59) -- behind Centrowitz.
Donn Cabrall (3,000 steeplechase), Glastonbury (Glastonbury, Ct.): A standout in New England, he was 21st in his only appearance at Foot Locker (junior year). On the track as a senior in 2008 he ran US#5 in the mile (4:09.80) and US#6 in the two-mile (8:56.35).
Kyle Alcorn (3,000 steeplechase), Buchanan (Clovis, Calif.): He was edged out by Tim Nelson in the California state finals of the 3,200 meters in 2003, running US#8 8:53.46. The year before, as a junior, he kicked to the win in 9:00.26. In cross country, he was second in the CIF finals as a senior, seventh as a junior.
Galen Rupp (5,000/10,000), Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.): Played one season of varsity soccer before turning his attention to running under the guidance of Alberto Salazar. He trained with a global perspective from the start and along the way won five state championships, including a breakthrough victory over Lauren Jespersen in the 2002 cross country meet. As a senior, Rupp was second at Foot Locker and in the spring of 2004 he broke national records in the (8:03.67) and 5,000 (13:37.91) and logged 4:01.8 in the mile. ... U.S. record holder in the 10,000 meters (26:48.00).
Bernard Lagat (5,000): Came to the U.S. from Kenya for college and became a citizen in 2004. ... Part of one of the greatest races in Olympic history.
Lopez Lomong (5,000), Tully (Tully, N.Y.): One of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," his harrowing life story took a turn for the better when he emigrated to the U.S. in 2001. He won indoor and outdoor New York state titles in the 1,600 meters in 2004 and had a best of US#8 4:10.12. ... U.S. flag-bearer in 2008.
Matt Tegenkamp (10,000), Lee's Summit (Lee's Summit, Mo.): He ran 8:52.9 for second place at the 2000 Golden West Invitational and doubled 4:11.53/8:57.23 for Missouri titles in the 1,600 and 3,200. In cross country, he broke the Missouri state championship course record and was fifth at the 1999 Foot Locker finals.
Dathan Ritzenhein (10,000), Rockford (Rockford, Mich.): One of the most celebrated high school runners of all-time, "Ritz" won back-to-back Foot Locker Cross Country finals (1999 and 2000) and helped usher in a new era for high school distance running along with fellow Class of 2001 grads Alan Webb and Ryan Hall. He ran 8:44.43 in the tw0-mile to win the national outdoor championship in 2001 and also clocked 13:44.70 in the 5,000.
Trevor Barron (20K racewalk), Bethel Park (Bethel Park, Pa.): Broke five U.S. junior race walking records in 2010.
John Nunn (50K racewalk), Harrison (West Lafayette, Ind.): Ran well enough at the 1995 Foot Locker Midwest Regional to gain the interest of coaches at Wisconsin-Parkside, who turned him into a race walker.
Meb Keflezighi (marathon), San Diego (San Diego, Calif.): Moved with his family to the U.S. from Eritrea when he was 12. He won three CIF titles as a senior, taking the 1993 cross country title as well as the 1,600 and 3,200 in the spring of 1994. He was second at the 1993 Foot Locker championship and won the mile at the national outdoor championships. ... 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon.
Ryan Hall (marathon), Big Bear (Big Bear Lake, Calif.): He ran 3:46.51 for 1,500 meters and won the California 3,200 championship as a junior in 2000. That set the stage for entrance into the "Big Three" along with Dathan Ritzenhein and Alan Webb when they became seniors together. Hall finished third behind those two in the 2000 Foot Locker finals and won the CIF title in the 1,600 meters 4:02.72 later that spring ... First U.S. man under one hour in the half marathon.
Abdi Abdirahman (marathon), Tucson (Tucson, Ariz.): Emigrated to the U.S. from Somalia during high school and graduated from Tucson but his running career didn't take off until he enrolled at Pima Community College. ... Four-time U.S. Olympian.
Aries Merritt (110 hurdles), Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.): He won state titles in the 110 and 300 hurdles at the Georgia state meet in 2003 and was US#3 in the 300s with 36.61. He was sixth at the outdoor national championships in the 110 hurdles but owned a wind-legal best of 13.92, good for US#10.
Jason Richardson (110 hurdles), Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill, Texas): An outstanding high school hurdler, he ranked US#1 in the 110 hurdles in 2003 and 2004, when he ran 13.38 as a senior. He also ran US#2 36.05 in the 300 hurdles at the Texas state meet. Richardson won a national outdoor title in the 400-meter hurdles, clocking US#1 49.79.
Jeff Porter (110 hurdles), Franklin (Somerset, N.J.): He tried several other events before finding a his niche with the hurdles and won the New Jersey Meet of Champions as a junior in 2002. That same spring he placed sixth at the national outdoor championships. He was US#1 in the indoor 55-meter hurdles in 2003.
Michael Tinsley (400 hurdles), Pulaski Robinson (Little Rock, Ark.): The same year (2003) Wallace Spearmon won the Arkansas Meet of Champions in the 200, Tinsley won the 300 hurdles in US#26 37.54 seconds.
Angelo Taylor (400 hurdles), Southwest DeKalb (Decatur, Ga.): A dominant high school athlete in Georgia, he won eight state titles (including relays) in 1995 and 1996. He earned a bronze medal at world juniors in the 400 hurdles with a PR of 50.18 seconds and also won National Scholastic and USA Junior titles as a senior. ... Four-time Olympian, owner of three gold medals.
Kerron Clement (400 hurdles), La Porte (La Porte, Texas): A supremely talented high school hurdler, he is No. 7 on the all-time list in the 300 hurdles at 35.42. He won three Texas 5A state titles in the hurdles, but lost the 2003 110-meter final to Jason Richardson 13.51 to 13.52. Clement ran 50.13 to win the Junior Olympic 400 hurdles in the summer of 2003.
Jamie Nieto (high jump), Valley (Sacramento, Calif.): Ten weeks after picking up the high jump as a high school junior, he made it to the CIF finals. Nieto was also a football and basketball player in high school but eventually he turned his full attention to track and field. He cleared seven feet for the first time after he got to Sacramento City College.
Erik Kynard (high jump), Rogers (Toledo, Ohio): He won national championships indoors and outdoors in the high jump in 2009, clearing a best of 7-4.50 indoors at the Huron Relays. He also won the indoor national meet as a junior. He competed at the 2008 Olympic Trials at the end of his junior year and placed 17th. As a senior, he also won Toledo city championships in the 110 and 300 hurdles.
Jesse Williams (high jump), Needham Broughton (Raleigh, N.C.): He won back-to-back North Carolina high jump titles in 2001 and 2002 and earned a silver medal at the 2002 World Juniors Championships when he cleared his high school best, 7-3. He won outdoor nationals but also lost three times as a senior to Andra Manson (including world juniors). ... 2011 world champion.
Brad Walker (pole vault), University (Spokane, Wash.): He placed second in the Washington 4A meet as a senior, clearing 15-6, in 1999. That was good for US#24, hardly what you might expect from someone who would become a world champion (2007).
Jeremy Scott (pole vault), Norfolk (Norfolk, Neb.): Like Walker, his high school achievements were relatively modest. He won the Nebraska Class A pole vault in 1999 with a clearance at 15-2. Like Symmonds, he went the Division III route on the way to fulfilling his Olympic dream.
Derek Miles (pole vault), Bella Vista (Fair Oaks, Calif.): Miles left high school (in 1991) with a modest personal best of 14-6 and went to Division II University of South Dakota, where he took his sweet time on the road to becoming world-class. Miles has made four Olympic teams and is less than two months from turning 40.
Marquise Goodwin (long jump), Rowlett (Rowlett, Texas): The national high school record holder at 26 feet, 10 inches (in 2009), he is an example of someone who has been sensational every step of the way. Goodwin leaped 25 feet as a sophomore and 26-1.50 as a junior. He won seven Texas 5A state championships (including relays) and also made his mark as a sprinter, triple jumper and football player.
Will Claye (long jump/triple jump), Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.): He was the first jumper in Arizona history to break 50 feet in the triple jump and finished his high school career with a best of 52-4.75 in 2008. He's a two-time Arizona state champ in the triple jump and certainly would have made it a three-peat if he hadn't left school a semester early to enroll at the University of Oklahoma (where he promptly won the NCAA title with a U.S. Junior record 56-4.75).
George Kitchens Jr. (long jump), Glenn Hills (Augusta, Ga.): He finished second at the 2000 AAU Junior Olympics with a wind-aided 24-6.50 and won the Georgia state championship in the long jump as a senior in 2001 with 23-11.25.
Christian Taylor (triple jump), Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.): He produced one of the greatest performances in Georgia state meet history when he tripled with 46.60 (US#4) in the 400, 25-6 (US#2) in the long jump and 52-6.50 in the triple jump in 2008. He later went 52-8 for a US#1 in the triple jump. ... 2011 world champion.
Reese Hoffa (shot put), Lakeside (Evans, Ga.): Not much was expected of Hoffa as a junior when he barely advanced to the state meet, but he came up with a huge PR of 58-8 to win the first of two Georgia state meet titles. As a senior he improved to 64-3.50 at the state meet and he also placed fifth at the outdoor national championships.
Ryan Whiting (shot put), Central Dauphin (Harrisburg, Pa.): He was the national leader indoors and out as a senior in 2005 and hit a best of 70 feet even at the Pennsylvania 3A meet. He won the Arcadia Invitational, Golden West and was second at the outdoor national championships. He also won the state discus title with US#5 201-9.
Christian Cantwell (shot put), Eldon (Eldon, Mo.): He won the discus, but not the shot put, at the 1999 Missouri 3A championship meet. When a football scholarship didn't pan out, he studied videotapes of John Godina and determined to earn his way to college as a thrower. His high school PR was 60-1.50.
Lance Brooks (discus), New Berlin (New Berlin, Ill.): Split time between track and baseball in high school and won the the Class A title in the discus in 2002 with a toss of 173 feet, 9 inches.
Jarred Rome (discus), Marysville-Pilchuck (Marysville, Wash.): Gave throwing a try as a senior in high school after getting hurt playing football. He launched school records in 1995 that still stand: 178-11 in the discus and 58-6 in the shot put. He was the state meet runner-up in both events as a senior.
Jason Young (discus), Samuell (Dallas, Texas): He threw 197 feet even to place second in the discus at the 1999 Golden West Invitational, good for US#7 that spring. He was second in the Texas state meet.
Craig Kinsey (javelin), Fairfield Prep (Fairfield, Ct.): When he broke his hand playing baseball, Kinsey turned his attention to track and threw the javelin 185 feet while still in his cast. As a senior he improved to 193 feet and and also was a 6-5 high jumper and ran 15.1 seconds for the 110 hurdles.
Sean Furey (javelin), Methuen (Methuen, Mass.): An accomplished high school thrower, he won state titles as a junior and senior. In 2000, he threw US#1 227-3, won the outdoor national championship and was fourth at Golden West.
Cyrus Hostetler (javelin), Newberg (Newberg, Ore.): A late arrival to the javelin, he picked it up as a senior and placed third in the Oregon state meet (201-9) in 2005, but he was more than 10 feet behind his high school teammate, Alex Wolff. And Rachel Yurkovich, also from Newberg, broke the girls national high school record the same year.
Kibwe Johnson (hammer), North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.): Started out as a discus thrower. He ranked 25th nationally as a senior in 1999 and placed second at the Arcadia Invitational (185-10).
A.G. Kruger (hammer), Sheldon (Sheldon, Iowa): He was the runner-up in the Class 3A discus competition in 1997 with a best of 155-5. He didn't pick up a hammer until his junior year of college.
Ashton Eaton (decathlon), Mountain View (Bend, Ore.): In his senior year of high school, Eaton demonstrated some speed and long jump skills but no one could have predicted the breadth of his talents or his impact on the decathlon. In 2006, Eaton won Oregon titles in the 400 (48.69) and long jump (24-0.25) and was second in the 200. He never competed in decathlon until his freshman year at the University of Oregon in 2007. ... World record holder.
Trey Hardee (decathlon), Vestavia Hills (Birmingham, Ala.): Placed second in the pole vault (14-6) as a senior at the Alabama state championships and was also one of the top sprinters in the state. He vaulted 15-2 indoors and that's the event for which he was recruited to Mississippi State. In college, he gave the decathlon a try. ... Two-time world champion.
Jeff Demps (relay pool), South Lake (Groveland, Fla.): Ran a U.S. high school record 10.01 seconds in the 100 meters at the 2008 Olympic Trials, also matching the world junior record.
Jeremy Wariner (relay pool), Lamar (Arlington, Texas): Ran sensational high school times of 45.57 seconds in the 400 and 20.41 in the 200 as a senior in 2002. He won Texas 5A state titles in both events. ... Owns three Olympic gold medals, one silver.
Darvis Patton (relay pool), Lake Highlands (Richardson, Texas): A long and triple jumper in high school, he didn't make his school's relays teams. His sprinting improved in junior college.
Trell Kimmons (relay pool), Coldwater (Coldwater, Miss.): Was a double winner at the 2004 Mississippi Class 2A championships, winning the 100 and 200. Posted senior year bests of 10.24 in the 100, 20.90 in the 200 and 47.61 in the 400.
Ronell Mance (relay pool), Don Lugo (Chino, Calif.): Just two years ago as a senior, he won the California state title in the 400 (US#1 45.90).
Manteo Mitchell (relay pool), Crest (Shelby, N.C): Helped his school to a state championship in the 4x200 relay.