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FITNESS Olympics Special: Eight Olympic Athletes in '08

We spoke with eight extraordinary female Olympic athletes and asked them what keeps them motivated, focused, and strong. In their words, here's what it takes to achieve the ultimate dream.

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Olympian Natalie Coughlin
Robert Ascroft
Robert Ascroft
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Robert Nethery
Robert Nethery
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Tom Rafalovich
Robert Nethery
Robert Nethery
Jay Sullivan
Jay Sullivan
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Natalie Coughlin: "I am... healthy, balanced and strong."

Age: 25
Sport: Swimming
Hometown: San Francisco
Training: Two hours in the pool twice a day, running with her dog for 45 minutes to an hour every day, and lifting weights two or three times a week. Natalie also does Pilates every day and sees a private instructor two times a week.
Olympian Tip: Competing is not life or death. Since 2004, Natalie has developed a healthier view on where swimming falls in her life.

"I'm learning to find a better balance. Because at the end of the day, it's a game -- it's supposed to be fun."

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Natalie Coughlin's Diet

"I get up at 5 a.m. and have a chocolate MILO shake -- it's like Ovaltine -- then after my 6 a.m. swim workout I have a proper breakfast: a bowl of Kashi, a banana, and a cup of coffee. About midmorning, I have a kefer drinkable yogurt -- they have good probiotics in them. For lunch I have a wrap or sandwich, like a whole wheat tortilla with light cream cheese, turkey, hot sauce, and red bell peppers. I snack on fresh fruit, almonds, and cashews all afternoon. For dinner, I like some sort of lean meat -- chicken breast or pork tenderloin -- and a lot of fresh greens."

Get Natalie Coughlin's Olympic profile

Watch Natalie Coughlin swim at the Olympic trials!

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Shawn Johnson: "I am... focused."

Age: 16
Sport: Gymnastics
Hometown: West Des Moines, Iowa
Training: Four hours a day during the week; five or six hours on Saturday. Sunday is a rest day.
Olympian tip: Right before a competition, Shawn visualizes herself completing a perfect routine. She finds that the mental imagery transfers to her actual performance.

"Being one of the youngest Olympians has its pros and cons. I bring spirit and energy to the sport, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished. But I've had to deal with responsibilities that most people don't encounter until they're older. I use the pressure of the Games to fuel my motivation and work even harder. Being an athlete is about so much more than physical fitness -- it teaches you to stretch your mind and push the limits of what you can achieve."

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Shawn Johnson's Workouts

"Normally, my workouts involve stretching and toning exercises, and running through all my events; once I start, it's a very fast paced workout that pushes me both mentally and physically."

Get Shawn Johnson's Olympic profile

Watch Shawn Johnson at the Olympic trials!

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Jessica Mendoza: "I am... confident."

Age: 27
Sport: Softball
Hometown: Camarillo, California
Training: Four and a half hours on the field every day, plus one and a half hours of weights and conditioning.
Olympian tip: Before she travels to a new city, Jessica e-mails her nutritionist for a list of healthy restaurants. Deciding ahead of time takes the stress out of eating smart.

"Being successful as an athlete has given me a chance to share the game with others, especially in places where there are few opportunities for women to play sports. I traveled to Afghanistan last winter to teach women there about softball. It was amazing to see, in a place where lives are so tough, the pleasure playing sports can bring."

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Jessica Mendoza on What Makes an Olympian

"An Olympian is that person who gets up at 4 a.m., when no one is around to watch or applaud, when every muscle in your body is saying 'No!' and you go out there and get your workout in, because that's who you are."

Get Jessica Mendoza's Olympic profile

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Diana Taurasi: "I am... emotional."

Age: 26
Sport: Basketball
Hometown: Chino, California
Training: Diana practices almost every day: shooting drills followed by weight lifting in the morning; two-hour team practice in the afternoon.
Olympian tip: Diana stresses showing others respect on and off the court. When your teammates like you, she says, they play harder for you.

"Basketball has given me a lot, including a chance to give back. When I played ball for UConn, I raised money to help build a playground in Bridgeport, one of the lowest-income cities in the state. This past fall, I helped create a Learning and Reading Center for kids in Guadalupe, Arizona, near where I currently play for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. It was an amazing feeling to see it open.

"I am an emotional player -- my coach at UConn told me my emotions would be my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. I'm constantly trying to turn them into a positive force on the court. Every day, I push myself mentally and physically, working toward that goal of a gold in Beijing. Let's be honest: My team is not going there to see China; we're going there to win."

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Diana Taurasi on What Makes a Great Player

"Every day, I get out there and push myself. Like anybody with any kind of job, you go through lulls where you don't feel like doing it. But that's when the really great players force themselves through it and reach that next level."

Get Diana Taurasi's Olympic profile

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Lolo Jones: "I am... powerful."

Age: 26
Sport: Hurdles
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa
Training: Between 90 minutes and four hours a day, plus weight lifting six days a week. In the off-season, she adds hills and stairs.
Olympian tip: Lolo uses five-pound weights to mimic the running arm motion. She does 30 reps in 30 seconds, which helps increase her power.

"In 2004, I missed the Olympic team. It's a bitter pill for American track and fielders to swallow, because the team can take only the top three, even though we have six or eight athletes in any given year who could win medals. But I knew I wasn't going to give up: If something is blocking me from getting what I want, I want it more. That's why I chose hurdles as my event -- they are literally obstacles in your path that you have to overcome. For a while, I had no sponsorship for training, and no money. My sneakers had holes in them! After I ran well at World's in Stuttgart in 2006, Asics picked up my sponsorship. In the end, it comes down to perspective. I saw opportunity where others might have seen failure.

"As an athlete, I am pretty body-confident. What do I like best about my body? My legs. I have about 20 scars from where I've hit the hurdles over the years -- and I've earned them all."

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Lolo Jones' Diet

"When I talk with other athletes on the circuit, none of us say we're on a diet. But it's not like we're going out eating fast food every night. Once or twice a week I'll treat myself to something -- my most recent craving has been for the "Illegal Burritos" at one of the local restaurants. I don't count calories, but I am aware of what I put into my body."

Get Lolo Jones' Olympic profile

Watch Lolo Jones at the Olympic trials

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Deena Kastor: "I am... grateful."

Age: 35
Sport: Marathon
Hometown: Waltham, Massachusetts
Training: Deena runs 120 to 140 miles per week and does strength workouts six days a week.
Olympian tip: Recover faster after a tough run by doing what Deena does: Submerge your legs in a short, cold bath right after a workout.

"Running makes you incredibly aware of your body. It seems like a simple sport -- putting one foot in front of the other -- but it envelops your life, making you want to take the best care of your body that you can. I'm grateful that I have a team to help me with this process every day, from my coaches to my husband.

"Inevitably during a 26.2-mile race, you're going to hit a bad patch. During the tough moments, I play a mental game where I picture myself on familiar runs -- in the mountains or Little Antelope Valley -- places where I've been successful in my training. I just keep envisioning myself on those training runs until I feel better.

"In 2000, my goal was to make the Olympic team, which I did in the 10,000 meters. In Athens in 2004, my focus was on winning an Olympic medal. I got the bronze. This time, I want a shinier medal. It's Project Gold from here on out!"

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Deena Kastor's Marathon Running Diet

"I pay attention to what I eat, but I don't have a strict diet -- I need all the fuel I can get. The exception is the week before a marathon; my favorite foods are Indian and Mexican, and those spices aren't very conducive to running 26.2 miles when your stomach is a little sensitive! So the week before I eat bland, boring foods and focus on carbohydrates."

Get Deena Kastor's Olympic profile

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Misty May Treanor: "I am... experienced."

Age: 31
Sport: Beach Volleyball
Hometown: Costa Mesa, California
Training: Two and a half hours at the beach five days a week with partner Kerri Walsh, followed by three hours at the gym.
Olympian tip: Misty hates breakfast, she says, but needs energy. Her pick: oatmeal -- higher in nutrients than other cereals at a smaller portion size.

"This is my eighth year together with my teammate, Kerri. We're much stronger now than when we started out. We've learned a lot from each other, and we've figured out how to make the most of our personality differences. On the court, Kerri is the more emotional one -- if we need that extra charge of energy midway through a tournament, you can count on Kerri to rev us up. I tend to be calmer and help us stay really focused.

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Misty May Treanor on Body Confidence

"I grew up at the beach. I've always been a bikini girl, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable when people comment on my appearance. My upper body is strong, like a man's. I need to be big and build muscle to be competitive. There was one year when some blog posted my photo with comments like 'Misty looks fat.' Yeah, it kind of hurt for a minute, but then I was like, I know I could kick your butt any day, so I'm fine with it."

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Heather O'Reilly: "I am... living in the moment."

Age: 23
Sport: Soccer
Hometown: East Brunswick, New Jersey
Training: Two-and-a-half-hour practice followed by video sessions, weight lifting, drills, and scrimmages.
Olympian tip: In college, Heather did 30-minute once-a-week sessions of all-out sprints across the soccer field. These ultra-intense workouts helped build stamina.

"The best part of team sports is surrounding yourself with motivated women who push you to your limits. We're locked in and totally focused."

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Advice from One Olympian to Another

Heather O'Reilly: "I was just 19 in my first Olympics, wide-eyed and in awe of Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. They put women's soccer on the national stage. I learned how to be a leader just from watching them. Mia once told me, 'Have faith in your own abilities. Remember what you're good at.' What she meant is that as a member of a team, my job is to focus on doing what I do best -- adding speed and acceleration when we're on the field -- and let my teammates bring their own special bit to the mix. It's arrogant to assume I can do everything they can do. Today, I'm proud to wear Mia's #9 jersey. I'm one of the veterans now, and I do my best to show the leadership skills that I learned from my mentors."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, August 2008.

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