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5 of the Most Inspiring Athletes Competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics

Once the torch is lit in London, athletes can continue—or begin—their quest for gold. While every Olympian trains years for this moment, these five have had to do even more.

When the 2012 Summer Olympics officially kick off in London tonight, we know that for the next 17 days we’ll see inspiring performances from athletes who’ve trained for years to achieve peak athletic form.

We’ll learn new names and get to know their stories. We’ll witness records broken and endless emotional moments on the medal stand. Every athlete carves a different path on his or her way to the Olympics, but some must overcome great personal or physical odds to have even the chance to compete on the world’s biggest stage.

While every Olympian is an inspiration, these five have already won in many ways, but perhaps a gold medal isn’t out of the question at these Summer Games.

Lopez Lomong, Track & Field, United States: Captured by Sudanese rebels at the age of 6, Lomong eventually escaped and ran—over the course of three days—to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya. One of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” in the Second Sudanese Civil War, Lomong later found a home in the U.S., became a citizen and adjusted to his new country the only way he knew how: running. The 27-year-old continues his race for his first gold in his second Olympic Games.

Oscar Pistorius, Track & Field, South Africa: After losing both legs because of a bone disorder at only 11 months old, Pistorius would be a long shot to compete in any track event, much less at the Olympics. But with the help of his carbon-fiber limbs, the 25-year-old Paralympic gold- and silver-medalist will be the first amputee to ever compete on a track at the able-bodied Olympics.

Im Dong Hyun, Archery, South Korea: Despite being legally blind, Im is one of the world’s most decorated archers—and a two-time team gold medalist for his sport, winning in Beijing in 2008 and Athens in 2004. With only 10 percent vision in his left eye and 20 for his right, the 26-year-old will aim for a third gold in London. Already, he’s off to a promising start having broken his own points record during preliminary competition for rankings in these games.

Oksana Chusovitina, Gymnastics, Germany: If gymnastics is a sport primarily for the young and younger, Chusovitina wasn’t aware. The 37-year-old will take to the beam and the vault against fellow gymnasts, some half her age, for an astounding sixth Olympic Games appearance. And she’s not just hanging on. She medaled at last fall’s world championships and isn’t ready to count out her participation in the 2016 Games in Brazil.

Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, Shooting, Malaysia: Imagine the pressure of competing at the Olympics, let alone while eight months pregnant. Taibi, the first female shooter representing her country, will also be the closest to giving birth of the few women who’ve participated in the Olympics while with child. The 29-year-old is shooting for her first medal in London—and hoping she can do it before going into labor. In reference to a recent debate waging in magazines and blogs, how’s that for having it all?

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