Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

34. Vanessa Ferrari

Age: 17

The highest hope for a first-ever Olympic women's gold in Italian gymnastic history burst onto the scene in 2006, winning the all-around title at the World Championships. Taking the all-around at last year's European Championship confirmed Ferrari's standing on the sport's top rung. If the 17-year-old's youth and iron-like determination seem cut from the Eastern European mold, it's thanks to Ferrari's mother, Galia, a native of Bulgaria who was a competitive gymnast in her youth. But it is Italy that will be most focused on the slender teenager with the Formula One last name. Rather than tires or brakes, Italians will be monitoring the state of Ferrari's achille's tendon injury, which has been nagging her through the spring. It might be a convenient excuse for an Italian athlete, but mamma Galia expects only the best.