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Laurie Sisk: It's getting close ... Olympic trials fill June calendar

Jun. 11—Every four years about this time, I start feeling a little giddy.

It's one of my favorite times for sports — the U.S. Olympic team trials — and takes place for my favorite Olympic sports throughout June.

I enjoy the team trials about as much as I do the Olympics and for a number of reasons.

First, it's a chance to get to know the athletes and their backstories ahead of the 2024 Paris Games. I always feel a little more invested in the Olympics after watching the team trials and what the athletes had to endure just to make it there.

Second, with the strength of the U.S. teams in many of the marquee sports, it is sometimes a bigger test for the athletes than the actual games.

Trials for my three favorites — swimming, track and field, and gymnastics — kick off Saturday with the U.S. Olympic swimming team trials in Indianapolis.

The swimming trials span nine days this year and take place in a truly interesting venue — Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts. The stadium has been converted into the world's largest natatorium for the event. For me, that alone is reason enough to tune in.

My eyes will be focused on Katie Ledecky as she competes for a spot on her fourth Olympic team.

Ledecky has dominated the sport on the women's side since Moby Dick was a minnow and, if successful in making the team, will have appeared in about 25% of the summer Olympics I have watched in my long lifetime. I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to veteran sports columnist Bill McMillen for the Moby Dick reference.

The trials are tough. Just two swimmers in each event advance to the finals. Olympic swimmers receive a bronze medal at the actual games when they finish third. Third place at the U.S. trials gets you zero, zip, zilch. There's a lot on the line as these athletes compete for those coveted couple of spots.

On the men's side, I'll be curious to see how Caeleb Dressel performs after coming back to the sport following a two-year hiatus. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I just hope it makes Dressel faster.

The last couple of days of swimming events overlap the U.S. track and field team trials, which begin June 21 and continue through June 30 in Eugene, Oregon.

The U.S. team is stacked with veterans on both the men's and women's sides. The men's team includes two-time Olympic Gold medalist Ryan Crouser in the shot put and Noah Lyles, who won the 100-meter and 200-meter races and was part of the winning 4x100 meter relay team in last year's 2023 world championships.

No Olympian has ever won three gold medals in the shot put, so I'll be pulling for Crouser to make history in that event.

On the women's side, I'll be screaming my lungs out for 100-meter world champion Sha'Carri Richardson. She is one of my favorite athletes to watch because of the joy she exudes when she competes. I like passion in athletes, and Richardson's passion is off the charts.

Concluding my trifecta of trials in June is the U.S. gymnastics team trials, which begin June 27 and continue through June 30 in Minneapolis.

I have just two words to say about the gymnastics trials — Simone Biles.

OK, I fibbed, I have a few more words about the trials. For me, the gymnastics trials are the most nerve-wracking of all. One little slip, one slight miscue can be catastrophic. Five men and five women are chosen for the team, and there is little or no room for error.

Biles, who made an early exit at the Tokyo Games after a case of the "twisties," is fresh off her record ninth national title after winning the all-around title at the U.S. gymnastics championships June 2.

She appears to be back to her usual winning form, and I'm excited to see her compete in her third Olympics.

And for those who don't already know, Biles has a connection to the MIAA. Her husband, Chicago Bears defensive back Jonathan Owens, played football for Missouri Western State University.

While the men haven't had quite the success the women's team has had, they certainly deserve a look after finishing third at last year's world championships.

One of the top contenders for the U.S. men is world Frederick Richard, who will be competing for a spot on his first Olympic team.

These are just a few of the many athletes I'll be rooting for in the trials. But the magic of the trials is that there are always a handful of newcomers that tug at my heartstrings and win me over.

Who knows who that will be this year?