After switching to slalom from sprint in 1996, they began an unprecedented run that has them responsible for nearly half of their country's Olympic gold medals (seven -- all in canoe slalom -- since Slovakia became a country in 1993) with victories in the C-2 at the 2000, '04 and '08 Games. In between, they won the 2002, '07, '09, '10 and '11 World Championships, with bronze in '03 and '06. They are easily the favorites.
Traditionally a powerhouse in canoe/kayak's older brother, rowing, the U.S. has been unable to muster much success in the smaller boats and is 12th all time with 16 total medals -- five gold, five silver and five bronze. This year's crop has an uphill battle, with a few athletes likely to make the finals but finish out of the medals. One of the Americans' best hope for the podium is the canoe slalom duo of Eric Hurd, 26, and Jeff Larimer, 30. This will be the first Olympics for the pair, who only recently teamed up but have had some success on the international level, including gold at this year's Pan-American Games.
Great Britain's McKeever, 28, who has earned the nickname "Usain Bolt in a boat" for his blazing speed in the 200 meters, holds the world record in the event with 34.2 seconds. He won the 2010 world championships, but Siemionowski, 24, of Poland, clipped him by .216 seconds for the title a year later. Their rematch in London should be an exciting demonstration of different styles -- McKeever powerful off the start, Siemionowski solid at his base pace and both explosive at the finish.
They've been around long enough in the small world of sprint kayak to have seen plenty of each other (Wagner-Augustin, of Germany, is 35), but Wagner-Augustin has a nasty habit of edging Kovács when it counts. In each of the four Olympic races in which Kovács won silver, Wagner-Augustin won gold. Each is something of a hero in her home country -- Kovács was Hungarian Sportswoman of the Year, in 2002 and '03, and combined with Janics for Hungarian Sports Team of the Year in '05, '06 and '10. Katrin was Sportswoman of the Year in Brandenburg in '06 and '08, and carried the German flag at the Sydney closing ceremonies. There is some unfinished business here.
American sprint kayaker Carrie Johnson, 28, almost had to give up the sport entirely in 2003 when just after qualifying for the world championships team, she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Johnson had to give up her spot on the team to focus on recovering. Now she's adjusted her training regimen and returned strong, becoming the first kayaker to be named to the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in April.
-Hurd and Larimer are second-generation teammates, as their fathers, both named Mike, trained together in the early 1990s
-U.S. slalomer Caroline Queen became the youngest woman ever to make the senior national team, at 15, in 2007
-Competitors in the 200 meter events, making their Olympic debut this year to add a mad dash component to the sport, can reach up to 180 strokes per minute.