Nastia Liukin winning the individual all-around gymnastics gold medal and Michael Phelps winning eight swimming gold medals were the top two American headlines of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What will this year’s top stories be?
As London 2012 fast approaches, Americans all across the country are asking this very question. With both Shawn Johnson and Liukin’s Olympic careers finished, as well as Ryan Lochte stealing much of the swimming spotlight away from Phelps, much is still up in the air.
That said, here are eight athletes/match-ups you should look out for come the opening ceremonies on July 27:
1) Men’s Swimming – Phelps vs. Lochte
Arguably the two best swimmers in the world, Phelps and Lochte will face off twice in the 200m and 400m individual medleys (IM). In trials, Phelps edged out Lochte by 0.09 seconds in the 200m IM and Lochte beat Phelps by 0.83 in the 400m IM. Phelps is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in both, whereas Lochte is the reigning world champion in both.
2) Men’s Basketball – Team USA
Just recently, the roster of the 12-man U.S. basketball team was completed, with Andre Iguodala and James Harden taking the last two spots. Although the Americans are the favorite to win it all, they are in the tougher Group A alongside both France and Argentina, two gold medal contenders; Spain, arguably the biggest threat to the U.S., drew Group B. It will be interesting to watch the same-team dynamic between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who just played against each other in this past NBA Finals.
3) Women’s Gymnastics – Gabby Douglas vs. Jordyn Wieber
Sixteen-year-olds Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber headline a United States gymnastic team that is a favorite to win gold. At trials, Douglas surprisingly upset Wieber, with only 0.100 separating the two in the individual all-around competition. Both will compete in the individual all-around in London as they try to replicate what Liukin did in Beijing and Carly Patterson did in Athens.
4) Women’s Swimming – Missy Franklin
Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin will compete in an astonishing seven swimming events in London: 100m and 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m backstroke, 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, and 4x100 medley relay. She is an exciting swimmer that many young American athletes can look up to.
5) Women’s Hurdles – Lolo Jones
In Beijing, Lolo Jones was favored to win the 100m hurdles, but failed to medal after clipping the 9th hurdle and losing her lead, earning 7th place. Despite the heartbreak, she is back in action in London, once again earning a spot in the 100m hurdles for the United States. Although she was the last American qualifier, this is the redemption contest she has waited four years for. Keep an eye out for Lolo.
6) Men’s High Jump – Jesse Williams
The last time an American won a gold medal in high jump was 1996. Although this might seem relatively lackluster, before this date, Americans dominated the event (winning 11 of the first 13 contests), making this recent drought even more significant. Jesse Williams won the gold at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and is certainly a contender for the gold in London. He is definitely somebody to look out for.
7) Men’s Diving – David Boudia
Even worse than high jump, an American has not placed in diving since 1996 due to the recent dominance of China. In the 10m springboard, David Boudia’s event, the Chinese have won three of the last five gold medals. In 2011, Boudia took home the silver medal at the FINA World Championships, placing in between key gold medal contenders Qiu Bo of China and Tom Daley of Great Britain. Can Boudia end this drought?
8) Men’s Gymnastics – Danell Leyva
No American has won a medal on an individual gymnastics event since 1992, and Danell Leyva is trying to change that. He won U.S. Olympic trials, earning him an automatic birth to London, and is hoping to have a comparable performance later this month. He specializes in parallel and horizontal bars, and is definitely a favorite to medal, maybe even get gold, at the Olympics.