Phelps of course is the biggest story of them all. If he somehow gets all eight golds, it's the greatest single Olympics ever, and one of the best athletic feats ever. Heck, if he "only" wins four golds, he'll have more gold medals than any Olympian ever. Of course, if Phelps doesn't at least tie Mark Spitz, NBC and the rest of the media will declare him a "disappointment." Barring something unforseen though, Phelps is probably good for at least five golds. That is unless he is affected by the SMOG IN THE INDOOR SWIMMING COMPLEX. Or his crappy facial hair.
Other than swimming, expect primetime coverage to be dominated by track and gymnastics. Turning to the gym, the US men are probably doomed without the Hamm brothers, but the women look pretty strong, especially Shawn Johnson. Johnson is the defending all around world champion, and is thus a favorite to win it in Beijing. Given that she's a perfect All-American Girl from Iowa, victory equals a guaranteed Wheaties box. Johnson is only 16 though, but don't worry, Alicia Sacramone is on the team too.
Other athletes (both American and non-American) and sports to watch, :
The Men's 1500 meter team In a group that would make Lou Dobbs cringe, all three of the US's 1500 runners are immigrants. Bernard Lagat is originally from Kenya and is a favorite to win both this event and the 5000. Leonel Manzano is originally from Mexico (and legal, don't hyperventilate Lou), and of course, Lopez Lomong is a former Lost Boy. In one of the few sane decisions made by anyone these Olympics, Lomong was named as the United States flag bearer for the Opening Ceremonies.
Stephanie Rice An Australian swimmer, Rice will swim both IM's. She's Katie Hoff's biggest rival in those events, but as you can see by that picture, that's not why we should care. She's also newly single apparently!
Liu Xiang Yes, the Chinese are certainly in the role of villians these Olympics, but this poor bastard might have more pressure on him than anyone else. Xiang is the defending gold medalist in the 110 meter hurdles, and is very much expected to repeat. According to Xiang's coach: "Officials told us if Liu could not win a gold medal in Beijing, all of his previous achievements would become meaningless." His biggest rivals are American, but at least if they lose, we'll forget about it in a week. This guy will have to deal with the Chinese government.
Sheila Taormina Taormina competes in modern pentathlon, the most random thing in the history of the world. She has no chance at a medal. Why should we care? This is the third sport where Taormina has qualified for the Olympics. She was a swimmer in 1996, winning a gold in a relay, and a triathlete in 2000 and 2004. She is the first American to make the Olympics in three different sports.
Fencing I missed this sport in my weird sport roundup, which was inexcuable. Have you ever seen a fencing match? Two people bang at each other with swords, a beep is heard indicating a score, and both fencers run around and celebrate assuming they were the ones that scored. Absolute chaos, which might make fencing the perfect sport to symbolize these Games.
Natalie du Toit Remember Oscar Pistorius? Well, he wasn't the only disabled athlete that tried to make the Olympics. Du Toit, who is South African like Pistorius, had to have her left leg amputated in 2001 after being hit by a car. She qualified for the 10 km open water swimming race, a new event. She finished 4th in the World Championships, so she has a chance at a medal.
Marathon Because if anyone has a major breathing episode due to the smog, it'll be in the marathon. The winners could be whoever can actually make it the whole 26 miles without passing out.
Yelena Isinbayeva To the world, she's the best female pole vaulter ever. To us, she's decent enough to tide us over until Alison Stokke can get to the Olympics.
Laura Wilkinson In 2000, Wilkinson won a gold medal despite a broken foot. With no broken bones this time and coming off some recent perfect 10's, she could be the only non-Chinese gold medalist in diving.
Kristy Coventry Another swimmer, Coventry will be the IM contender with Hoff and Rice. What makes Coventry amazing is that she is from Zimbabwe. That makes her one of the few, if not the only, big time athlete that probably prefers to be in China than their home country.
My Bold Predictions
- Despite the host nation bounce, the United States holds off China in the overall medal count.
- China, however, does win the most golds.
- Michael Phelps wins six gold medals, losing the 100 meter butterfly to Ian Crocker and one of the relays.
- The US men's basketball team wins the gold, but it's not easy. (Personally, I like that it's hard now. Waltzing to gold hasn't been fun since the Dream Team.)
- Tyson Gay loses the 100 meter dash to one of the Jamaicans, Usain Bolt or Asafa Powell.
- At least 20 Americans are called "disappointments" for not winning a gold medal, most of whom weren't the favorites in the first place (OK, this one isn't exactly bold).
- Nobody dies of smog poisioning. Hopefully.
- Team handball becomes a popular sport, in the same vein as curling in the Winter Olympics.
- Neither the opening or closing ceremonies make a lick of sense to anyone (OK, this one isn't bold either).