The ones to watch: medal hopefuls for London
As London organizers put the finishing touches on the venues, and city officials prepare for an invasion of visitors from around the world, competitors are training for the big moment.
From the track to the pool to the hardwood, what follows is a list of athletes to watch (mindful that some still need to qualify). There are 11 names in all, going for 10 golds:
— USAIN BOLT: Surprise, surprise. Any talk of the Olympics has to start with the flashy Jamaican sprinter. His performance in Beijing four years ago was magical — gold medals and world records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and sprint relay. Sure, Bolt hasn't been as supernatural the past couple of years, but expect him to peak just in time for the big show in London. There's no reason he can't win another three golds, though world records may be too much to ask. His toughest competition in the 100 and 200 is likely to come from countryman Yohan Blake.
— MICHAEL PHELPS: Another no-brainer. After winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing, the 26-year-old American is back for his final big splash before retirement. With a career total of 16 medals, Phelps needs just three more of any color to become the most decorated Olympian in any sport. He called his results over the past three years "horrendous," but he was back in top form at last month's Indianapolis meet. U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte, who won five golds at the 2011 worlds, is Phelps' top rival.
— OSCAR PISTORIUS: The South African double-amputee athlete, who runs on carbon-fiber blades, is looking to make history by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in an Olympics. The "Blade Runner" has already gone under the 400-meter Olympic qualifying time of 45.30 seconds and needs to do it once more at an international meet to be eligible for Olympic selection. Pistorius also plans to run in able-bodied IAAF events in Europe and the U.S. ahead of the Olympics. He'll compete in the Paralympics, too.
— HIROSHI HOKETSU: At the age of 71, the Japanese equestrian will be the oldest competitor in London. Hoketsu has qualified for the individual dressage competition, riding a 15-year-old mare called Whisper. He competed in his first Olympics in 1964 when he was 23. Hoketsu was 67 when he competed in Beijing, finishing ninth in the team event and 35th in the individual competition. He still won't break the record as the oldest Olympian ever. That distinction belongs to Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
— KERRI WALSH/MISTY MAY-TREANOR: Beach volleyball will be one of the main attractions in London, with the competition taking place at a temporary venue in Horse Guards Parade, a stone's throw from Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. No one will get more time in the spotlight than Walsh and May-Treanor, who won gold medals in Athens and Beijing and are favorites for a third title in London. And, yes, the Americans will still be wearing the standard bikini uniforms — not the more modest attire approved recently by the international volleyball federation.
— CHRIS HOY: Winner of three gold medals in Beijing, the British track cyclist is one of the host nation's top hopes for glory on home turf in the spectacular new velodrome. The Scot was knighted "Sir Chris" by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 and could become Britain's most decorated Olympian. The "Real McHoy" is expected to compete in the keirin and the team sprint events, and possibly the individual sprint. With a career total of four gold medals and a silver, Hoy could eclipse rowing great Steve Redgrave's British record of five golds and a bronze.
— NEYMAR: Argentina failed to qualify for the Olympic soccer competition, meaning Lionel Messi won't be coming. But Brazil did qualify and Neymar is the player to watch. "The Prince" is a prolific goal-scoring striker for Santos, the Brazilian club that Pele, "The King," made famous in the 1960s. The 20-year-old Neymar has already scored nearly 100 goals for Santos in less than three seasons. Pele recently called Neymar the best player in the world — better than three-time FIFA player of the year Messi. The Olympic title is the only significant soccer competition Brazil has yet to win.
— KEVIN DURANT: It's hard to single out any single player from the star-studded U.S. basketball team. Kobe, LeBron and D-Wade are back from the group that won the 2008 gold medal. So this will be the chance for Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant to show his Olympic credentials. KD led the U.S. to gold at the 2010 world championships, but the Olympic title is what really matters. Durant, a two-time NBA scoring leader, is averaging nearly 28 points per game this season and should be a key in coach Mike Krzyzewski's lineup for London.
— LIN DAN: Widely considered the greatest badminton player of all time, China's "Super Dan" is a four-time world champion, five-time All England winner and the reigning Olympic gold medalist. Standing in the way of 29-year-old Lin's quest for a second Olympic title will be his main rival, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. The competition will be held at the Wembley Arena. Get ready for a dose of, you guessed it, "Lin-Danity."
— STEVEN LOPEZ: With five world championships, two Olympic gold medals and a bronze to his name, Lopez is the face of taekwondo in the U.S. He's back for his fourth Olympics and a chance to medal at a fourth games. His sister, Diana, qualified for her second Olympics but brother Mark missed out this time. In Beijing, the Lopez siblings became the first trio from the same family to represent the U.S. at the Olympics since 1904 — and all won medals. Steven Lopez, 33, will be motivated to win gold again this time after settling for bronze in China.
Last updated: 8:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012