London 2012 Olympics Preview

The Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London

The week that London was announced as the hosts of the 30th Olympics, back in July of 2005, was without doubt the strangest of my eight years living in the city.  It started with a huge concert in support of a political movement, reached a height when London won the bid to host these Games, then ended in tragedy and senseless destruction.  Here is the time line of events from that week:

Saturday, July 2nd – Live8 Concert in Hyde Park

As part of the “Make Poverty History” movement, there was a series of concerts held across the world to encourage the leaders of the G8 countries to work towards fairer trade practices, forgive the debt of the poorest nations, and provide more and better aid.  At Hyde Park in London – a concert I was fortunate enough to attend as my sister won tickets in the text lottery – artists such as U2, Paul McCartney, The Who, Coldplay, Madonna, Elton John and, for the first time in 24 years, the four original members of Pink Floyd, all performed in a show that lasted for more than ten hours.

Sunday, July 3rd – The British 10K Run in Central London

Less than twelve hours after it had hosted a huge concert, the middle of London then shut down between Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge to host one of the largest road races run in the UK each year.  Side note – it is hard to run 10km after standing at a concert for a long time the day before, with little water or nutrition readily available.

Wednesday, July 6th – London Wins Olympic Bids

Trafalgar Square was once again the focal point of the capital, as people gathered to watch the International Olympic Committee announce its decision for the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Beating off strong competition from New York and Paris, London was selected to host the games for the first time since 1948.

Thursday, July 7th – The London Bombings

Four British terrorists carried out a series of orchestrated attacks against the London transportation network on the morning of 7/7.  Three home-made bombs were detonated their homemade weapons on Underground trains, while the fourth explosion was on the top of a bus in Tavistock Square.  In all, 52 people were killed – plus the four suicide bombers – and more than 700 people were injured.

Seven years later, many are still living with that tragedy and nothing has gotten better for the poorest nations on earth, but London has been preparing and rebuilt the East End ready for these Olympics.  The next two weeks are all about celebrating sport, as well as the history and multiculturalism or London and Great Britain.  Brand new stadia and infrastructure have been constructed around Stratford, existing venues have been transformed to host events, and football grounds across the country are being utilised for the men’s and women’s tournaments that are already under way.

When a host nation enjoys success at a major sporting event – be it the Olympics or the World Cup – it increases the enthusiasm of the locals and adds to the narrative of the games.  In 2008, Great Britain secured 19 golds; 13 silver and 15 bronze medals – the second biggest haul they had ever enjoyed and the most in a century.  Eight of the golds were gained in cycling, four in sailing and two apiece in swimming and rowing.  This time, there is a hope for even more success, particularly in track and field where the 2008 Games saw Team GB on the podium on just four occasions.

Here is a breakdown of the sports that are to be contested at the 2012 Olympics and what prospects there are for the host nations to win medals in each of them.

Athletics

Men: The men’s 100m final is considered the biggest ticket of the whole Olympics and the big question is whether the Jamaican, UsainBolt – World Record holder and reigning Olympic Champion – can overcome troublesome hamstrings to retain his title.  Bolt’s

The incredible Mo Farah

main challenge in both the 100m and 200m will come from his compatriot, Yohan Blake, while US hopes of a sprinting gold lie with LaShawn Merritt in the 400m.  The Kenyans are likely to continue their domination of the middle distance events – in particular the 3000m steeplechase, in which they may take a clean sweep of the medals through Kipruto, Mutai and Kemboi.  The 5,000m and 10,000m promise the most excitement, with Britain’s Mo Farah expected to finish in the top 2 in both races and is favourite for gold over the longer distance.  Puerto Rico will be hoping for their first ever Olympic gold – and first of any colour since 1996 – through Javier Coulson in the 400m hurdles; Russian athletes Valeriy Borchin and Sergey Bakulin are the men to beat in the 20km and 50km walks respectively; Britain has medal hopes in the long jump (Greg Rutherford) and triple jump (Phillip Idowu – if he overcomes injury); and American, Ashton Eaton, will be looking to repeat his World Record Decathlon performance from the US trials.  In the relays, Jamaica has a strong advantage in the 4x100m – with Bolt and Blake on their team – while the USA will aim for gold in the 4x400m.

Women: Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (both of whom’s names sound like law-firms) should contend in both the 100m and 200m, while the USA’s Carmelita Jeter (in the 100m) and Allyson Felix (200m) will be the main challengers to break up the Caribbean nation’s dominance in the sprinting events.  Over 400m, Amantle Montsho has a chance to win Botswana’s first Olympic medal, but Sanya Richards-Ross is favourite to win the gold for America.  For the middle and long distance events, African athletes are expected to win most of the medals, though Hannah England could pick up a bronze at least for Great Britain in the 1500m.  Mary Keitany and Edna Kiplagat will both be competing to gain Kenya’s first women’s marathon gold, though Paula Radcliffe can not be ruled out from overcoming injury – and the memory of failures in 2004 and 2008 – to finally win an Olympic medal to go with all of her other successes over 26.2 miles.  The relays mirror the men’s – Jamaica being the team to beat in the 4x100m, USA in the 4x400m – while Britain’s Jessica Ennis will be going for gold in the heptathlon.

Cycling

Bradley Wiggins has already put himself in the history books as one of Britain’s most incredible athletes, as he became the first man

Bradley Wiggins – First British man to win the Tour de France

from the UK to win the Tour de France last weekend, and he will be hoping to add to his two gold medals from Beijing in 2008.  With the bullet, Mark Cavendish – who has now won more stages of the Tour de France in his career than Lance Armstrong did and is unbeaten over the final stage in Paris – and Sir Chris Hoy – winner of three golds at the last Olympics – the men’s team is strongly placed to dominate the cycling events once again.  For the British women: Victoria Pendleton is favourite to win the sprint and should end up on the podium in the Keirin; Emma Pooley and Laura Trott have medal aspirations in the Individual Time Trial and Omnium; and they should make it a double gold with the men for Great Britain in the Team Pursuit.

Swimming

Much of the attention in the new Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Park will be of the rivalry between the two American swimmers, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.  The latter won 8 golds in Beijing – setting World Records in all of those events – 6 in Athens (as well as 2 bronze) and will be hoping to add to his total haul in 7 events in London.  Phelps requires four more medals to be the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time (beating Russian gymnast, Larissa Latynina, who won 19 in her career).  While no British men are expected to enjoy success in the pool, Rebecca Addlington will be hoping to repeat her two gold medal performance from Beijing in the 200m and 400m freestyle; and Ellen Gandy (200m Butterfly) and Hannah Miley (400m Individual Medley) both have a chance to end up on the podium.  In the Open Water 10K races, Team GB has a chance of another gold through Keri-Anne Payne, while Germany’s Thomas Lurz is expected to win the men’s event.

Rowing and Sailing

Traditionally, these have been sports in which Britain has enjoyed success in recent Olympic history, and rower Steve Redgrave is considered one of the host nations all time greatest athletes after winning gold medals in five consecutive Summer Games.  London 2012 should see Great Britain continue these triumphs and they have medal chances across many different disciplines:

Rowing – Men: Single sculls (Alan Campbell); Lightweight double sculls (Mark Hunter & Zac Purchase); Coxless fours; Eights.

Rowing – Women: Double sculls (Katherine Grainger & Anna Watkins); Lightweight double sculls (Katherine Copeland & Sophie Hosking); Coxless Pairs (Helen Glover & Heather Stanning).

Sailing – Men: Laser (Paul Goodison); Finn (Ben Ainslie – four-time Olympic medalist and winner of Gold in Athens and Beijing in the Finn); 470 (Stuart Bithell & Luke Patience); Star (Ian Percy & Andrew Simpson)

Sailing – Women: Laser Radial (Alison Young); 470 (Saskia Clark & Hannah Mills); Elliott 6m.

Racket Sports

Back at the All-England Club just a few weeks after Wimbledon ended, Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be looking to add Olympic Tennis Gold to the Grand Slam titles they won at the beginning of July.  Andy Murray has the chance to avenge his final defeat to Federer and will be once again cheered on by the home crowd, while the Williams sisters are expected to win the women’s doubles.  China could win a clean sweep of all 9 golds up for grabs in badminton and table tennis, with their competitors favourites across the board.  In the badminton mixed doubles, the British pair of Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier have a chance to win at least a bronze.

Team Events – Basketball, Hockey, Football, Beach Volleyball

Basketball – The USA will win gold in both the men and women’s competitions and it will not be close.

Hockey – Great Britain has a chance of medalling in women’s hockey, but Argentina and Netherlands are the teams to beat, while in the men’s event Australia and Germany are likely to do battle for gold.

Football – Nobody cares about the Olympics because it is trumped by the World Cup, European Championships, upcoming Premier League season and maybe even pre-season friendlies.  Both GB teams could end up with a medal, but Brazil’s young team will dominate the men’s tournament, while the American women should gain revenge over Japan for their World Cup defeat last year.

Beach Volleyball – This should not be an Olympic sport – it is something to do at a holiday resort other than sunbathe – so I have no input as to who will be given win medals.  It is probably a safe assumption that the host nation will not feature on either podium, though it might be fun to see how the sand holds up in torrential rain…

Other British Medal Hopes

With so many different sports being contested at the Olympics – not to mention weight categories and styles within them – I do not know enough about all of them to write knowledgeably about them, so here’s a quick rundown of the other events in which British athletes are expected to be in contention for medals.

Boxing – Men:  56kg (Luke Campbell); 91+kg (Anthony Joshua)

Boxing – Women: 51kg (Nicola Adams); 60kg (Natasha Jonas); 75kg (Savannah Marshall)

Diving – Men: 10m Platform (Tom Daley); 10m Synchronised Platform (Tom Daley & Peter Waterfield)

Equestrian: Individual Dressage (Laura Bechtolsheimer); Individual Three-Day Event (William Fox-Pitt); Team Three-Day Event

Gymnastics – Men: Individual All-Round (Daniel Purvis); Pommel Horse (Louis Smith)

Modern Pentathlon – Women: Mhairi Spence

Triathlon: Men (Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee); Women (Helen Jenkins)

Taekwondo – Women: 57kg (Jade Jones); 67kg (Sarah Stevenson)

Shooting – Men: Double Trap (Peter Wilson)

Canoe/Kayak – Men: Kayak Singles 200m (Ed McKeever); Kayak Doubles 200m (Liam Heath & Jon Schofield); Canoe Singles Slalom (David Florence); Canoe Doubles Slalom (David Florence & Richard Hounslow)

Canoe/Kayak – Women: Kayak Singles 500m (Rachel Cawthorn)

If Team GB reaches its potential and is able to better their performance from 2008, it will be a fantastic games for the hosts.  Here’s hoping to an enjoyable games without any logistical hitches or weather delays, but mostly, a safe and secure Olympics for all.

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