Jul 23 Countdown to London: Five Days to Go

By Amy Rosewater | July 22, 2012, 12 p.m. (ET)

Countdown to LondonFive Athletes To Watch

The 529-member 2012 U.S. Olympic Team will feature a wide array of athletes of all different ages (from 15 to 54) and sizes (from 4-foot-11 to 7-foot-1), but here are five who are bound to make many of the headlines in London. 

1.) Michael Phelps: The star of Beijing after winning an unprecedented eight gold medals in swimming is sure to be one of the most popular names in these, his fourth Olympic Games. Phelps has said London will mark his final trip to the Games and he hopes to close out his career as the Olympian with the most medals. He currently has 16 medals (14 gold, 2 bronze) and the record holder, Larisa Latynina, a gymnast who represented the Soviet Union, has 18 (9 gold, 5 silver, 4 bronze). He will get some tough competition, especially from fellow American Ryan Lochte.  

2.) Missy Franklin: Another swimming star who is sure to get attention during these Games is this 17-year-old from Colorado. She is set to compete in four individual events (100/200 backstroke and 100/200 free) in addition to three relays. Natalie Coughlin won six Olympic medals four years ago in Beijing. Now Franklin has a chance to win seven. 

3.) Jordyn Wieber: The reigning all-around world and national champion has been one of the most consistent gymnasts leading up to London, but as of late, she has encountered a formidable foe in a compatriot named Gabby Douglas, who beat Wieber for the all-around crown at the U.S. Olympic Trials by one-tenth of a point.

4.) Allyson Felix: A two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 meters, this track star is hoping to emerge as the gold medalist in her signature event in London. There also will be plenty of talk about Felix in the 100, an event she barely qualified for at the U.S. Olympic Trials. At the Trials, she finished third in a controversial tie with training mate Jeneba Tarmoh. A run-off had been planned but Tarmoh eventually withdrew, allowing Felix to compete in the sprint in London. 

5.) Marlen Esparza: One of three U.S. pioneers in the sport of women’s boxing, which will make its Olympic debut in London, Esparza is a six-time national champion (at 106 and 112 pounds) and a world bronze medalist. She will turn 23 two days after the Opening Ceremony and has said London will be her first and last major international competition as she wants to continue with her education. She will be joined in London by teammates Claressa Shields and Queen Underwood. 

 
Five Events You Won’t Want To Miss

An estimated 10,490 athletes will compete in 26 sports in London. There will be 302 medal events. These are just five must-see events of the summer. 

1.) Opening and Closing Ceremony: What makes the Olympic Games so different than any other sporting event in the world is its pageantry and these two ceremonies are filled with both the expected (the parade of athletes) and the unexpected (who will light the Olympic cauldron). London is sure to have the entertainment side handled well with so many musical stars such as Paul McCartney, Elton John and Adele. 

2.) Women’s Gymnastics Team Competition: The U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team, headlined by Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas, is considered to be one of the frontrunners for the gold medal in London. Even though 2008 all-around champion Nastia Liukin and another 2008 gold medalist Shawn Johnson were unsuccessful in their Olympic comebacks, this 2012 team is stacked. If it does strike gold, it will be the first U.S. women’s team to reach the top of the Olympic podium since the “Magnificent Seven” did so in Atlanta in 1996. 

3.) Men’s 400 meters: Normally, it’s the men’s 100m race that garners all the attention, and even though Usain Bolt of Jamaica is back after his explosive showing four years ago in Beijing, a non-medal contender in the men’s 400 likely could be the hero of the Games: Oscar Pistorius of South Africa will be the first amputee to run in the Olympic Games. Known as the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius also is expected to compete in the 4 x 400. 

4.) Women’s Boxing:  The London 2012 Olympic Games will mark the first time that women will compete in every sport as the men. With the addition of three weight classes of competition in women’s boxing, the Olympic program will have reached a milestone in terms of gender equality. 

5.) Men’s 200 IM and 400 IM: Two showdowns in the pool seem inevitable in these events as Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are bound to go head to head. Phelps is the gold medalist in both of these events in 2004 and 2008. Lochte was the 200 IM silver medalist in Athens and bronze medalist in Beijing. He placed third in the 400 IM in 2008.

 
Five Venues To Check A Glimpse Of In London

Twenty venues were built for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and before the cauldron was to be lit, many of them acquired nicknames. The Aquatics Centre has been dubbed “The Stingray,” while the velodrome for cycling has been nicknamed “The Pringle,” because it looks like a giant potato chip. Some of the venues have been well-known to fans for decades, most notably the All England Club, where Wimbledon is held. 

1.) Olympic Stadium: The hallmark of any Olympic Games is the home of the stadium used for both the Opening and Closing Ceremony. With waterways flowing by three sides of this venue, the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium will be the centerpiece of the Games. 

2.) Wembley Stadium: No, not that Wembley, but the new one that was built on the site of the famed 1923 soccer stadium. Wembley will be used to host soccer matches for the Games and will be one of six venues used for soccer throughout the Games. 

3.) Aquatics Centre: This 17,500-seat arena has been called “The Stingray” after its roof design. More than two-thirds of spectators for the Games will enter Olympic Park via a bridge that forms part of the venue’s roof. 

4.) ExCeL: This is the largest venue for the Games and features five arenas. If you want to make one stop to see a lot of Olympic events, look no farther than this venue. It will play host to boxing, fencing, judo, wrestling, taekwondo, weightlifting and table tennis. 

5.) Horse Guards Parade: Although this area is more known for being close to the Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street and parade in honor of the Queen, it will be transformed into a beach and bikini-clad volleyball players for the Games. The backdrop for this Olympic competition will be unlike any other for the sport.

 

Five Coaches To Watch

Olympic athletes do the heavy lifting but the coaches are the ones sweating from the sidelines. These are five U.S. coaches who are sure to attract attention during the Games. 

1.) Teri McKeever, Swimming: She will be the first woman to coach the U.S. women’s swimming team at the Olympic Games. Twice an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Team, McKeever is now the at the top for Team USA. As a college coach, she has guided Cal-Berkeley to three NCAA titles and is best known for keeping the career of 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin afloat.  

2.) Mike Krzyzewzski, Men’s Basketball: The Duke men’s basketball team coach led Team USA’s  “Redeem Team” to the gold medal in Beijing and hopes to repeat that feat in London, albeit with a lot of roster juggling in four years. 

3.) Hugh McCutcheon, Women’s Volleyball: Four years ago, McCutcheon led the U.S. men’s volleyball team to the Olympic gold medal in Beijing, but his time in China also had its share of tragedy. On the morning of the Opening Ceremony, the parents of McCutcheon’s wife, Elisabeth Bachman, (an Olympic volleyball player for Team USA in 2004) were attacked and her father was killed and her mother was seriously injured. 

4.) Bob Kersee, Track and Field: One of the best known track and field coaches in the United States and the husband of Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, he will be working with Allyson Felix in London. 

5.) Bob Bowman, Swimming: The longtime coach of Michael Phelps will be busy along the pool deck in London. Among his other top swimmers who train at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club is Allison Schmitt, who won the 200 and the 400 events at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She earned a bronze medal in the 4 x 200 relay in Beijing.

 

Five Sports Which Feature Five-Time Olympians

This year there will be seven U.S. athletes making a remarkable fifth trip to the Games. Only 16 other U.S. athletes have competed in five Olympic Games. Among those 16 is Teresa Edwards, a basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist who is the U.S. chef de mission in London. 

1.) Track and Field: Amy Acuff is a high jump specialist who made her Olympic debut at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Her best finish in the Olympic Games was fourth in Athens in 2004. 

2.) Equestrian: Phillip Dutton and Karen O’Connor both will be competing in their fifth Games in eventing. Dutton formerly competed for Australia and won gold medals in the team event in 1996 and 2000. He changed his citizenship status in 2006 and began to compete for the United States. O’Connor, meanwhile, is the oldest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team at 54. She made her Olympic debut in 1988 when the Games were held in Seoul, South Korea. In London, she will be riding Mr. Medicott, her fifth horse in five Games. 

3.) Shooting: Kim Rhode and Emil Milev are both making their fifth trip to the Olympic Games but took very different roads to get to London. Rhode, a native Californian, has earned a medal in the last four consecutive Olympic Games, beginning with a gold medal in the double trap in Atlanta in 1996. She defended her gold medal in Sydney and then took a silver in skeet in Athens and earned a bronze in double trap in Beijing. Milev, meanwhile, was born in Bulgaria and earned a silver medal for his homeland in the Men’s Rapid-Fire Pistol event in 1996. He was in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen around the time of the 2008 Olympic Games and is making his return to the Olympic Games in London. 

4.) Archery: Khatuna Lorig began her Olympic career as a member of the Unified Team in 1992. Four years later in Atlanta, she represented her native country of Georgia and did so again in Sydney in 2000. By 2008, she was a U.S. citizen and competed in Beijing as a member of Team USA. She was named the flag bearer for the United States in the Closing Ceremony in Beijing. Lately, the recurve archer has gotten some Hollywood publicity as the archery instructor for actress Jennifer Lawrence in the blockbuster movie, “The Hunger Games”.

5.) Volleyball: Danielle Scott-Arruda, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., will be making her fifth appearance with the women’s indoor volleyball team at the Olympic Games in London. The middle blocker was part of the U.S. team that just won its third World Grand Prix and the 2008 Olympic silver medal squad. 

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