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Countdown to London: Four Days to Go

By Amy Rosewater | July 23, 2012, 3 p.m. (ET)

London CountdownFour Of Team USA’s Biggest Rivals For Most Medals In London  

The United States won the most Olympic medals at the summer Games dating back to the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. In Beijing, Team USA won 36 gold, 38 silver and 36 bronze. But even Michael Phelps and his eight gold medals did not give Team USA the gold-medal lead in China. The Chinese amassed 51 gold medals in their country’s first Olympic Games as the host. Here are four countries that will be competing with Team USA for the most medals in London.

1.) China. The Games have moved out of Beijing, but the Chinese team still figures to be a strong country to reckon with at these Games.  China is expected to be competitive overall, but especially in table tennis, diving and weightlifting. Also watch for Sun Yang in the 1,500 meter swimming race; he set the world record in that event last year. 

2.) Russia. The Russians indeed are coming to London. With tennis star Maria Sharapova as its team flag bearer, the Russians will be formidable during these Games. Watch out for Alina Mustafina and Viktoria Komova in gymnastics, two-time defending gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva in pole vault and Anastasia Davydova, who is seeking her fifth gold medal in synchronized swimming. 

3.) Great Britain. As the host country, Great Britain has pumped in plenty of dollars (or rather, pounds) into its Olympic program and is hoping it will pay big dividends this summer. The goal, officials have said, is to earn 48 medals, which would be one more than it earned in Beijing (Great Britain finished fourth in the overall medal count in 2008.) Sports minister Hugh Robertson told The Telegraph, “If we were not to achieve that target then we would want to know why and where it went wrong.”  Rebecca Adlington, a two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, cyclist Chris Hoy (who will be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony) and diver Tom Daley will be among the marquee home country athletes. Soccer star David Beckham, one of the country’s most well-known athletes, however, will not be competing in these Games. 

4.) Australia. Although Australia will be sending 410 athletes to London, it will be its smallest Olympic contingent since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. Still, the Aussies should be competitive in swimming and cycling. Watch out for Sally Pearson in the 100-meter hurdles. She is the reigning world champion and was the silver medalist in that event in Beijing. 

Four New Medal Events To Watch 

The London 2012 Olympic Games will have some interesting changes. To get up to speed, check out these new events.

1.) Omnium. A two-day cycling event which includes six events (flying lap, points race, elimination, individual pursuit, scratch race and time trial). One American to watch in this event is Sarah Hammer, a world gold medalist in the individual pursuit who changed gears to compete in this event in London. 

2.) Mixed doubles: Who gets to be Serena Williams’ partner will be one of the big questions in London. The mixed doubles event, which has been absent from the Olympic program since 1924, is making its return at the All England Club of all places. 

3.) Modern Pentathlon: The brainchild of the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, modern pentathlon changed its rules in 2009 to feature a combined running and shooting event for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The competition also includes swimming, show jumping and fencing and dates back 100 years to the 1912 Games. 

4.) Women’s Boxing. This year marks the debut of women’s boxing, and women will be competing in three weight classes. Representing Team USA in these Games are Claressa Shields, Marlen Esparza and Queen Underwood. 

Four Americans Who Set Seemingly Unbreakable Olympic Records 

Records are meant to be broken, but in some cases, it seems that saying just isn’t true.  Here are four records set by U.S. athletes in the Olympic Games that have stood the test of a long time. 

1.) Bob Beamon’s long jump record. When Beamon soared 29 feet and 2 ½ inches (8.90 meters) in Mexico City in 1968, the world was aghast. Little did anyone know then that the record would still stand in the Olympic record books in 2012. Mike Powell  surpassed Beamon’s leap at the 1991 world championships with a jump of 29 feet, 4 ½ inches, but no one has snapped the record in the Olympic Games. Dwight Phillips, the 2004 Olympic champion, is sidelined with an Achilles injury, but Marquise Goodwin, Will Claye and George Kitchens Jr. will do their best in representing Team USA in this event. 

2.) Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 100 and 200 records. Back in 1988 in Seoul, Florence Griffith-Joyner, better known as “FloJo,” made headlines for her one-legged race outfits and lengthy fingernails as well as for her speed on the track. Her times in the 100 (10.54) and in the 200 (21.34) are Olympic records that still stand. In the 100, Carmelita Jeter is America’s best hope for a gold medal. Two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200, Allyson Felix, is seeking gold in London. 

3.) Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s long jump and heptathlon records. Also at the 1988 Games in Seoul, another track star named Jackie Joyner-Kersee set Olympic records. She leaped 24 feet and 3 ¼ inches in the long jump and amassed 7,044 points to claim gold in the heptathlon. Brittney Reese, who placed fifth in the long jump at the 2008 Games and has two world titles since, is America’s top contender in London. In the heptathlon, Hyleas Fountain, the 2008 silver medalist, hopes to come home with a golden souvenir from London.  

4.) Greg Louganis’ double double: In the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988, diver Greg Louganis won both the men’s springboard and the men’s platform gold medals. Since then, only one American man has won a gold medal in either of those events: Mark Lenzi captured the springboard gold medal in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. In 2012, David Boudia will try to end that drought.  

Four U.S. Teams That Could Be Repeat Gold-Medal Winners

Yes, there are several teams that have won multiple Olympic gold medals, most notably the women’s basketball team, which has won gold at every Olympic Games dating back to 1996, and the women’s soccer team, which has won three of the last four Olympic gold medals, but here are several teams that are seeking back-to-back gold after winning in 2008. 

1.) The U.S. men’s basketball team: In Beijing, the NBA stars were called “The Redeem Team,” because it won gold after a disappointing bronze-medal showing four years earlier in Athens. LeBron James is back, but without his Miami Heat champion cohorts in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Lots of injuries but this squad is still stacked. 

2.) Women’s Eight: The women’s rowing team will be seeking its second consecutive Olympic gold medal. Six of the Team USA members from 2008 are back on the team in 2012: Caryn Davies, Eleanor Logan, Caroline Lind, Susan Francia, Erin Cafaro and coxswain Mary Whipple.

3.) Men’s Volleyball: Even though the team was struck with tragedy on the day of the Opening Ceremony as the in-laws of coach Hugh McCutcheon were attacked and his father-in-law was killed, the men’s team formed a united front and wound up winning the gold medal (its first since Seoul in 1988). The U.S. men beat the 2004 Olympic champions, Brazil, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 in the final. 

4.) Women’s Doubles: The dynamic duo of Venus and Serena Williams will be back at it again at one of their favorite tennis courts: the All England Club. The Williams sisters won the doubles gold medal in Sydney in 2000 and then again in Beijing in 2008. They were the Wimbledon doubles champions earlier this month.

Related Athletes

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Serena Williams

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Venus Williams

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Queen Underwood

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Claressa Shields

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Sarah Hammer

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Marlen Esparza