As London Olympics beckons, there are a lot of athletes who will be the cynosure of all eyes. Let’s look at some of the athletes who will be thrilling fans on the biggest of stage this summer. From the track to the pool to the hardwood, what follows is a list of athletes to watch.
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 in time.
There’s no reason he can’t win another three gold; even 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.
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 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 was back in top form at last month’s Indianapolis meet. US teammate Ryan Lochte, who won five gold at the 2011 worlds, is Phelps’ top rival.
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 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.
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. That distinction belongs to Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
Kerri Walsh and 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, the Americans will still be wearing the standard bikini uniforms — not the more modest attire approved recently by the international volleyball federation.
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 gold and a bronze.
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 scored nearly 100 goals for Santos in fewer 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 is yet to win.
It’s hard to single out any 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 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.
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.
With five world championships, two Olympic gold medals and a bronze to his name, Lopez is the face of taekwondo in the US He’s back for his fourth Olympics and a chance to medal at a fourth game. 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 US 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.