By Steve Silverman
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The London Olympics will begin tonight with all the fanfare you can expect from an event that captures the world’s attention every four years.
For many American sports fans who have the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL fandom coursing through their blood, the Olympics is just a mild curiosity that may breakup the dog days of the baseball season and the repetition of training camp.
For a brief period, the Olympic track and field events as well as swimming, gymnastics, soccer and basketball will distract us away from the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets.
For many non-sports fans, the Olympics represents the one time there is an interest in competition. This is largely due to the TV feature pieces. Back in the day, ABC and Jim McKay would give us an “Up Close and Personal” look at athletes like Edwin Moses, Nadia Comaneci and Sugar Ray Leonard.
NBC Sports will have round-the-clock coverage and give viewers every Olympic angle they could possibly want. They’ll make athletes come alive with their own feature stories and we will allow ourselves to get taken in by some of them.
Then it will be over and the heat of the baseball season will be even more intense and the start of football season will be closer.
But in the interim, here’s a look at some of the events that may be worth your attention over the next two-plus weeks.
Men’s basketball – OK, this is pretty obvious, but you have to give Kobe Bryant some credit for creating interest. Nobody will ever top the 1992 USA Dream Team, but Bryant said the current team could stand up to Michael, Magic and Larry and maybe even win a game or two. At least we can have some legitimate interest in watching. Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony should roll, but there will be some legitimate competition from Spain.
Women’s basketball – If you say you’re legitimately interested and you are not related to one of the U.S. players, we doubt your veracity. Suffice it to say that the U.S. women will absolutely destroy the competition. Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird won’t even get challenged.
Boxing – This used to be one of the marquee events in the Olympics 30 and 40 years ago. Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard were all introduced to the American public at the Olympics, almost always by Howard Cosell. Staten Island’s Marcus Browne is one of the favorites for the light heavyweight gold medal. He’s got the dazzling foot speed to set the pace; all he has to do is show his power.
Track cycling – This is the event that sees the cyclists pursue each other on the banked track called the velodrome. If you had to watch this every week, it would get a bit old. However, once every four years it can be exciting. Chris Hoy of Scotland is the best in the world, while the best U.S. hope appears to be Bobby Lea. On the women’s side, Australians Victoria Pendleton and Ann Meares along with American Sarah Hammer should command the podium.
Women’s Gymnastics – This is often the big event of Olympic competition and the sport that was once dominated by the communist bloc nations. It is now far more competitive with the United States, Russia, Romania and China expected to fight for honors. Jordyn Wieber and Gabrielle Douglas are likely the two best American competitors.
Women’s Soccer – The American men failed to qualify, but women’s soccer almost always belongs to the U.S. The American women have been in the finals in all four Olympics, winning three times. The names are familiar – Abby Wambach and Hope Solo – but look for newcomer Sydney Leroux to make an impression. Japan will challenge the U.S.
Men’s Swimming – You won’t be able to avoid the Michael Phelps story, who will likely finish his career with 20 gold medals. His rivalry with Ryan Lochte is a good one, but this story will be overplayed throughout the swimming competition. Keep an eye on Cullen Jones in the 50-freestyle.
Women’s Swimming – The host British have an excellent chance for gold with Becky Adlington, who won gold in the 400 and 800 freestyle in 2008 in Beijing. Americans Missy Franklin (backstroke) and Rebecca Soni (breaststroke) have an excellent chance for gold.
Track and Field – The 100-meter dash could be wide open. Usain Bolt has had hamstring problems and may have a hard time defending his title. Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay should challenge for gold. Look out for Lolo Jones in the women’s 100-meter hurdles. If you’re looking for viral sensation Michelle Jenneke of Australia, you will be disappointed. She is not a part of the Australian Olympic team.
Men’s Water Polo – The Olympics are all about sportsmanship and good, wholesome competition. Except this event. There will be blood in the pool when the U.S. meets Hungary, likely in the Finals. Tony Azevedo is the Americans’ best player.