With yesterday marking the 100-day countdown to the London Olympics, it’s time to take a look at some of the athletes who will stand out on the global stage this summer.
As London organisers put the finishing touches on the venues and city officials prepare for an invasion of fans, athletes around the world are training for the big moment.
From the track to the pool to the hardwood, here’s a list of 10 to watch (mindful that some still need to qualify):
USAIN BOLT: Surprise, surprise. 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 metres, 200 metres and sprint relay. Sure, Bolt hasn’t been as supernatural for the past couple of years, but expect him to peak just in time for the big show in London. There’s no reason he can’t win another three golds, 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.
MICHAEL PHELPS: 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 just three more of any colour to become the most decorated Olympian in any sport. He’s called his results over the past three years “horrendous”, but he was back in top form at last month’s Indianapolis meet. US teammate Ryan Lochte, who won five golds at the 2011 worlds, is Phelps’ top rival.
OSCAR PISTORIUS: The South African double amputee, who runs on carbon-fibre blades, is looking to make history by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in an Olympics. The “Blade Runner” has already gone under the 400-metre 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 US ahead of the Olympics. He’ll compete in the Paralympics, too.
HIROSHI HOKETSU: At the age of 71, the Japanese equestrian rider will be the oldest competitor in London. Hoketsu has qualified for the individual dressage, 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 ever. That distinction belongs to Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who was 72 when he won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
KERRI WALSH/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 be more in the spotlight than Walsh and May-Treanor, who won gold medals in Athens and Beijing and are favourites for a third title in London. And, yes, the Americans will still be wearing the standard bikini uniforms — not the more modest attire approved recently by the International Volleyball Federation.
CHRIS HOY: Winner of three gold medals in Beijing, the British track cyclist is one of the host nation’s top hopes for glory 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, 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 golds and a bronze.
NEYMAR: Argentina failed to qualify for the Olympic football 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 which Pele, “The King,” made famous in the 1960s. The 20-year-old Neymar has already scored nearly 100 goals for Santos in less 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 football competition Brazil have yet to win.
KEVIN DURANT: It’s hard to single out any individual player from the star-studded US 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 US to gold at the 2010 World Championship, but the Olympic title is what really matters. Durant, a two-time NBA scoring leader, is averaging nearly 28 points per game this season and should be a key in the line-up for London.
LIN DAN: 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 medallist. Standing in the 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 at Wembley Arena. Get ready for a dose of, you guessed it, “Lin-Danity”.
KATIE TAYLOR: With women’s boxing making its Olympic debut in London, the Irish fighter is a good bet for gold in the lightweight (60kg) division. Boxers won’t qualify for the games until the World Championships in China in May, but chances are Taylor will get through. She’s a three-time world champion and picked up the International Amateur Boxing Association’s female fighter of the year award in 2010. By the way, Taylor will wear traditional boxing shorts, not a skirt as allowed under a new amendment to amateur boxing rules.