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Let the Games Begin

The athletes, the venues, the medals, the odds, the styles and everything else you need to know about the London 2012 Olympic Games

Author KEVIN ALEXANDER

FRONT RUNNERS…
American Olympians have brought home more medals than any other team. Here are their best chances to add to the tally.

ARCHERY: The U.S. men are the top-ranked team in the world, ahead of second-ranked France and perennial powerhouse South Korea. The seventh-ranked U.S. women won silver at the 2011 World Cup and could surprise people here — but they’ll have to go through South Korea (which has taken gold at every Olympic Games since 1988) to do it.

BASKETBALL: Ever since the U.S. team’s disappointing third-place finish in the Athens Games of 2004, team chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have been fielding more cohesive squads that are again dominating the competition. Meanwhile, the women have won gold in the past four Olympic Games (and six out of the last seven).

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Sand volleyball legends and two-time gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are on the hunt for a third consecutive gold, but will face tough competition from Brazil’s Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva, currently the top-ranked team in the world.

BOXING: America has racked up more boxing medals (108 total, 48 gold) than any other nation, and boasts a deep lineup of legendary alums (Cassius Clay, George Foreman, etc.). This year, its best hope to add to that lead is flyweight Rau’shee Warren, the first U.S. boxer to compete in three Olympic Games.

EQUESTRIAN: You don’t need to know the difference between show jumping and dressage to appreciate the fact that America trails only Germany in medals in this sport. This year’s squad, featuring double-gold-medalist show jumper Elizabeth “Beezie” Madden, is the most experienced yet.

FENCING: Seeing as how most Americans think of fencing as something they put up around their yard, you’d expect the United States to fare poorly in this event, which France historically dominates. But thanks to two-time gold medalist Mariel Zagunis, the U.S. is once again in contention.

GYMNASTICS: Russia, China and Romania are nipping at their heels, but the U.S. women are favorites after taking the team gold at the 2011 World Championships. On a team filled with Olympic veterans and new talent, the one to watch is Jordyn Wieber, 16, the 2011 All-Around World Champion.

SOCCER: In the four Olympic Games featuring women’s soccer, the U.S. women won three golds and one silver. In the 24 Olympic Games featuring men’s soccer, the U.S. men notched a lone fourth-place finish. Needless to say, the women are solid bets to win; the men face a challenge.

SWIMMING: This is likely Michael Phelps’ last Olympic Games, and his teammate Ryan Lochte is coming off four medals in Beijing, so expect both swimmers to make a big splash in London. On the women’s side, Natalie Coughlin will be looking to add to her 11 medals, including six in Beijing.

… ALONG WITH A FEW UNDERDOGS

FIELD HOCKEY: The American men haven’t medaled since 1932; the women, since 1984. And with Holland, China, Argentina and Germany dominating the sport for the past 10 years, the U.S. team faces long odds this time around.

TRIATHLON: In a sport currently led by a pair of British brothers (Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee) and a Spaniard (Javier Gomez), it’ll be tough for any American to overcome the home field advantage.

WEIGHTLIFTING: Alongside perennial favorites Russia and Bulgaria, Asia’s power-lifters have been on the rise, winning five of the eight men’s events in Beijing. American men, on the other hand, haven’t won Olympic gold since 1960.

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