London 2012: Top five duels

Ahram Online, Friday 27 Jul 2012

Ahram Online compiles a list of the top 5 duels at the 2012 London Olympic Games

Athletics: Bolt v Blake

Bolt from the blue: Blake (left) crosses the finish line to win in Kingston (Photo: Reuters)

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was one of the undisputed stars of the 2008 Beijing Games but he will face a stiff competition to remain on the throne in London.

Bolt stole the limelight four years ago, breaking records while winning the 100 and 200 metres and 400 relay, but the rise to fame of his compatriot Yohan Blake is likely to make Bolt’s mission harder in the London Games.

Blake capitalized on Bolt’s disqualification from the final of the men’s 100m at the World Athletics Championship last year following a false start to win the gold medal.

He also beat Bolt twice at the Jamaican Olympic trials before warming up for the London Games in the best possible way, winning the 100m in 9.85sec at a Lucerne meet.

“Win, lose or draw we are friends, even though it is business and he wants to win and I want to win,” Blake said. “I am on the right path for the Olympics. This is where I am supposed to be. I want to remain unbeaten and that's what I am doing.

“I didn't come here to run a quick time but it's still a fast time.”

Bolt was highly criticized for “disrespecting his opponents” due to his premature celebrations at the 2008 Beijing Games, having begun his celebrations with around 20 or 30 metres left to run.

However, it seems he will not be able to enjoy such luxury in London, with Blake waiting in the wings to end Bolt’s dominance.

"You know why Usain calls me 'The Beast'? Because when you're sleeping, I'm working, I'm toiling through the night. It's what great men do,” Blake said.

Relay (4x100): Jamaica v United States

Tyson Gay
Tyson Gay of the U.S. (2nd R) passes the baton to teammate Ryan Bailey (L) as they compete in the 4 x 400 m men's event at the Herculis Athletics Meet at Louis II stadium in Monaco (Photo: Reuters)

Jamaica are poised to emerge winners in the Men’s 4x100 Meter Relay at the 2012 London Olympics, while the US seem to be the only team with a chance to cause an upset.

Boasting the World’s top sprinter on the globe in Usain Bolt, the towering man who dazzled in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is largely considered to be the fastest man in the world, Jamaica is the shoo-in for gold in Athletics.

Bolt is the world and Olympic records holder in the 100 and 200 Meter. He was also instrumental in helping his team win gold and achieve a new record, 37.10 seconds, in the 4×100 Meter Relay in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bolt’s teammates were Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell.

Jamaica also won the same competition in 2009 and the 2011 World Championships in Athletics. The team achieved a 37.04 record in last year’s Championships. Jamaica’s winning team consisted of Bolt, Carter, Fraterand and world champion Yohan Blake, the rising splinter who is deemed Jamaica’s second top after Bolt.

The same quartet, among other Jamaican athletes, will be vying for gold in London’s athletics this year.

On the other hand, the US failed to qualify for the finals of the 4x100 Meter Relay in the previous Olympics. The US last won the World Championship back in 2007. At the 2011 World Championship, they made the final but missed out on the triumph. The US won their last Olympic gold in the Men’s 4x100 Meter in 2000.

However, the American team are not to be ignored in this year.

Tyson Gay will be the top American sprinter in London. He holds 100 meter personal record of 9.69 seconds is the American record, which makes him the second fastest ever. The US also boast 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and a mixture of young and experienced sprinters.

"It is not about just four fast guys running. It is about four fast guys being able to get the stick around," US relays coach Jon Drummond told Reuters.

Swimming: Phelps v Lochte

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps, left, and Ryan Lochte compete in the men's 200-meter individual medley final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. (Photo: AP)

Much as he rose unopposed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to amass eight gold medals and stunningly break a long-standing world record, American swimmer Michael Phelps is not likely to emulate such feats in the 2012 London Olympics.

Apart from the fact that Phelps will feature in less events than in the previous Olympics, vying with his compatriot Ryan Lochte this year will be no doddle.

Phelps, who eclipsed Mark Spitz’s seven-gold-medal record in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, repeatedly beat off competition from Lochte in Beijing, as the latter finished either second or third in most of the events he took part in.

Lochte and Phelps, however, seem set to be neck and neck in London’s swimming races, judging by their more recent performances.

At the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, Lochte secured five gold medals, having beaten an off-form Phelps in the 200-metre freestyle and the 200 individual medley race.But in the recently completed US trials in Omaha, Phelps appeared in a better condition to defeat Lochte in the same two events.

“We both hate to lose to one another,” Phelps said. “Every time I do get in the water, no matter what stroke it is, he does bring everything out of me and I think that's something that I haven’t had with too many competitors throughout my career.”

One thing Phelps won’t attempt in London: winning another eight gold medals. After qualifying for the same events he competed in at the last two Olympics, he dropped the 200 freestyle. That leaves Phelps with two races against Lochte: the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

“Four years ago, we were trying to literally do everything,” Phelps said. “At this point it's, ‘Let's go out. Let's have some fun. Let's relax a little bit.’”

Lochte, on the other hand, said on more than one occasion that he feels he would achieve his full potential in the imminent Olympics.

“It’s hard to say who is the best swimmer,” said Lochte, “We’re both great racers, and we have been going back and forth for so long.”

Tennis: Federer v Djokovic

Djokovic and Federer
Djokovic and Federer

World’s number one Roger Federer is by far deemed favourite to excel and be the hero at the 2012 London Olympics, especially after securing his seventh Wimbledon title in July. Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, seems to be the player with the best chance to cause an upset against the Swiss sensation, after Rafael Nadal pulled out of competition through injury.

Djokovic, who finished as runner-up to Nadal in Roland Garros early this, also known as French Open, will be looking to snatch back the number-one rank he boasted this time last year.

“In our sport now, there can be no room for weakness,”Djokovic said in one of his famous quotes. “You look for small advantages. Every shot has to be a weapon,” the Serbian added.

Federer, for his side, will be applying the same principles in his quest to become – in terms of accolades – the greatest professional tennis player of all time by securing gold in the London Olympics, whose tennis tournament takeplace on the same grounds – the All England Club – that the Swiss sensation    dominated to claim the Wimbledon title.

“Obviously, the Olympics is the next goal," Federer said. "I was taking it in steps, really: all-out until Wimbledon. And then, after that, take a break, reassess, prepare well, then come back for the Olympics and hopefully play well.”

Football: Spain v Brazil

Mata and Neymar
Mata and Neymar

The Olympic Games is the only major tournament to have eluded Brazil’s football team, who are likely to struggle to end that barren run because of the presence of another powerful side in Spain.

Spain’s senior team took the world by storm after winning three successive major tournaments in style, displaying breathtaking and free-flowing football in the process.

Having won the European Championship twice in 2008 and 2012 as well as the 2010 World Cup, Spain have become the team to beat. Their U-23 side are also brimming with quality, with the majority of their players enjoying regular first-team football with their respective teams.

“It's obvious that there is a distance between them and us. We have started afresh in Brazil,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes said in an interview with Reuters.

"The champions are always a benchmark and Spain are outlining the way football is played in the world. They make the rules today in the way Brazil have done in the past. Nobody can take on Spain on equal terms."

Spain’s squad includes lively left-back and new Barcelona signing Jordi Alba, who played an instrumental role in helping Spain win Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

Playmaker Juan Mata of Chelsea, who scored the fourth goal in Spain’s 4-0 drubbing of Italy in the Euro final, is also present.

Brazil are not short of quality either.  They are boosted by the likes of Neymar, Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva.

“We have never won the Olympic Games and if you take a look back and look at the list of players who have taken part in the Olympics, we can see that it's not easy,” Menezes added.

“The worst mistake we can make is to think we are favourites before we have played, that's the first step on the way to not winning.”

Both side are likely to enjoy easy rides in their respective groups. Brazil were drawn with Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand in Group C while Spain will play against Japan, Honduras and Morocco in Group D.

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