The 2012 Olympics in London may be over a month away, but it is never too early to take a look ahead. As the world’s greatest athletes prepare to vie for international competition’s most coveted prize, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has compiled a list of this year’s surest gold medal favorites.
5. Michael Phelps
After a record-breaking performance in Beijing, the “Baltimore Bullet” is poised to contend in London. Phelps is past his prime and will fall short of his eight gold medal output in 2008, but his accomplishments at the 2011 World Aquatic Championships prove he is not ready to go down without a fight. In Shanghai, Phelps earned gold in the 100 m and 200 m butterfly in addition to his golds as a member of the 4×100 m medley and 4×200 m freestyle relays. Increased competition from fellow American Ryan Lochte may hamper his odds, but Phelps’ experience and unending work ethic will help the American hero topple Larisa Latynina as history’s most decorated Olympic competitor.
4. Zou Kai
The 5’2” Chinese gymnast may not be tall in stature, but his nation expects big things of him come July. Kai walked away three gold medals in Beijing in the high bar, team, and floor events. Since then, the 24-year-old cruised to victory in both the 2009 and 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on the high bar. His high-flying acrobatics will delight the world and secure another gold for the gymnastics powerhouse.
3. Ryan Lochte
For the first time in years, a fellow U.S. swimmer has outranked the legendary Michael Phelps. A six-time Olympic medalist, Lochte has long-lived in the shadow of Phelps, but since Beijing, the spotlight has turned to him. At the 2011 World Aquatic Championships, Lochte slayed Goliath twice en route to five gold medals including a world record of 1:54:00 in the 200 m individual medley. In London, Lochte is a runaway favorite in all 200 m disciplines aside from butterfly. If he holds to form, Lochte could join an elite class of U.S. Olympic swimming greats.
2. Usain Bolt
The Jamaican sprinter is not only the fastest man in the world — he is the fastest man in history. At Beijing, Bolt won three golds in three events with three world records. His success has led to worldwide fame and admiration, but between commercial shoots, Bolt has still kept his form on the track. Usain has lowered the world record in the 100 m to a blistering 9.58 while bettering the times in both the 200 m and 4×100 m relay. After sweeping the sprinting events again at 2009 Berlin World Championships, only a false start could slow Bolt at 2011 Games in Daegu. Since his disqualification in 100 m final, Bolt has set his eyes on redemption in London.
1. U.S. Basketball
The United States has long dominated both men’s and women’s basketball — 2012 will be no different. Led by 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, the women’s squad is a runaway favorite in London. With a talented frontcourt anchored by Candace Parker, America’s experience and talent ensure success in international play.
In men’s competition, the U.S. lineup is filled with NBA stars. Even after losses at center, Coach K’s starting lineup is projected to be Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Tyson Chandler. Coming off the bench, they have proven stars in Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The U.S.’s unrivaled depth along with their unquestioned offensive and defensive explosiveness will allow the United States to build upon the Redeem Team’s success in 2008.
* Photos Courtesy of Boston.com, NY Times
What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.