Guide to the London Olympics: Can't-miss moments

Olympic schedule 2012: London Olympics get underway with tennis, gymnastics, swimming and more. Here are the dates, venues and major players for London 2012.

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Olympics 2012: Your guide to the most anticipated events of the London Olympics. From archery to wrestling, this is your guide to the rising stars, dramatic rematches and must-see moments in 37 sports at the London Olympics. Use the pull-down menu above to learn more about key dates, venues, top U.S. prospects and other contenders, and little-known facts.
Olympic schedule 2012: All you need to know about the dates, venues and major players for London 2012.
Olympics 2012: Olympic Stadium
Olympic Stadium. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Key date: July 27

Venue: Olympic Stadium

Big story: The ceremonies began at 9 p.m. in London, eight hours ahead of the West Coast, and viewers here had to wait. NBC broadcast the prerecorded Opening Ceremonies in Southern California beginning at 7:30 p.m. PDT.

What to expect: Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the games. Team members from more than 200 nations participated in the parade. A cast of 15,000 people under the direction of Oscar-winner Danny Boyle, of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, performed. Photos | Review

Little-known fact: Over 17 days, NBC is planning to telecast a record 5,535 hours of Olympics coverage from London on nine channels, including the NBC broadcast network, MSNBC, Bravo and NBC Sports. (By comparison, NBC showed just 2,000 hours of the 2008 Beijing Games.)

More coverage: Get schedules based on your location and provider at NBC's TV listings. The network is also offering extensive coverage online that includes live streams of many events.
Olympics 2012: Archery.
Brady Ellison, USA. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Team medals on July 28. Individual championship on Aug. 3.

Venue: Lord’s Cricket Ground

Big story: South Korea has dominated the team competition, but France, Italy and the U.S. are closing the gap. The Americans -- with Brady Ellison, ranked No. 1 in the world -- look like a good bet to reach the podium.

Top U.S. prospects: Ellison finished 27th in Beijing but was only 19 and has matured as an athlete since then. He will be joined by Jake Kaminski and Jacob Wukie.

Others to watch: No. 2-ranked Im Dong-hyun hopes to give South Korea an individual title. Viktor Ruban of the Ukraine is looking to repeat after winning gold in Beijing.

Little-known fact: Im has won two team golds and still holds the record for the highest score in Olympic competition, a mark he set in 2004. He reportedly has 20/100 vision in one eye and 20/200 in the other.
WOMEN

Key dates: Team medals on July 29. Individual championship on Aug. 2.

Venue: Lord’s Cricket Ground

Big story: Look for Korea, India, China and Chinese Taipei to fight it out for the team gold. Second-ranked archer Ki Bo Bae leads the defending champion South Koreans.

Top U.S. prospects: Miranda Leek, ranked No. 7 in the world, looked impressive at the trials. She will be joined by three-time Olympian Jennifer Nichols and Khatuna Lorig, another multiple-Olympian who coached actress Jennifer Lawrence for the film “The Hunger Games.”

Others to watch: Deepika Kumari of India arrives in London as the world’s top-ranked archer. Ki should present a threat. Great Britain will pin its hopes on No. 14 Naomi Folkard.

Little-known fact: Archery joined the Olympic roster in 1900, remaining for the next eight years. After a brief reappearance in 1920, it was gone for more than five decades before making a return at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

—David Wharton
Olympics 2012: Badminton.
Tony Gunawan, left and Howard Bach, USA. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 5, singles and doubles finals

Venue: Wembley Arena

Big story: China's Lin Dan, world and Olympic champion, is a heavy favorite to win another singles gold. In doubles, the South Korean pair of Chung Jae Sung and Lee Yong Dae are among the favorites although Chung is coming off a shoulder injury. The toughest competition should come from three-time reigning world champions Cal Yun and Fu Haigeng of China, who won silver in Beijing.

Top U.S. prospects: Tony Gunawan of West Covina, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Indonesia and a gold medalist in 2000, is paired with three-time Olympian Howard Bach of Anaheim in doubles, giving the U.S. its best chance yet at an Olympic medal. They are ranked 25th in the world.

Others to watch: Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, the runner-up in Beijing, topped the world rankings this spring, but his medal hopes took a tumble when he tore an ankle tendon in May. He's also been dealing with a family tragedy after his father tried to kill himself last month.

Little-known fact: The CEO of a mining company in Malaysia is promising a gold bar worth $630,000 for the country's first Olympic badminton gold. Malaysia has previously won four Olympic medals in badminton, two silver and two bronze.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 4, singles and doubles finals

Venue: Wembley Arena, London

Big story: China's Wang Yihan, the reigning world champion and No. 1 player in the rankings, is favored to win for her coach, Zhang Ning, who retired as a player after winning the 2004 and 2008 Olympic titles. Ning is the only person to win consecutive singles championships in the Olympics.

Top U.S. prospects: Pasadena's Rena Wang put her biology studies at UCLA on hold for two years to prepare for London, where she'll be the only U.S. woman. She's ranked 63rd in the world.

Others to watch: The highest-ranked non-Chinese player is India's Sania Nehwal, a former world junior champion and a quarterfinalist in Beijing.

Little-known fact: Less than 60 days before the opening ceremony, the Badminton World Federation bowed to public criticism and said it would not enforce a rule requiring women to compete in skirts or dresses. The rule was intended to "ensure attractive presentation."

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Basketball.
Lebron James, USA. Credit: Harry E. Walker / McClatchy-Tribune
MEN

Key dates: July 29, U.S. opener against France; Aug. 10, semifinals; Aug. 12, medal games

Venue: Olympic Park Basketball Arena (pool play); North Greenwich Arena (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals)

Big story: Is there really any way Team USA loses? This team might be better than the one in Beijing, which went 8-0 and won its games by an average of 27.9 points. Spain has some interesting players (the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka, Jose Calderon) but can't touch the U.S. in overall depth.

Top U.S. prospects: Take your pick: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony.

Others to watch: Backups Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala and Deron Williams would challenge for a gold medal if they were the only guys on the team. Forward Anthony Davis was the top pick in the NBA draft after taking Kentucky to the NCAA championship.

Little-known fact:Hard to believe and easy to forget, but only eight years have passed since the U.S. went 5-3 and staggered to a bronze medal in Athens.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 28, U.S. opener against Croatia; Aug. 9, semifinals; Aug. 11, medal games

Venue: Olympic Park Basketball Arena (pool play, quarterfinals); North Greenwich Arena (semifinals, finals)

Big story: It will be stunning if Team USA doesn't win a fifth consecutive gold. The U.S. has a 33-game winning streak, including a 5-0 run in preliminary play in Beijing with an average margin of victory of 43 points.

Top U.S. prospects: Guards Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird are in their third Olympics, as is forward Tamika Catchings. Candace Parker averaged only 4.5 points in Beijing but will blow through that easily in London.

Others to watch: Maya Moore and Tina Charles are first-timers who will command attention off the bench.

Little-known fact: Team USA Coach Geno Auriemma is overly familiar with half the roster, coaching Bird, Taurasi, Charles, Moore, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones while they were at the University of Connecticut.

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Beach volleyball.
Todd Rogers, USA. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: Quarterfinals and semifinals are Aug. 6 and 7. Final on Aug. 9.

Venue: Horse Guards Parade in central London

Big story: Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are trying to become the first men's team to repeat as gold medal winners. But it's a tough field.

Top U.S. prospects: Dalhausser says he likes playing in the rain, and he may get his wish. The second American team, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, has been on a hot streak with three finals appearances on the world tour.

Others to watch: Brazilian Emanuel Rego, the so-called Michael Jordan of beach volleyball, stands atop the Olympic rankings with partner Alison Cerutti. Germany will pin its hopes on third-ranked Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann.

Little-known fact: The Americans trail the Brazilians, 9-7, in the all-time medal count. But the U.S. has won three of the four men's gold medals.
WOMEN

Key dates: Gold medal match on Aug. 8

Venue: Horse Guards Parade

Big story: Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh will try for an unprecedented three-peat, but much has changed in four years. Walsh gave birth to two children, and May-Treanor had to recover from an Achilles injury suffered while rehearsing for "Dancing With the Stars."

Top U.S. prospects: There is another talented American team: Jennifer Kessy and April Ross barely missed making the team last time but are now ranked No. 4 in the world.

Others to watch: No surprise that a Brazilian duo -- Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva -- are No. 1 in the Olympic rankings. The Chinese will send Zhang Xi and Xue Chen.

Little-known fact: Three-thousand tons of sand were brought from a quarry in Godstone, Surrey, to create temporary courts just outside the prime minister's official residence to create a backdrop for this television-friendly sport.

— David Wharton
Olympics 2012: Boxing.
Marlen Esparza, USA. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 12, finals will be held in five weight classes

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: Cincinnati's Rau'shee Warren, the first boxer to participate in three Olympics, is among the favorites in the flyweight division (114 pounds). But first he has to win his preliminary bout, something he failed to do in his first two Games appearances. As a team, the U.S. is trying to bounce back from its worst showing ever, winning just one bronze in Beijing.

Top U.S. prospects: Middleweight Terrell Gausha of Cleveland, light heavyweight Marcus Browne of New York and heavyweight Michael Hunter of Las Vegas should all contend for a medal.

Others to watch: World champions Lazaro Alvarez (bantamweight) and Julio Cesar de la Cruz (light heavyweight) will be out to help Cuba improve on a dismal performance in Beijing, where it didn't win a gold for the first time since 1988, when Cuba boycotted. The Ukraine may have the strongest team after winning five medals -- four gold -- at last year's world championships.

Little-known fact: Olympic boxing could undergo a modernization after these Games with International Boxing Assn. President Wu Ching-Kuo saying more than 50 professionals will compete in 2016 in Brazil. He also wants to do away with computerized scoring in favor of pro-style judging and wants boxers to fight without protective headgear.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 5, women's boxing makes its Olympic debut

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: Although the fields are half as deep as in the men's competition -- 12 fighters versus 32 -- and although there are three weight classes versus 10 for the men, women's boxing will make its first appearance as a medal sport.

Top U.S. prospects: Houston flyweight Marlen Esparza, lightweight Queen Underwood of Seattle and middleweight Claressa Shields of Flint, Mich., all have a good shot at making the podium.

Others to watch: Ireland's Katie Taylor, arguably the best women's amateur in the world, is a heavy favorite in the lightweight division (132 pounds). Flyweight Mary Kom, a mother of two from India, is a five-time world champion.

Little-known fact: Women's boxing was on the schedule in St. Louis in 1904 as an exhibition event, but just six women -- in all sports -- are listed as having taken part in those Games.

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Canoe/Kayak slalom.
David Florence, Great Britain. Credit: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: July 31, medal event for single-man race; Aug. 2, medal event for two-man race.

Venue: Lee Valley White Water Centre, on outskirts of River Lee Country Park

Big story: Can Slovakian twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner win their fourth straight gold medal in the two-man race?

Top U.S. prospects: Casey Eichfeld finished 11th in Beijing in the doubles race and will compete in single canoe.

Others to watch: Michal Martikan of Slovakia is shooting for his fifth medal, having won two golds and two silvers. Tony Estanguet of France is another double gold medalist who has long battled Martikan.

Little-known fact: Hochschorner told the Associated Press that he finds this Olympic course "a little bit boring."
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 2, medal events

Venue: Lee Valley White Water Centre

Big story: Two-time defending gold medalist Elena Kaliska won't defend her title after failing to qualify.

Top U.S. prospects: Caroline Queen overcame a serious knee injury in 2009 to qualify for her first Games.

Others to watch: Jana Dukatova of Slovakia has dominated at world and European championships but is seeking her first Olympic medal. Corinna Kuhnle of Austria is a rising star who won gold at last year's World Championships.

Little-known fact: When this sport made its debut in 1932, it was staged on flatwater instead of whitewater rapids.

— K.C. Johnson
Olympics 2012: Canoe/Kayak sprint.
Piotr Kuleta, Poland. Credit: Chris Carlson / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 8, medal event for 1,000-meter single race; Aug. 9, medal event for 1,000-meter double race; Aug. 11, medal event for 200-meter single race

Venue: Eton Dorney Rowing Centre at Dorney Lake, Buckinghamshire

Big story: The inaugural 200-meter race will pit nine paddlers in a 30-second battle that will reward spectators similarly to short, track-and-field-like sprints.

Top U.S. prospects: Ryan Dolan, a 22-year-old from Hawaii, is making his Olympic debut.

Others to watch: Tim Brabants of Britain is aiming for his fourth medal in three Games. Ivan Shtyl of Russia has performed well at World Championships but is seeking his first Olympic medal.

Little-known fact: Brabants has taken time off from training to complete medical school.
WOMEN

Key Dates: Aug. 8, medal event for 500-meter four-women race; Aug. 9, medal events for 500-meter single and double races; Aug. 11, medal event for 200-meter single race

Venue: Eton Dorney Rowing Centre

Big story: The inaugural 200-meter race will also have just nine paddlers.

Top U.S. prospects: Carrie Johnson of San Diego is a three-time Olympian who missed the 2003 and 2009 seasons because of Chron's disease.

Others to watch: Katrin Wagner-Augustin of Germany is aiming for gold in her fourth straight Olympics and is a 10-time world champion. Danuta Kozak of Hungary won silver in Beijing.

Little-known fact: The emphasis on shorter races underscores that 56 years have passed since the 10,000-meter race was last held at the Melbourne Games.

— K.C. Johnson
Olympics 2012: BMX cycling.
Connor Fields, USA. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 10, medal event

Venue: Olympic Park

Big story: Connor Fields, a 19-year-old from Las Vegas, won the U.S. trials and has surged to a No. 2 ranking. This is only the second Olympics for BMX, so Fields could become the first American to win gold in the event.

Top U.S. prospects: Besides Fields, Nic Long of Lakeside, Calif., finished second to Fields at the trials and is on the team with David Herman of Denver.

Others to watch: World No. 1 Sam Willoughby of Australia and defending gold medalist Maris Strombergs of Latvia should press Fields for gold.

Little-known fact: BMX bikes have only one gear and one brake.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 10, medal event

Venue: Olympic Park

Big story: Britain's Shanaze Reade looked to have the first-ever women's gold medal wrapped up in Beijing before she suffered a serious crash near the end of the race. The same thing happened recently at the world championships, making Reade seem cursed in the same way American speedskater Dan Jansen had been in many big races.

Top U.S. prospects: Alise Post, 21, who was too young for the 2008 Olympics (the age minimum is 19), has suffered a broken leg and serious knee injury in the past two years, but she's healthy now and considered a dark horse medal contender.

Others to watch: Magalie Pottier of France, a former junior world champion, won the senior world championships this year. Caroline Buchanan of Australia is also a medal contender.

Little-known fact: After the test event, the first jump was made smaller after many competitors, especially women, crashed.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Mountain bike, cycling.
Julien Absalon, France. Credit: Mikhail Metzel / Associated Press
MEN

Key Dates: Aug. 12, cross country medal event

Venue: Hadleigh Farm, Essex

Big story: Can anyone beat France's 31-year-old Julien Absalon, the two-time defending gold medalist? Absalon has also won four straight world championships and is the most decorated rider of all time.

Top U.S. prospects: Sam Schultz, a 26-year-old from Montana, recently had his first-ever top-10 finish at a world cup event, but a medal is unlikely. The other American is 36-year-old Todd Wells of Kingston, N.Y.

Others to watch: Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic and Nino Schurter of Switzerland have beaten Absalon in world cup events since the last Olympics and would seem to have the best chance of keeping Absalon from a three-peat.

Little-known fact: Unlike other cycling events, mountain bikers aren't allowed help to fix a damaged bike.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 11, cross country medal event

Venue: Hadleigh Farm

Big story: Julie Bresset is favored to become the first Frenchwoman to win gold since the event joined the Olympics in 1996.

Top U.S. prospects: Georgia Gould, 32, of Baltimore, finished eighth in Beijing and earned an automatic Olympic berth this year because she ranked in the top 10 of the world cup rankings. Lea Davison, 29, of Jericho, Vt., is the other U.S. qualifier.

Others to watch: Canada has two medal hopes with two-time world champion Catharine Pendrel and rising star Emily Batty.

Little-known fact: Since the sport joined the Olympics in 1996 ,only one American woman (Susan DeMattei, bronze) has medaled at the Olympics.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Cycling, road
Tyler Farrar, USA. Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: July 28, road race; Aug. 1, time trial

Venue: Road race, The Mall; time trial, start-finish at Hampton Court Palace

Big story: The riders who have just finished the grueling Tour de France will have little time to recover in time for the Olympic races, which will start less than two weeks after the tour. For example, Spain's Samuel Sanchez, the defending road racing gold medalist, suffered a Tour de France injury that might keep him from the Games.

Top U.S. prospects: Tyler Farrar took a tour of the road race course and finds that it suits his style. He is particularly fond of the Box Hill climb and said he would be disappointed if he didn't medal.

Others to watch: Britain's Mark Cavendish has been the best sprinter in the world and has focused so much on the Box Hill climb of the road race course that he has lost weight to make the climbing portion of the course more suitable for him. German sprinter Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan of Slovakia are also road race medal threats. Fabian Cancellara, the defending gold medalist from Switzerland, is favored to defend his time trial title.

Little-known fact: London organizers expect over 15,000 to watch the road race, possibly the largest crowd ever for the event, and most will try to climb to Box Hill, the uppermost part of the course about 20 miles outside of London.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 29, road race; Aug. 1, time trial

Venue: Road race, The Mall; time trial, start-finish at Hampton Court Palace

Big story: Dutch superstar Marianne Vos, who won the prestigious Giro Donne last month less than a month after breaking her collarbone, has been winning international races since 2006, when she was 19. In Beijing she won gold medals on the track and now has chosen road racing.

Top U.S. prospects: The U.S. team is lead by former Wall Street worker Evelyn Stevens, who could medal in the road race and time trial as could defending time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, who is also recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in late May. Also a time trial medal contender is Irvine's Amber Neben, who won the world time trial gold in 2008.

Others to watch: The British have a strong road racing team led by defending champion Nicole Cooke. Also Sweden's Emma Johansson is a threat both on the road and in the time trial, as is two-time defending world champion Giorgia Bronzini, who leads a strong Italian team.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Track cycling.
Sarah Hammer, USA. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 2, team sprint finals; Aug. 3, team pursuit finals; Aug. 5, omnium finals; Aug. 6, sprint finals.

Venue: Olympic Park

Big story: The host nation hopes to earn up to 10 cycling medals, and the large majority of them are expected on the track. Chris Hoy of Scotland won three gold medals in Beijing and hopes to repeat that success.

Top U.S. prospects: Bobby Lea has the U.S. omnium spot, and Jimmy Watkins of Bakersfield will represent the U.S. for the men's sprint, though neither are likely medal contenders.

Others to watch: Gregory Bauge and Kevin Sireau of France could win multiple medals, and Germany's sprint trio -- Robert Forstemann, Max Levy and Stefan Nimke -- have said they will challenge British supremacy.

Little-known fact: Track cycling has been in every Olympics except 1912, when Stockholm was unable to build a velodrome.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 2, team sprint finals; Aug. 3, keirin finals; Aug. 4, team pursuit finals; Aug. 7, sprint, omnium final events

Venue: Olympic Park

Big story: Olympic champion and nine-time world champion Victoria Pendleton battles Australian rival and world champion Anna Meares in the sprints, and American Sarah Hammer, who faded under unwanted attention in Beijing when she and track teammates wore masks to protect against polluted air, is ready to star in the omnium.

Top U.S. prospects: Besides Hammer, Dottsie Bausch, Lauren Tamayo and Jennie Reed could earn a medal in the team pursuit.

Others to watch: Lithuania's Simona Krupeckaite could leave London with multiple medals and is top-ranked in the keirin. Wai Lee of Hong Kong did well in the sprint events at the Olympic test events earlier this year.

Little-known fact: The omnium is a new event for the women in the Olympics and is compared to track's heptathlon because it consists of multiple events (six) over two days.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Diving.
Synchronized divers train at the Aquatics Center at the Olympic Park in London. Credit: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: July 30, finals in synchro platform; Aug. 1 finals in synchro springboard; Aug. 7, finals in springboard; Aug. 11, finals in platform

Venue: Olympic Park Aquatics Centre

Big story: Tom Daley was the boy wonder at Beijing, at age 14 the youngest British Olympian since a 13-year-old coxswain in 1960. After finishing seventh on platform and eighth in synchro platform at the 2008 Games, Daley immediately became a poster athlete for home-team hopes in London. He won gold in individual platform at the 2009 worlds but finished fifth at the 2011 worlds. Daley was given the honor of taking the first dive in the Olympic Park aquatics center on the year-to-go anniversary.

Top U.S. prospects: It has been a long slog for U.S. divers, who once dominated a sport that has become the province of the Chinese and Russians. The last U.S. men's medal was a 1996 bronze by Mark Lenzi, who died in April at age 43. Lenzi's 1992 springboard win was the last U.S. men's gold. A more experienced 2012 men's team, with four-time Olympian Troy Dumais and two-timer David Boudia, has a shot at ending the drought, especially since Boudia won silver on platform at the 2011 worlds, making him the first U.S. man to win a world medal in that event in 25 years.

Others to watch: China's He Chong, 25, nicknamed "The King of Difficulties," won the springboard titles at the 2008 Olympics and the last two world championships. He nearly retired in 2010 because back and knee injuries kept him from doing his most difficult dives. Chinese men swept the gold medals at the 2011 worlds.

Little-known fact: When the United States (men and women) went without a medal at Athens in 2004, it was the first such shutout since 1912, when only men's diving was on the program.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 29, finals in synchro springboard; July 31, finals in synchro platform; Aug. 5, finals in springboard; Aug. 9 finals in platform

Venue: Olympic Park Aquatics Centre

Big story: Can anyone stop the Chinese? Its divers are ranked 1-2 in the world in the two individual events and first in the two synchro events. Wu Minxia, the springboard synchro queen (consecutive Olympic golds), could complete a full collection of individual springboard medals by adding gold to her silver (2008) and bronze (2004). She won that individual title at last year's worlds. "I feel bad if I don't touch water for a day. Especially on weekends, when I cannot be in the water, I feel terrible," Wu told the Women of China website.

Others to watch: Another Wu, Melissa of Australia, who is of Chinese descent, has been second to Chinese teams in synchro platform at several major competitions, including the 2008 Olympics. She and her most recent synchro partner, Alexandra Croak, won the silver medal at the 2011 worlds but did not make the 2012 Aussie team so Wu is diving only individual platform.

Top U.S. prospects: Laura Wilkinson's 2000 gold on platform was the last medal for a U.S. diver. Both U.S. synchro teams came close (4th and 5th) in Beijing. Kelci Bryant (4th in synchro springboard) is back with a new partner. Christina Loukas hopes to improve on her 9th place in individual springboard.

Little-known fact: After 76 years, Marjorie Gestring of the United States remains the youngest Olympic gold medalist in an individual event. Gestring was 13 years, 268 days old when she won the springboard title in 1936.

— Philip Hersh
Olympics 2012: Equestrian.
Zara Phillips, Great Britain. Credit: Hermann J. Knippertz / Associated Press
Key dates: Aug. 6, team jumping finals; Aug. 7, team dressage finals; Aug. 31, team eventing finals.

Venue: Greenwich Park

Big story: The U.S. show jumping team faces tough competition from France and Germany as it looks to win its third-straight Olympic gold. To continue the streak, the U.S. will rely on a historic mix of youth and experience. There is a 35-year gap between between the team's youngest member, teen phenom Reed Kessler, and veteran rider Rich Fellers, 53. Kessler -- who turned 18 just three weeks before the age cutoff date to qualify for the Olympics -- will be the youngest show jumper ever to compete in the Games.

Top U.S. prospects: Steffen Peters finished fourth in the individual dressage competition in Beijing on his then-unknown mount Ravel and has gone on to win two world championship bronze medals and a world cup title in the past four years. Boyd Martin arrives in London for the eventing competition following a devastating 2011 in which he lost his barn and six horses in a fire. His mount, Otis Barbotiere, is one of the horses that survived the blaze. At 54, Karen O'Connor is the oldest U.S. Olympian and will be participating in her fifth Games in the eventing competition.
Others to watch: A trio of European standouts will be under intense pressure to perform in London. Queen Elizabeth's oldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips, will find herself in the spotlight during the eventing team competition as the home country looks to bolster its medal count. Meanwhile, Dutch rider Anky van Grunsven -- the three-time Olympic champion in individual dressage, is out to prove that her coaching and promotional commitments haven't hurt her performance. German Michael Jung, the reigning world and European champion, is considered the favorite for the individual gold in the three-day.

Little-known fact: Ravel, ridden by Peters, has his own wine made from grapes in his owners' vineyard.

— Stacy St. Clair
Olympics 2012: Fencing.
USA's Mariel Zagunis, left, battles France's Leonore Perrus. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Key dates: Each of the 10 events (six individual, four team) is completed in a single day. Aug. 1 is women's saber day.

Venue: ExCeL Exhibition Centre

Big story: The United States went from an afterthought to No. 2 in the fencing medal count (six to Italy's seven) in 2008, prompting reactions of disbelief from the traditional European powers. A changed Olympic program (no more team event in women's saber) and a less experienced (and smaller; two instead of three) women's saber group than the trio who swept the individual medals in Beijing will make it nearly impossible for Team USA to match that medal performance in London.

Top U.S. prospects: No. 1-ranked Mariel Zagunis will be after her third straight gold medal in women's saber. Reigning world bronze medalist Lee Kiefer, 18, who is headed to Notre Dame after the Olympics, is fifth-ranked in women's foil. Race Imboden, 19, ranked fifth in foil, left Notre Dame for a year to train for the Olympics and then decided against South Bend, preferring to stay near his home in New York. The men's epee team won the world title in May but their event is not on the Olympic program.
Others to watch: Foilist Valentina Vezzali, 38, who will be Italy's flag bearer at the opening ceremony, is the only woman to win five fencing golds (three individual, two team.) Vezzali, ranked No. 1, also has won 11 world titles.

Little-known fact: Albert Van Zo Post, the only U.S. fencer other than Zagunis to win Olympic gold, did it in an event called single sticks, which appeared on the Olympic program just once (1904). It used wooden sticks rather than steel blades.

— Philip Hersh
Olympics 2012: Field Hockey.
A U.S. women's field hockey player trains ahead of the London Olympics at the Riverbank Arena. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: Preliminary rounds begin July 30; Gold medal match Aug. 11

Venue: Riverbank Arena at Olympic Park

Big story: Everything Australia has touched in the past year has turned to gold, as they are the reigning World Cup, Champions Trophy and Oceania Cup holders. An Olympic gold medal would make Australia the first-ever nation to boast the maximum number of points in the International Hockey Federation's world rankings. They'll be led by Jamie Dwyer, a five-time International world player of the year.

Top U.S. prospects: Failed to qualify.

Others to watch: Dwyer will command much attention, but several veterans could end up sharing the spotlight with him. Though past his prime, Pakistani star Sohail Abbas is still the top goal-scorer in the history of international hockey. British captain Barry Middleton has appeared in 96 matches for the host country, making him the sixth-most capped player in the team's history. Phil Burrows, the striker-turned-midfielder from New Zealand, is feared for his ability to score from unlikely spots, as well as deadly reverse strike.

Little-known fact: The Argentine men's team infuriated Britons earlier this year after one of its players appeared in a Falklands War-inspired commercial.
WOMEN

Key dates: Preliminary rounds begin July 29; gold medal match Aug. 10

Venue: Riverbank Arena

Big story: Long considered the best female field hockey player in the world, Argentine Luciana Aymar will be taking one last shot at Olympic gold in London. The Argentine squad -- known as the Lionesses in their home country, where they are wildly popular -- comes in ranked No. 2 in the world after being upset by the United States at the Pan Am Games in October. If Argentina is to win gold, the team will have to do it without starting goalie Belen Succi, who is expecting her first child this fall.

Top U.S. prospects: Team USA's goalie for the past decade, Amy Swensen, is largely regarded as the world's top female at her position. Katie O'Donnell, the youngest player ever to be capped by the national team, scored in the U.S. upset over Argentina in the Pan Am Games.

Others to watch: Several European stars will be looking to spoil Aymar's Olympic farewell, including Maartje Paumen, the star of the No. 1-ranked Dutch team and one of the sport's most feared penalty corner exponents. Germany's Natascha Keller has scored 203 goals in her international career and is set to compete in her fifth Games.

Little-known fact: The Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, is a big field hockey fan and was captain of her high school team. She hopes to attend one of their Olympic matches.

— Stacy St. Clair
Olympics 2012: Artistic gymnastics.
Kyla Ross, USA. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: July 28, team, all-around and individual event qualification; July 30, team final; Aug. 1, all-around final

Venue: North Greenwich Arena

Big story: Will the United States make a serious challenge for its second-ever team gold Olympic medal? The first came in 1984 in Los Angeles. Individually, all eyes will be on Japan's Koehei Uchimura, the consensus world's best all-around. The 23-year-old is at the peak of his skills, and he won gold at the last three all-around championships. He took silver to China's Yang Wei in 2008 and hasn't lost since.

Top U.S. prospects: Either John Orozco or Danell Leyva could sneak in for an all-around medal, though it's unlikely they'll challenge Uchimura for gold. And Leyva or Jon Horton, who won silver in 2008 on the horizontal bar, could get individual medals on that equipment. Jake Dalton is a threat for a floor exercise medal, and Sam Mikulak could get a parallel bars individual medal.

Others to watch: The British team is making a big push to get both a team medal and some individual shiny stuff. Louis Smith is a two-time European champion silver medalist on the pommel horse. Phillipp Boy of Germany, who finished second in the last two worlds to Uchimura in the all-around, should medal if the injured wrist he has been dealing with is healed.

Little-known fact: Rope climbing was a gymnastics discipline until 1932.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 29, team, all-around and individual event qualification; July 31, team final; Aug. 2, all-around final

Venue: North Greenwich Arena

Big story: With teams down to five from the six that were allowed in 2008, will the U.S., defending world champion, bring back what team coordinator Martha Karolyi wants more than anything, a second team gold? A Karolyi-coached team has won Olympic gold only once, in Atlanta. In Athens and Beijing, the favored U.S. settled for silver. And there is already talk that the U.S. will dominate the all-around competition, as it did in Beijing, with defending world champion Jordyn Wieber and her on-the-rise 16-year-old teammate Gabrielle Douglas. China, Russia and Romania are also expected to challenge for team medals with the host team, Britain, also making a push.

Top U.S. prospects: Besides Wieber and Douglas, the U.S. can expect a vault medal from defending world champion McKayla Maroney of Long Beach and 15-year-old Kyla Ross, who has been flawless on uneven bars during the national championships and Olympic trials. Aly Raisman has won a world medal on floor exercise, and Douglas is an individual medal possibility on uneven bars and floor.

Others to watch: A pair of Romanians, Larissa Iordache and Catalina Ponor, sparkled on the balance beam at the European nationals, winning gold and silver, and 36-year-old German Oksana Chusovitina is still a force on the vault. Britain's Beth Tweddle, at 27, would love to take an uneven medal. China's Sui Lu and Russia's Viktoria Komova are favorites on the balance beam, and Komova should push Douglas and Wieber in the all around as well as have a chance on the uneven bars.

Little-known fact: Australia's women's coach, Peggy Liddick, who along with Steve Nunno helped Shannon Miller win seven Olympic and nine world championship medals, was granted Australian citizenship last January.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Trampoline gymnastics
Michael Devine, left, and Jeffrey Gluckstein, USA. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 3, qualification and finals

Venue: North Greenwich Arena

Big story: Can anybody beat the Chinese? Seems unlikely this year. China is favored to win gold with defending champion Lu Chunlong back from Beijing. Bronze medalist Dong Dong, however, upset Lu at the last world championships.

Top U.S. prospects: Steve Gluckstein, 22, of Atlantic Highlands, N.J., is the only U.S. qualifier among the 16 men. Lake Forest's Logan Dooley is the alternate should Gluckstein be injured. No U.S. man has ever medaled.

Others to watch: Canadian Jason Burnett, who won a surprise silver medal in Beijing and who is a six-time Canadian champion, should earn the third medal on offer.

Little-known fact: George Nissen, who designed the first modern-style trampoline for the U.S. military in 1936 to help train pilots and soldiers, at age 86, attended the 2000 Sydney Olympics when trampoline was brought into the Games for the first time.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 4, qualification and finals

Venue: North Greenwich Arena

Big story: Karen Cockburn of Canada has medaled at all three Olympics since women's trampoline was introduced. She's got plenty of silver medals (two) and a bronze, but gold would make a nice finish. Gold challengers include her teammate Rosie MacLennan who is eight years younger.

Top U.S. prospects: The only American to qualify is 18-year-old Savannah Vinsant of Louisiana. At the 2011 worlds, Vinsant did make it to the individual finals and finished seventh. No American man or woman has made it into an Olympics final so far.

Others to watch: Defending Olympic champion He Wanna of China finished only seventh at the test event, ending up off the trampoline and in the arms of spotters.

Little-known fact: Irina Karavayeva, who won the first-ever women's Olympic gold in the sport in 2000, was incorrectly awarded the world championship gold in 2001 because of a judging mistake. She later gave it up.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Rhythmic gymnastics.
Julie Zetlin, USA. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
Key Dates: Aug. 11, individual finals; Aug. 12, group finals

Venue: Wembley Arena

Big story: Rhythmic group competition was added in 1996, and it has been dominated by the Russians, who have won three of the four gold medals. But the Russians are being pushed by Italy, which won gold at the 2011 world championships, its third worlds in a row. Russia's Yevgenia Kanayeva, 22, is the strong favorite to win her second consecutive individual gold medal.

Top U.S. prospects: The U.S. failed to qualify as a group. Julie Zetlin is the first U.S. individual to qualify since Athens. Zetlin, 22, from Bethesda, Md., earned her spot based on results of the 2011 world championships.
Others to watch: Eastern Europeans should dominate the medal stand. Russia's Aleksandra Merkulova, Aliya Garayeva of Azerbaijan and Lyubov Cherkashina of Belarus are contenders.

Little-known fact: The ribbon used in rhythmic gymnastics must be six meters (or nearly 20 feet) long.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Judo
Kayla Harrison, USA. Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: July 31, 178-pound preliminary medal rounds; Aug. 1, men's 198-pound final

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre, London

Big story: Ilias Iliadis, a Georgian-born Greek, was an Olympic champion in Athens at age 17 and is among the favorites here at a new weight, 90 kilograms (198 pounds), where he's won two world championships. Elnur Mammadli of Azerbaijan is also trying to win a second gold medal after moving up a class. The gold medalist at 161 pounds in Beijing, Mammadli won a European title at 178 pounds and will face defending Olympic champion Ole Bischof of Germany.

Top U.S. prospects: 2008 Olympian Travis Stevens of Bellevue, Wash., who will fight at 178 pounds is America's top medal hope. But since January he's been slowed by a torn hamstring, strained neck and a broken foot. New Jersey's Nick Delpopolo, who was adopted by a U.S. couple from a Montenegro orphanage when he was 21 months old, is a medal longshot at 161 pounds.

Others to watch: French heavyweight Teddy Riner has won six world and two European championships but he finished third four years ago in his only Olympic appearance. And South Korea's Wang Ki-Chun has won a world title and two Asian championships since finishing second in Beijing at 161 pounds.

Little-known fact: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will lead the official Russian delegation to London, but President Vladimir Putin said he plans to be in England in a private capacity to watch judo. Putin holds a black belt in the sport and has recorded an instructional judo DVD.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 2, women's 172-pound quarterfinals, semifinals and gold medal match

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: Kayla Harrison of Wakefield, Mass., sexually abused by a coach as a youngster, overcame that trauma to win a world championship at 172 pounds in 2010, becoming the fourth American of any gender to do so. Now she has a chance to make more history since a win in London would be the first by a U.S. athlete in Olympic judo.

Top U.S. prospects: Aside from Harrison, the best U.S. hope for a medal is lightweight (126 pounds) Marti Malloy, a two-time Pan American Games and European Cup runner-up.

Others to watch: Harrison's biggest rivals figure to be Brazil's Mayra Aguiar, whom Harrison beat in the 2010 worlds, and France's Audrey Tcheumeo, the 2011 world champion. Japan will also be dangerous since it has top-ranked qualifiers in five of the seven weight classes.

Little-known fact: Rena (Rusty) Glickman, a Jewish woman from New York City, is largely credited with pioneering women's judo. A former competitor herself, she used the mortgage of her house to finance the first women's judo championships in 1980, then threatened to sue the IOC for sex discrimination if the sport wasn't added to the Olympic calendar -- which it was in 1998.

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Modern Pentathlon.
Greenwich Park is the site for the equestrian and three modern pentathlon events. Credit: Markus Schreiber / Associated Press
MEN

Key Dates: Aug. 11

Venues: Copper Box (fencing); Aquatic Centre (swimming); Greenwich Park (running, riding, shooting).

Big story: Four of the top five-ranked men are Russian, but only two can go to the Olympics. Andrei Moiseev is the 2011 world champion and Aleksander Lesun is the 2012 world champion. If there's not a Russian on the medal podium, huge upsets have happened.

Top U.S. prospect: Dennis Bowsher, an Olympic rookie who narrowly missed making the Beijing team, is the only U.S. representative and is ranked 49th in the world.

Others to watch: The only non-Russian in the world top five is Adam Marosi of Hungary. Woojin Hwang of South Korea has also been on the podium at the last two world championships.

Little-known fact: Only Lars Hall of Sweden (1952 and 1956) and Moiseev (2004 and 2008) have won two Olympic gold medals. Moiseev would stand alone if he wins his third gold in London.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 12

Venues: Copper Box (fencing); Aquatic Centre (swimming); Greenwich Park (running, riding, shooting).

Big story: Mhairi Spence was one of four British women who qualified for Beijing, but the country could only send two and Spence was left home. She won the 2012 world championships though and will have strong support.

Top U.S. prospect: Margaux Isaksen has been slowed this year while suffering from mononucleosis. She is only 20 and already in her second Olympics.

Others to watch: Lithuania's Laura Asadauskaite leads the world rankings, and China's Qian Chen finished second at the most recent world championships.

Little-known fact: The women's sport entered the Olympics in 2000, and Elena Rublevska of Latvia, who has qualified, will become the only woman to have competed in all four Olympics if she starts in London.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Rowing.
Cristian Rosso, Argentina. Credit: Nic Bothma / EPA
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 1, eight final; Aug. 2, double sculls final; Aug. 3, quad, pair, singles finals; Aug. 4, four, lightweight doubles finals

Venue: Eton Dorney, Buckinghamshire

Big story: The German eight, the glamour boat of the competition, has been dominant lately, but the British team has set a goal of matching its eight medals in Beijing overall, at least three in men's rowing.

Top U.S. prospects: The U.S. eight, which almost failed to qualify, is considered a top medal contender.

Others to watch: The Canadian and Australian eights should also fight for gold, and the Aussies intend to bring back more overall medals than anyone, and New Zealand expects a strong showing in the medal count.

Little-known fact: The United States has more Olympic rowing medals (84) than any other country. That's men and women combined.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 1, pair, quad finals; Aug. 2, eight final; Aug. 3, doubles final; Aug. 4, lightweight doubles, singles finals

Venue: Eton Dorney, Buckinghamshire

Big story: The U.S. women's eight won gold in Beijing and gold at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 world championships. They will be as big a favorite in the eight as the U.S. men's and women's basketball teams. Canada and Great Britain are the best hopes to stop the U.S. dynasty.

Top U.S. prospects: Besides the eight, the women's quad has had success on the world stage, winning silver at the worlds last year.

Others to watch: The British women expect medals in the double scull, pair and eight.

Little-known fact: Mary Mazzio, a member of the 1992 U.S. women's team made an acclaimed documentary, "A Hero for Daisy," about two-time Olympian Chris Ernst, a Yale rower and Title IX pioneer.

— Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Sailing.
Stuart Bithell and Luke Patience, Great Birtain. Credit: Nic Bothma / EPA
MEN

Key dates: Competition goes July 29 to Aug. 11; Finn and Star medals are awarded Aug. 5

Venue: Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor, Dorset

Big story: If all goes well, there could be a British national hero dominating the headlines. Expect to hear all about 35-year-old Ben Ainslie, who will be attempting to win his fourth Olympic gold medal, competing in the Finn class.

Top U.S. prospects: Zach Railey is ready for another shot at Ainslie, having finished second to him in 2008. Bob Willis (windsurfing), Mark Mendelblatt/Brian Fatih (Star class), Erik Storck/Trevor Moore (49er), Rob Crane (Laser) and Stu McNay/Graham Biehl (470).

Others to watch: Brazilian Robert Scheidt holds the distinction of being the last sailor to beat Ainslie at the Olympics, having done so in the Laser class at Atlanta in 1996. Scheidt is now competing in the Star class. Beijing runner-up Julien Bontemps (France) is considered the man to beat in windsurfing. Australians Tom Slingsby in the Laser class, and Nathan Outteridge/Iain Jensen (49er).

Little known fact: Ainslie lost his temper at the world championships in Australia in 2011 after the media boat cut too close to his boat. Angered, he hopped out, swam to the media boat, got on board and aired out the TV crew.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 29 to Aug. 11.

Venue: Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor, Dorset

Big story: American Anna Tunnicliffe, who won gold in the Laser Radial class four years ago, would be interesting under any circumstance but her background takes it to another level. She was born in Doncaster, England, lived there for 12 years, which is where she learned to sail. Tunnicliffe's gold medal in Beijing happened to be the first by an American woman in sailing in 20 years. Tunnicliffe joins teammates Debbie Capozzi and Molly Vandemoer in the Elliott 6-meter (women's match racing).

Top U.S. prospects: Paige Railey, the younger sister of Zach Railey, in the Laser Radial class, Amanda Clark/Sarah Lihan (470 class) and Farrah Hall (windsurfing).

Others to watch: Great Britain's Hannah Mills/Saskia Clark (470 class), Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands (Laser), and in windsurfing Zofia Noceti-Klepacka of Poland and Alessandra Sensini of Italy.

Little-known fact: The only sailor to win two gold medals with different crew members is Theresa Zabell of Spain in 1992 and 1996. In fact, she was born in Ipswich, England, but her family moved to Spain shortly thereafter, making the trip to the Canary Islands by boat.

— Lisa Dillman
Olympics 2012: Shooting.
Haley and David Chapman, Australia. Credit: Julian Smith / EPA
MEN

Key dates: July 28 (air pistol); July 30-31 (skeet); Aug. 2 (double trap); Aug. 3 (prone rifle)

Venue: Royal Artillery Barracks, southeast London

Big story: Can Matt Emmons, who won an Olympic gold in 2004 and silver in 2008, come back from his thyroid cancer in 2010 to win the gold again in men's prone rifle?

Top U.S. prospects: Emmons, Jason Turner (air pistol), Vince Hancock (skeet), and Glenn Eller (double trap).

Others to watch: Raymond Debevec of Slovenia, holder of Olympic and world records in men's 50 rifle 3 in his eighth consecutive Olympics, dating back to 1984 in Los Angeles.

Little-known fact: India will send 11 shooters to the Games.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 28 (skeet) and Aug. 4 (trap)

Venue: Royal Artillery Barracks

Big story: Can Monrovia's Kim Rhode become the first U.S. Olympian to win five medals in five Olympic Games? She will compete in skeet competition July 28 and trap Aug. 4.

Top U.S. prospects: Rhode and Cory Cogdell, 2008 bronze medalist in trap shooting.

Others to watch: Katerina Emmons, wife of American shooter Matt Emmons and a gold medalist in Beijing, will compete for the Czech Republic in the 10 meter air rifle event.

Little-known fact: Rhode's husband, Mike Harryman, plays in a band named Fishing for Neptune.

— Bill Dwyre
Olympics 2012: Soccer.
USA's Rachel Buehler, top, and Canada's Christine Sinclair. Credit: Scott G. Winterton / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 11, gold medal game

Venue: Six stadiums throughout England, Scotland and Wales

Big story: Argentina, winner of the last two tournaments, won't be back to defend its title, which could leave the door open for Brazil, winner of five World Cups but never an Olympic title. The South Americans are led by 20-year-old phenom Neymar, a player the legendary Pele says is better than Lionel Messi.

Top U.S. prospects: Failed to qualify.

Others to watch: Atletico Madrid forward Adrian could help Spain make more history if he can add an Olympic crown to the Euro and World Cup titles the country already holds. Mexico, behind Chivas star Marco Fabian, dominated CONCACAF qualifying and could also be dangerous here.

Little-known fact: Britain, normally mad about soccer, will be participating in the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1960.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 28; U.S. plays Colombia

Venue: Six stadiums throughout England, Scotland and Wales

Big story: The U.S. made it to the gold-medal match in all four previous Olympic tournaments for women, winning three times and losing once in overtime. But the field here looks to be the deepest it has ever faced. The U.S. has lost just six of 98 matches in five years under Coach Pia Sundhage, but her .883 winning percentage is just third all-time among U.S. coaches.

Top U.S. prospects: Former UCLA striker Sydney Leroux is only player who wasn't on the U.S. roster in last summer's World Cup. It's a deep, veteran team led by forwards Abby Wambach (138 international goals in 182 matches) and Alex Morgan (27 goals in 42 caps) up front and Hope Solo, the world's best goalkeeper, on the back line. But the 12-nation Olympic field will be challenging since it features eight of the world's top nine teams, according to FIFA.

Others to watch: The U.S. has failed to win just twice in 16 matches this year, and that tie and draw came against Japan, the team that beat the Americans in last summer's World Cup. Brazil, the two-time Olympic silver medalists and the World Cup runner-up in 2007, is always dangerous with five-time World Player of the Year Marta.

Little-known fact: The U.S. is the only country to hold World Cup and Olympic titles at the same time. Japan could become the second if it reaches the top of the medal podium in London.

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Swimming.
Michael Phelps, USA. Credit: Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA
MEN

Key dates: July 28, 400 IM; July 29, 4x100 relay; Aug. 3, 100 butterfly

Venue: Olympic Park Aquatics Centre

Big story: Can the U.S. hold off the rest of the world? In total medals, almost certainly yes. In the prestige relay -- the 4x100, the one in which Jason Lezak saved Michael Phelps' chance at eight gold medals in Beijing -- maybe not. Australia or France -- possibly both -- could finish ahead of the U.S. Phelps intends to retire after the Olympics, so his final individual swim should be the 100 butterfly. He needs three medals to become the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Ryan Lochte, like Phelps, will be swimming for seven medals. Lochte and Phelps are set to go head-to-head twice, in the 200 IM and 400 IM.

Top U.S. prospects: With six wins, Phelps will finish his career with 20 gold medals -- double the next-closest Olympian. But Lochte is a heaven-sent rival for Phelps. There is also Cullen Jones, an African-American who leads learn-to-swim programs in the inner city, who is a medal favorite in the 50 free. And Matt Grevers is favored in the 100 backstroke after winning silver in Beijing.

Others to watch: Brazil's Cesar Cielo won the 50 free in Beijing and has the fastest time in the world this year, with Jones and Anthony Ervin chasing him. Australia's James Magnussen, 21, is the phenom to watch -- to win the 100 free, and possibly to medal in the 50. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima could become the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event three consecutive times -- in the 100 or 200 breaststroke, or both -- unless Phelps beats him to it by winning the 400 IM on the first day.

Little-known fact: Davis Tarwater, 28, announced his retirement from swimming on the next-to-last day of the U.S. Olympic Trials only to unretire in less than 24 hours when Phelps dropped out of the 200 creating a spot for him.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 29, 400 freestyle and 100 butterfly; July 30, 100 backstroke

Venue: Olympic Park Aquatics Centre

Big story: The hype machine should be in full motion revolving around Missy Franklin, a bubbly 17-year-old from Colorado. Franklin is entered in four individual events, favored to win the 100 and 200 backstroke and not expected to medal in the 100 and 200 freestyle, but she has come so far so fast that projection is impossible. If she suffers from any Olympic jitters, they should show up in her first event, the 100 back, with finals on the third day of the competition.

Top U.S. prospects: In addition to Franklin, look to Rebecca Soni, who should do well in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, even though she was upset in the 100 in the trials. Dana Vollmer set the American record in the 100 butterfly. If she can drop a half a second, she can set the world record. Jessica Hardy, a Long Beach swimmer left off the team in 2008 after a positive drug test she traced to a contaminated supplement, is strong in the breaststroke but qualified in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

Others to watch: Becky Adlington was the only British swimmer -- male or female -- to win gold in Beijing. She won the 400 and 800 free; the pressure is on to repeat in home water. Stephanie Rice, perhaps the most popular Olympian in swimming-mad Australia, will defend her Beijing gold medals in the 200 and 400 IM. Rice, who had shoulder surgery last year, tweets her own bikini and glamour shots.

Little-known fact: Vollmer's mother did not just bring a cheering section to the pool to support her daughter. Mom brought a defibrillator to every meet for four years, while Vollmer experienced symptoms of a potentially fatal heart condition called long QT syndrome.

— Bill Shaikin
Olympics 2012: Synchronized swimming.
Members of the Spanish synchronized swimming team. Credit: Albert Olive / EPA
Key dates: Aug. 7, Aug. 10.

Venue: Olympic Park Aquatics Centre

Big story: It's been nothing short of Russian dominance in this sport. Russian athletes have swept the team and duet event, starting at the Games in Sydney. In fact, the big story will be if Russia does not own the podium again.

Top U.S. prospects: Mary Kilman and Mariya Koroleva qualified as a duet, and the U.S. failed to make it in the team event.
Others to watch: Spain was second and China took third in the team event in Beijing. In the duet event, Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina of Russia, the winners in Beijing, are favored.

Little-known fact: Koroleva was born and raised in Russia, spending the first nine years of her life there before moving to California.

— Lisa Dillman
Olympics 2012:Table tennis.
Erica Wu, USA. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
MEN

Key dates: Singles final, Aug. 2.

Venue: ExCeL Exhibition Centre

Big story: The Chinese have owned Olympic table tennis -- winning 20 of 24 gold medals -- since the IOC added this sport to the roster in 1988. Anything short of domination would be a letdown for them.

Top U.S. prospects: Timothy Wang is the only American who qualified to play at these Games. He's ranked No. 408 in the world.

Others to watch: Top-ranked Zhang Jike of China is the reigning world champion and gold-medal favorite. Look for Japan's Jun Mizutani and Germany's Timo Boll to contend.

Little-known fact: Chinese supremacy has been so complete - they won every medal at the 2008 Summer Games -- that the Olympic rules were modified. Each country is limited to a maximum of two competitors in singles, creating some room on the podium.
WOMEN

Key dates: Singles final, Aug. 1; team medals on Aug. 7

Venue: ExCeL Exhibition Centre

Big story: The Chinese arrive in London amid some controversy. Though Guo Yan earned an automatic berth, officials recently announced that she had suffered an unspecified injury and replaced her with top-ranked Ding Ning.

Top U.S. prospects: Ariel Hsing leads the Americans, playing in her first Olympics at age 16. She will be joined by another teenager, Lily Zhang. Erica Wu will play only in the team event. None of the Americans rank in the Top 100.

Others to watch: Who can put pressure on Ding for the individual title? Kim Kyungah of South Korea and Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan rank among the top contenders.

Little-known fact: Table tennis dates back to 19th century England, where it was known as "wiff-waff" and served as after-dinner entertainment for upper-class families. It is now the biggest participation sport in the world.

— David Wharton
Olympics 2012: Taekwondo.
Steven Lopez, USA. Credit: David Guttenfelder / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 8-11

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: If there is a rock star of the sport, well, then it would be 33-year-old Steven Lopez of Houston. He keeps on going, finding motivation after an impressive career. Lopez is trying to rebound after taking the bronze in Beijing in the middleweight class, a rare disappointment on his resume after two previous Olympic golds and a record five World Championship wins.

Top U.S. prospects: Terrence Jennings prevented another Lopez from making another trip to the Olympics, beating Mark Lopez at the trials in the 150-pound class.

Others to watch: Ramin Azizov of Azerbaijan is considered one of the top threats to Lopez. Azizov, however, lost in the European Championships in May when he was disqualified in the final against Aaron Cook of Britain.

Little-known fact: Rules regarding kicks to the head have been changed, and fighters will receive points if any part of the foot connects with the head of an opponent. The force of impact won't be a factor, as it was previously.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 8-11

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: The first family of taekwondo has a little sister, and once again, Diana Lopez is joining brother Steven Lopez on the Olympic stage. Lopez won a bronze medal four years ago in Beijing in the 126-pound class

Top U.S. prospects: Paige McPherson, who is from South Dakota, will be in her first Olympics, having knocked off 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah at the trials. Her division is the 148-pound weight class.

Others to watch: Sarah Stevenson (Britain) and Hou Yuzhuo (China).

Little-known fact: All three Lopez kids, Steven, Diana and Mark competed in the 2008 Olympics, making it the first time in a century that three siblings made the same Games in the same sport.

— Lisa Dillman
Olympics 2012: Team handball.
France's Guillaume Joli, right, with Tunisia's player Amine Bannour. Credit: Patrick Hertzog / AFP Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 12, gold medal match.

Venue: Preliminary matches at Copper Box in Olympic Park. Quarterfinals, semifinals and finals at basketball arena in Olympic Park.

Big story: France is looking to join Russia as the only repeat gold medalists in Olympic history. Led by Nikola Karabatic and Thierry Omeyer, they have finished outside the top four just once in the last nine World Championships.

Top U.S. prospects: Failed to qualify.

Others to watch: France, Germany, Russia.

Little-known fact: The U.S. has never won a medal in Olympic competition. And Great Britain is making its Olympic debut.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 11, gold medal match

Venue: Preliminary matches at Copper Box. Semifinals and finals at basketball arena.

Big story: Russia has dominated at the World Championships over the past decade but has never won Olympic gold after losing to Norway in Beijing.

Top U.S. prospects: Failed to qualify.

Others to watch: Russia, Norway, France.

Little-known fact: South Korea owns the most medals -- six, including two gold -- and has placed in every Olympics except Sydney since winning silver in 1984.

— K.C. Johnson
Olympics 2012: Tennis.
Maria Sharapova, Russia. Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP/Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 4, doubles finals; Aug. 5, singles and mixed doubles finals

Venue: Wimbledon

Big story: Will Roger Federer double up his 2012 Wimbledon title by winning his first Olympic singles gold medal (he won doubles gold in Beijing)? Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Olympics with knee tendinitis opening the way for Britains Andy Murray or Nadal's countyman David Ferrer.

Top U.S. prospects: John Isner, the only American in the top 10, can get hot with his serve and he should be motivated after being upset early at Wimbledon. Twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan of Camarillo are the No. 1-ranked doubles team in the world and are favored to win after settling for bronze in 2008.

Others to watch: Novak Djokovic, who won three of the four majors in 2011, as is Murray, the Scotsman who made it to the Wimbledon final. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the hard-hitting Frenchman could benefit from shortened best-of-three matches. Americans Lisa Raymond and Bob Bryan made themselves the mixed favorites by winning Wimbledon.

Little-known fact: John Pius Boland, an Irishman, won the first Olympic tennis gold medal in 1896 and he died on St. Patrick's day in 1958.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 5, singles and doubles finals

Venue: Wimbledon

Big stories: Serena Williams, 30, says she's happier and healthier than she has ever been and she just finished winning Wimbledon on grass then won the tournament at Stanford. She seems on a grass court roll and has never won a singles gold. She and her 32-year-old sister Venus Williams won the women's doubles at Wimbledon, making them favorites to defend their Olympic title.

Top U.S. prospect: Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber will also represent the U.S. in doubles and are ranked No. 1 in the world. The Williams sisters, who don't have a ranking because they don't play enough together, easily beat the top-ranked Americans at Wimbledon. Christina McHale, 20, and ranked 32nd in the world would have a slight chance at a bronze medal. Venus and Varvara Lepechenko, the other American singles players would be huge upsets if they were to win a medal.

Others to watch: Maria Sharapova, who won the French Open in May was upset in the fourth round of Wimbledon, the same day Kim Clijsters was knocked out. Sharapova, who won her first major at Wimbledon, could challenge Williams as could Wimbledon runner up Agnieszka Radwanska and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Little-known fact: So far four women's tennis players (Sharapova-Russia, Radwanska-Poland, Stephanie Vogt-Lichtenstein, Tsevetana Pironkova-Bulgaria) have been named flag bearers for their countries in the opening ceremony.

—Diane Pucin
Olympics 2012: Track and Field.
Amy Hastings, USA. Credit: Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 5, 100-meter final; Aug. 8, 110-meter hurdles final; Aug. 9, 200-meter final; Aug. 9, decathlon final; Aug. 10, 4x400 relay final; Aug. 11, 4x100 relay final; Aug. 12, marathon.

Venue: Olympic Stadium

Big story: Will Jamaicans dominate the sprints? Usain Bolt, who set world records in the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay in Beijing, lost both sprints to Yohan Blake in Jamaica’s Olympic trials because of hamstring tightness and withdrew from an Olympic tuneup meet in Monaco. U.S. trials winner Justin Gatlin, back from a doping suspension, and American record holder Tyson Gay should challenge for gold in the 100. American Wallace Spearmon Jr. should push the Jamaicans in the 200.

Top U.S. prospects: Aries Merritt, clocked in a world-leading 12.93 seconds three times in the 110-meter hurdles, and Jason Richardson, who has two sub-13 times. Ashton Eaton, who set a decathlon world record at the trials, could be joined on the medal stand by Trey Hardee. Galen Rupp could win a medal in the 5,000, perhaps the only U.S. top-three finish in a race longer than 400 meters. He’s also entered in the 10,000.

Others to watch: South African 400-meter runner Oscar Pistorius will become the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. China’s Liu Xiang, the Beijing Olympic 110-meter hurdles champion, and world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba highlight a superb field. In the 400 hurdles, Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson is favored after recording four of the world’s top five times this season. Mo Farah, the 2011 world champion at 5,000 meters and second at 10,000, is among Britain’s top hopes for a track and field medal.

Little-known fact: According to the Telegraph newspaper, 100-meter race starter Alan Bell had the same role when Bolt was disqualified for false-starting at last year’s world championships. Bell also started many youth races involving Sebastian Coe, head of the London Olympic Organizing Committee.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 4, 100-meter dash final; Aug. 5, 400-meter final; Aug. 6, pole vault final; Aug. 7, 100-meter hurdles final; Aug. 8, 200-meter final; Aug. 8, long jump final; Aug. 10, 4x100 relay final; Aug. 11, 4x400 relay final.

Venue: Olympic Stadium

Big story: Allyson Felix’s third try for gold in the 200 after two silver finishes. She ran a world-best 21.69 seconds at the U.S. trials after more than a week of suspense over her tie for third in the 100 with Jeneba Tarmoh. Felix’s medal chances in the 100 are slim but she kept her spot in that race because she considers it good preparation for the 200, and her trials performance supported that. Felix is in the pool for both relays.

Top U.S. prospects: World 100 meter champion Carmelita Jeter, who won the final at the U.S. trials and was second in the 200. Sanya Richards-Ross, who’s attempting a 200-400 double and likely to run a relay. Pole vaulter Jenn Suhr, who won silver at Beijing. Lolo Jones, part of a strong 100-meter hurdles contingent with Beijing champion Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells.

Others to watch: Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100 and 200 and two-time 200 gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown. Yelena Isinbaeva of Russia, pursuing a third straight pole vault gold medal after no-heighting at her last warmup event. Australia’s Sally Pearson has dominated the 100-meter hurdles but lost to Wells at a recent London meet. Jessica Ennis, the 2009 world heptathlon champion, carries the country’s medal hopes in the sport.

Little-known fact: At the 1948 London Games, American Alice Coachman became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 6 1/8 inches.

— Helene Elliott
Olympics 2012: Triathlon.
Alistair Brownlee, Great Britain. Credit: Janos Schmidt / Associated Press
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 7

Venue: Hyde Park.

Big story: Brothers in arms? Could medal favorites and brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee cross the finish line at the Olympics together, holding hands? The duo, who grew up in Leeds, did just that at a recent event near Oxford when Alistair slowed down for his brother in the final stretch run. "I'd love to be able to do that if we could," said Alistair, in a BBC interview in June. "But the likelihood of the two of us having that much time to enjoy coming down the finish at the Olympics is pretty much zero."

Top U.S. prospects: Manny Huerta, Hunter Kemper

Others to watch:Javier Gomez (Spain), Simon Whitfield (Canada)

Little-known fact: The sport has been part of the Olympics since 2000. Only two men will have competed all four times: Kemper and Whitfield, who won gold in 2000 and silver in 2008.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 4

Venue: Hyde Park.

Big story: There has been one American to reach the medal podium since the sport made its Olympic debut in 2000. Susan Williams survived a crash into a soft barrier on the opening cycling climb to eventually take third in Athens in 2004. The second U.S. medal could come from a relative novice, Gwen Jorgensen, who could take advantage of the flat course. She has gone under 16 minutes in the 5K – the Olympic event is 10K (6.2 miles).

Top U.S. prospects: Laura Bennett, Sarah Groff, Jorgensen

Others to watch: Helen Jenkins (Britain), Andrea Hewitt (New Zealand), Paula Findlay (Canada).

Little-known fact: The only woman to compete in all four Olympic triathlons is Anja Dittmer of Germany, who will turn 37 in September. Her best finish was 11th place in Athens in 2004.

— Lisa Dillman
Olympics 2012: Volleyball.
Poland's Bartosz Kurek, left, spikes the ball against the block of USA's Clayton Stanley. Credit: Nikolay Doychinov / AFP / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: July 29, pool play begins; Aug. 8, knockout round begins; Aug. 12, medal matches.

Venue: Earls Court

Big story: It has been a rocky four years for Team USA since ending a 20-year gold medal drought in 2008. They finished sixth at both the 2010 worlds and 2011 World Cup. But the U.S. goes into London after winning the silver medal in the July 8 World League Final, losing to Poland in the championship match after an impressive straight-set win over Cuba in the semifinals.

Top U.S. prospects: Post-Beijing was a transition period: New coach (Alan Knipe, on leave from Long Beach State) and a new setter (Lloy Ball retired from national team after starting at setter in four straight Olympics.) Clay Stanley, 34, MVP and top scorer in 2008, has gone on to be named USA Volleyball men's indoor player of the year in 2010 and 2011. Half the 12 players on the London Summer Games roster are rookies; five played with the 2008 gold medalists.

Others to watch: Russia and Brazil each has had moments of glory since winning bronze and silver, respectively, at the 2008 Olympics. Brazil, ranked No. 1, is the reigning world champion; Russia is the reigning World Cup winner. And Poland has come on strong, finishing second at last year's World Cup before winning the recent World League title. Russia's Maxim Mikhailov has developed into one of the world's best all-around players.

Little-known fact: Jon (1968) and Clay Stanley became the first father-son Olympians in U.S. volleyball history when Clay made his first Olympic team in 2004. Jon Stanley is in the Volleyball Hall of Fame.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 28, pool play begins; Aug. 7, knockout round begins; Aug. 11, medal matches.

Venue: Earls Court

Big story: Can coach Hugh McCutcheon do for the U.S. women what he did for the Olympic champion men in 2008, when he endured family tragedy during the Games? USA Volleyball asked McCutcheon to take over the women's team after Beijing, where his father-in-law was stabbed to death in an act of random violence. The task with the women looks easier than it did with the men, who had finished fourth and 10th in major global tournaments the two years before Beijing. Since the 2008 Olympics, when the U.S. women won their first medal (silver) since bronze in 1992, Team USA has been ranked no lower than second in the world. They head to London with the No. 1 ranking and a shot at the first gold since volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.

Top U.S. prospects: After 2009, when she won a third NCAA outdoor title in the high jump, Destinee Hooker turned her focus to volleyball, played her first national team tourney in 2010 and quickly became a mainstay for Team USA. Last year, Hooker was named MVP of the volleyball World Grand Prix. In 2008, she missed the Olympic track team in the high jump by just one inch.

Others to Watch: Brazil, the reigning Olympic champion, has consistently been strong for two decades, winning medals in three of the past four Olympics. Brazil captain Fabiana Claudino, who plays professionally in Turkey, is a renowned blocker.

Little-known fact: One player on each team can be off-color: the libero, who wears a different color shirt than the rest, is a defensive specialist who must stay in the back row, cannot serve, block, attempt to block or make an attacking hit on a ball above the net.

— Philip Hersh
Olympics 2012: Water Polo.
Brenda Villa of the US, right, attempts to pass the ball as Hungary's Rita Keszthelyi blocks her arm. Credit: Alastair Grant / Associated Press Photos
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 6, U.S. plays Hungary in its final group-play match.

Venue: Water Polo Arena

Big story: Hungary beat the U.S. in the Beijing final to win its third consecutive gold medal and its ninth overall. But it could be a different after the U.S. snapped a 10-year losing streak to Hungary with two wins in less than a week in the lead-up to this summer's Games. The U.S., Hungary and Serbia, the bronze medalists in 2008, are in the same group in pool play.

Top U.S. prospects: Tony Azevedo, a Brazilian-born attacker, scored the winning goal for the U.S. in last year's Pan Am Games final and had a team-high 17 goals in Beijing. Ryan Bailey, a center, had seven goals and an assist in the 2008 tournament

Others to watch: The silver in 2008 was the first U.S. medal in water polo in two decades. The Americans lost to a veteran Hungarian team in that final but now it's the U.S. that may be the more experienced squad, led by Bailey and Azevedo, the only four-time Olympians in U.S. water polo history. Four others from the U.S. will be playing in their third Games.

Little-known fact: Since the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, Italy and Spain are the only teams from outside Eastern Europe to win an Olympic water polo gold. The U.S. with 12 medals overall, is second only to Hungary (15) in terms of hardware won but just one of those medals is gold and six were silver, making the Americans first in terms of second-place finishes.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 5, quarterfinals, the start of the knockout round.

Venue: Water Polo Arena

Big story: Although the U.S. has medaled in all three previous Olympic tournaments for women, it has never won -- losing to Australia in the final two seconds in 2000 and to the Netherlands in the final 29 seconds in 2008. Attackers Brenda Villa and Heather Petri, both four-time Olympics, have played in every U.S. Olympic water polo match. And with both contemplating retirement after London, this is their last chance to go out as winners.

Others to watch: Australia won bronze in 2008, making it the only country other than the U.S. to medal more than once. Russia, Italy and a young Spanish team could also be competitive.

Top U.S. prospects: Goalie Betsey Armstrong, a two-time Olympian, is considered the best keeper in the world. Her two penalty-shot saves earned the U.S. a gold medal in last year's Pan Am Games. Maggie Steffens, a 19-year-old defender, is the youngest player on the U.S. team.

Little-known fact: Shortly before leaving for London the U.S. women traveled to Las Vegas were they tuned up for the Olympics by playing an exhibition against performers from the water-themed Cirque du Soleil show "O" at the Bellagio.

— Kevin Baxter
Olympics 2012: Weightlifting.
Zhou Lulu, China. Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images
MEN

Key dates: July 28-Aug. 12

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: It will actually be considered a major development if there is not a controversial moment or two in weightlifting. The sport rarely seems to dodge especially when it comes to doping scandals. The biggest race will be between Russia and China in the overall medals.

Top U.S. prospects: Kendrick Farris is the only male qualifier for the United States (187 pounds). He will be competing in his second Olympics, having taken eighth in Beijing, and won a gold medal at the Pan Am Games.

Others to watch: There could be an interesting battle between two Iranians in the superheavyweight class -- reigning world champion Behdad Salimi and Sajjad Anoushiravani.

Little-known fact: If there is a tie, the win goes to the lighter lifter.
WOMEN

Key dates: July 28-Aug. 12

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: True Life came before Olympic Life for Holley Mangold, who will be competing in the superheavyweight division. Mangold appeared on the MTV reality series, True Life. She is used to breaking barriers, having played high-school football in Ohio. Older brother Nick is center for the New York Jets.

Top U.S. prospects: Sarah Robles could have a shot a grabbing bronze in the superheavyweight division, coming off a personal best lift of 569 pounds at the Olympic trials in March.

Others to watch: Super-heavyweights Zhou Lulu of China and Tatiana Kashirina of Russia will battle for supremacy in the super-heavyweight divison.

Little-known fact: There were 40 years between gold medals for U.S. weightlifters. Chuck Vinci won gold in 1960 and Tara (Nott) Cunningham won gold in 2000 in Sydney.

— Lisa Dillman
Olympics 2012: Freestyle Wrestling.
USA's Jordan Burroughs, top, competes with Kamel Malikov, of Russia. Credit: Frank Franklin II / AP
MEN

Key dates: Aug. 10 to 12, medal matches

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: Russia is expected to dominate the freestyle competition once again, having strong gold medal contenders in Besik Kudukhov in the 121-pound class and and Bilyal Makhov at 264 pounds. Jamal Otarsultanov could also medal in the 121-pound class as he earned a spot on the team by stunning two-time world gold medalist Viktor Lebedev at Russian nationals. Iran, however, could play spoiler with a squad that includes 2011 world champions Mehdi Taghavi at 145 pounds and Reza Yazdani at 211 pounds. Without Lebedev in the competition, Hassan Rahimi also could snag gold for Iran.

Top U.S. prospects: Former University of Nebraska star Jordan Burroughs is the U.S. team's best chance for gold following two collegiate national titles and a 2011 world title in the 163-pound class, the first for the U.S. in any freestyle class since 2006. The most-decorated wrestler in Northwestern University history, Jake Herbert won the prestigious Hodges Trophy in 2009 and then topped it by winning silver in the 185-pound class at the world championships later that year. With two NCAA Division I Championship titles on his resume, former Iowa State star Jake Varner could be a surprise medalist in the 211-pound class.

Others to watch: Two wrestlers will be shouldering their country's unusually high expectations in London. Franklin Gomez of Puerto Rico, a former Michigan State standout, became the second Puerto Rican to win a world wrestling medal after getting silver in the 132-pound division at last year's championships. Kyong-Il Yang of North Korea, the 2009 world champion, is expected to be a contender in the wide-open 121-pound class.

Little-known fact: Those are actual Azerbaijani wrestlers appearing in the Febreze TV commercial. The ad purports to test whether the air freshener can conquer the not-so-fragrant gym where team members Haji Alijanov, Rafiq Huseynov, Jamal Magomedov and Sharif Sharifov work out.
WOMEN

Key dates: Aug. 8 to 9, gold-medal matches

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: The Japanese women are poised to dominate the event, just as they did in 2008 when all four of their athletes won medals. Kaori Icho is expected to win her third consecutive Olympic gold in the 139-pound class, while teammate Saori Yoshida recently claimed her ninth world title in the 121-pound class. If Yoshida can finish atop the medal stand, she will match the 12 international titles won by the legendary Alexander Karelin of Russia.

Top U.S. prospects: The Russian-born Elena Pirozhkova finished second at the 2010 World Championships to Icho and insists that she has closed the gap on her rival in the past year. Ali Bernard thrust herself into the medal conversation by finishing third in the 158-pound class at the 2011 World Championships and by beating three world medalists in that tournament. After making her third consecutive national team, Kelsey Campbell could be in the medal mix with a favorable draw in the 121-pound class.

Others to watch: The biggest threats to the Japanese women's gold rush are Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria and Tonya Verbeek of Canada. Zlateva, a five-time world champion and reigning Olympic silver medalist, has owned the 158-pound class in recent years. With five Olympic and world medals, Verbeek will be Yoshida's biggest obstacle.

Little-known fact: American Clarissa Chun is the first U.S. wrestling team member – male or female – from Hawaii.

— Stacy St. Clair
Olympics 2012: Greco-Roman wrestling.
Ellis Coleman, USA. Credit: Paul Sancya / AP
Key dates: Aug. 5 to 7, medal matches

Venue: ExCel Exhibition Centre

Big story: Reigning gold medalist Mijain Lopez of Cuba returns to both defend his title and avenge a stunning loss at the 2011 world championships. Arguably the most dominant wrestler in the past decade, Lopez seemed unstoppable after the Beijing Games as he won back-to-back world titles in the 264-pound class. He showed signs of weakness at last year's world championships in Istanbul, Turkey, where hometown favorite Riza Kayaalp beat him in the finals. The idea that a new heavyweight champion could be crowned in London would have been unimaginable just a year ago.

Top U.S. prospects: Justin Lester, who briefly quit the sport after failing to make the 2008 Olympic team, is considered the United States' best shot at a medal in the 145-pound class. Dremiel Byers, after a seventh-place finish in the heavyweight class in Beijing, is also a medal possibility. Spenser Mango could find himself on the medal stand if he wrestles up to his potential in the 121-pound class.
Others to watch: Much like the freestyle event, Russia and Iran could bolster their countries' medal counts in Greco-Roman. Roman Vlasov of Russia, the reigning world champion at 163 pounds, has seemed unstoppable since late 2011 and has won seven consecutive international events. Saeid Mourad Abdvali, the only past world champion on Iran's squad, has dominated the 145-pound class in recent years. His teammate Hamid Sourian Reihanpour has won every title his sport offers – including five world championship titles – except Olympic gold.

Little-known fact: American wrestler Ellis Coleman – who became an Internet sensation last year after a video of his now-famous "Flying Squirrel" move hit YouTube – learned the move from his brother, Lillashawn, who initially called the stunt "The Gift of God."

— Stacy St. Clair
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