America loves a winner and Americans cherish every opportunity we have to prove we’re the best in the world. As a result, the USA has developed a Ricky Bobby complex when it comes to competition — “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Nowhere will this be truer than at the 2012 London Olympics, where gold will certainly be the only medal worth its weight in TV time, Q Scores and endorsement dollars.
Our greatest Olympians have been dipped in gold. Mark Spitz is remembered for wearing his then-record seven gold medals from the 1972 Munich Olympics in an iconic photo that has since been paid homage to by Michael Phelps — who wore his record-setting eight golds from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Michael Johnson took it up a notch when he wore gold shoes while sprinting for gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Four years ago in Beijing, host country China trumped the USA, 51-to-36, in the gold medal count. But America took home the most gold in the previous three Olympics — in Athens, Sydney and Atlanta, respectively.
This time around in London, several of the USA’s traditional gold medal events are in jeopardy. Here’s a rundown of the countries the USA will need to beat out in order to stand atop the medal stand, play the “Star Spangled Banner” and, most important, win Olympic gold.
Jamaica Track (100m, 200m, 4x100m)
Who is the fastest in a foot race? It doesn’t get more basic than that in the Olympics. Lately, everyone has been chasing the winged-feet from the island of Jamaica.
Usain Bolt, 25
The 100-meter and 200-meter gold medal-winning, world record shattering Bolt is chasing “living legend” status. A long-striding 6’5” physical specimen, Bolt currently owns the world record times in the 100 meters (9.69) and 200 meters (19.30).
He is also the anchor leg of Jamaica’s 4x100-meter relay team — along with Yohan Blake, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter — which set a new world record (37.04) at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea. At that same event, Bolt was disqualified from the 100 meter final following a false start, but won gold in the 200 meters and 4x100 relay.
There are rumors of a lingering hamstring issue entering London, but Bolt is the man to beat until he proves otherwise on a global stage.
Yohan Blake, 22
“The Beast” is Bolt’s training partner and chief competition, having won gold in the 100 meters (9.92) at the 2011 World Championships. Blake also outran Bolt in Olympic qualifying heats in Jamaica. The young buck could make a splash by dethroning his countryman in London.
For the USA, Walter Dix, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin remain the most likely medalists. Dix finished second to Blake and Bolt, respectively, at the 2011 Worlds. Gatlin won gold in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In the relay, dropped baton passes — like the one at the 2011 World Championships — have become more of an issue than speed.
Veronica Campbell-Brown, 30
The Jamaican women will also be tough to keep up with. Campbell-Brown enters her fourth Olympic Games as the reigning World and Olympic champion in the 200 meters. Her top rivals from the USA are Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix. At the 2011 Worlds, Jeter won gold in the 100, while VCB took silver; VCB won gold in the 200, while Jeter and Fox settled for silver and bronze.
Spain Men’s Basketball
America’s game is on the hardwood and anything but gold would send shockwaves stateside. Clearly, Team USA is the overwhelming favorite. But with a rash of injuries to the USA and so many NBA stars playing for other countries, there is an outside chance of falling short.
Pau Gasol, 32 (7’0”, 250)
Marc Gasol, 27 (7’1”, 265)
Serge Ibaka, 22 (6’10”, 235)
There is no denying that Spain has more size up front than does the USA. The 7-foot Gasol brothers are NBA All-Stars and Ibaka led the NBA in blocked shots this season. The Spaniards also have talented guards and a total of eight players with NBA experience.
Recently, Team USA struggled to an ugly 80–69 scrimmage win over Brazil — a poor man’s Spain, with big men Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter, but relatively little skilled guard play. That was not a good sign of things to come against Spain, the silver medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Still, with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant leading the way on the court and Coach K on the sideline, Team USA should be able to bring home another gold medal.
Russia Women’s Gymnastics
China won a controversial women’s all-around team gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but the Russian women are once again the stiffest (and most limber) competition for the USA, winners of the gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo — over both Russia (silver) and China (bronze) — and silver medalists at the Beijing Olympics.
Viktoria Komova, 17
Runner-up to American sensation Jordyn Wieber in the individual all-around competition at the 2011 World Championships, Komova also claimed gold on the uneven bars.
Aliya Mustafina, 17
Battling back from injury, Mustafina won gold in the individual all-around at 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam. At that same competition, Mustafina also claimed silver on the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.
The past two individual all-around champions have been American women — Nastia Liukin (2008 Beijing) and Carly Patterson (2004 Athens). Shawn Johnson also earned a silver in Beijing. But the USA has only one team gold medal in history, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — with a squad that included Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes and Kerri Strug.
Brazil Women’s Soccer
In the brief history of Olympic women’s soccer, the USA has never finished outside of the top two — claiming three gold medals (2008, 2004, 1996) and one silver (2000). The last two gold medal matches have come against Brazil, with the USA taking a 2–1 win in Athens and a 1–0 victory in Beijing.
Arguably the beautiful game’s top talent, Brazil’s top striker is a five-time World Player of the Year (2006-10) and two-time Olympic silver medalist. Should there be a rematch (three-match?) of the past two gold medal matches, Team USA goalkeeper Hope Solo will have her hands full attempting to keep Marta off the score sheet.
by Nathan Rush