Olympics top 10 storylines

By JULIE JAG
jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

LONDON — It’s the Olympics. No other event is so chocked full of accolades and admonishments, showdowns and breakdowns. It’s a time to see unbelievable feats of athleticism and triumphs over the unimaginable.
The 2012 London Olympics, which kick off today with the opening ceremonies and run through Aug. 12, will be no different.
Every Olympics is a spectacle, and these are just the storylines already bubbling at the top. No one knows what’s brewing beneath the XXX Olympiad, but there’s a good chance it’s going to be worth watching.

1. Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps
Phelps enters this Olympics without much to prove except perhaps that a toke here and there never hurt anybody. Phelps won a record eight gold medals in Beijing, bringing his grand total for his Olympic career to 14. Five more medals and he can unseat Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with the most medals won by an athlete. Or maybe he’ll try to stretch his lead even farther than he can stretch his gumby-like arms, to 21.
Lochte, meanwhile, didn’t do much to bolster his reputation as a party boy when he mentioned Thursday that he lifts kegs as part of his workout regimen. He also flips tires and pulls chains, giving him a farmboy physique he feels is enough to gain him at least one gold.
“I can tell you no other swimmer in the world today is doing what I’m doing on dry land,” Lochte said. “I haven’t heard of anyone else lifting tires, throwing kegs or dragging chains. … It had to have helped.”
Here’s guessing he’d give up a night with Australian swimmer Blair Evans, with whom he’s rumored to have romantic connections, to beat Phelps in the 200 and 400 individual medley relays.

Men’s 400 IM Final: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Men’s 200 IM Final: Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.

2. Brits: Bring on the Bikinis
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor almost didn’t happen this year. Walsh, who lived several years in Scotts Valley, had to talk May-Treanor out of retirement, and the two didn’t start pairing together until February. There was plenty to catch up on, since their lives have changed considerably since the pair won gold in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2012. Walsh became a mother twice over and May-Treanor found even great celebrity when she appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” before blowing out her Achilles tendon while practicing the jive.
Similarly there have been vast changes in their sport. The AVP, once the king organization for professional beach volleyball, disbanded. It has since experienced a reboot, but is vying with several other groups for favor with the players. Speaking of royalty, the sport has also experienced an uptick in popularity of late and even Prince Harry plans to attend a match in London.

Women’s Final: Aug. 8, 7 p.m.
Men’s Final: Aug. 9, 7 p.m.

3. Bevan Docherty goes for gold, again
Docherty, a triathlete representing New Zealand, moved to the Westside of Santa Cruz in 2010, six years after winning silver by a second and two years after taking bronze in Beijing. Since then he’s dumped his coach, had two kids, topped Lance Armstrong in a half Ironman and started a trend of elite athletes moving from high altitude to sea level to train. Docherty, 34, has made it clear he plans to pass on the Olympics after this year. So, the questions remain: Will the changes pay off and can he put himself in enough pain to complete his medal collection? He’ll have to upset the UK’s Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, to do it.

Men’s Triathlon: Aug. 7, 11:30 a.m.

4. BOXING WELCOMES WOMEN
When the father of Marlen Esparza went looking for a boxing trainer for his 11-year-old daughter, few would take on the job. Finally, he struck upon Rudy Silva.
“The other trainers used to ask him, ‘Why do you even bother with her? She’s just going to get pregnant,’” Esparza said Thursday.
Instead, Esparza became the first woman to qualify for the Olympics for Team USA. An aspiring doctor, she will also be one of the first to fight – in shorts, not a skirt, which were almost made mandatory — when the Games open the rings to the ladies for the first time in history.

Women’s Boxing Finals [all weights]: Aug. 9, 4:30 p.m.

5. GYMNASTICS FLIPS
Jordyn Wieber won the world championship and was the Team USA trials favorite heading into San Jose last month. Then, bubbly Gabby Douglas bounced her with a effervescent performance worthy of the national title. The two will toe a taut line between teammates and competitors over the next couple weeks as they move from the team to the individual competition.
The USA women are strong favorites to take gold, but there’s also plenty of opportunities for drama. How will McKayla Maroney handle only competing in the vault, as she said Thursday that she expected to do after reinjuring a broken toe in June. Also, what will the team do without the support of Anna Li, one of the elder statesmen, albeit as an alternate, who left London on Thursday after reportedly pulling a ligament in her neck during practice. Lastly, can the girls live up to Shannon Miller’s prediction for Yahoo Sports that they’re even better than Miller’s own 1996 team that took gold in Atlanta?

Women’s Gymnastics Team Final: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.
Women’s Gymnastics Individual All-Around Final: Aug. 2, 4:30 p.m.

6. No legs better than two?
Oscar Pistorius, created a stir in 2008 when he nearly made the South African Olympic track and field team as a double amputee. His near miss – he placed third but didn’t meet the A standard – prompted the IAAF to draft a rule banning the use of springs and other artificial devices. That rule was overturned later in 2008, and Pistorius will line up on the track for the 400 meters in London to test his Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs against the fleet feet of Team USA’s Lashawn Merritt, the defending gold medalist. Pistorius will also race the 4×400 relay.

Men’s 400m final: Aug. 7, 6:50 p.m.

7. Weightlifter Zoe Smith takes on her Internet haters
The country hosting the Olympics should be the first to regale its qualifying athletes, but such is not the case with Zoe Smith, a weightlifter from Great Britain.
One of London’s famous tabloids earlier this week screamed the headline “Weightlifter is Bloke, Lesbian” of Smith, 18, who is considered the UK’s best chance for a medal. But Smith, who competes in the 58kg [130-pound] division, knows how to throw her weight around. She recently posted on her blog: “Most of the people who do think like this seem to be chauvinistic, pig-headed blokes who feel emasculated by the fact that we, three small, fairly feminine girls, are stronger than them. Simple as that.”

Women’s Weightlifting Final [58kg]: Monday, 3:30 p.m.

8. REVENGE A DISH BEST SERVED COLD, RAINY
Abby Wambach does not seem like the kind of person one would want to make angry. Yet, that’s just what Japan did in the final for the 2011 World Cup. It swiped the title right out from under the U.S. forward, her sexy sidekick and goalkeeper Hope Solo and their American teammates, who finished the match tied 2-2 but lost 3-1 on penalty kicks.
As evidenced from her TV commercial, though, Wambach can spot weakness a mile away. And it’s a sure bet Team USA plans to pounce on the weaknesses of its opponents all the way to the final, and beyond. The Opening Ceremony isn’t even until tonight and the women have already notched their first victory, making France surrender 4-2.
The weather has been scorching so far, but when the rains come back, as they are predicted to Sunday, don’t expect the Americans to washout.

Women’s soccer final: Aug. 9, 7:45 p.m.

9. DIVE-DIVE, WIN-WIN
Santa Cruz native Ariel Rittenhouse and partner Kelci Bryant got as close as any American has been to winning a synchronized 3-meter diving medal when they took fourth in Beijing. A lot can change in four years and, after going through burnout and then a revitalization, Rittenhouse, competing in the individual 3m, didn’t make the team bound for London. Bryant did, however, and will try to break the U.S. into the medals with new partner Abby Johnston.
The best chance for a synchro medal, however, lies with the men. Stanford student Kristian Ipsen of Walnut Creek and his partner Troy Dumais, a four-time Olympic veteran out of Ventura, won 3m synchro at the US Trials. Dumais finished fourth in 3m synchro in 2000, the first year it was recognized as an Olympic sport. The men’s 10m synchro team of David Boudia and Nick McCrory also stands a medaling chance after dominating the trials.
“There are crazy things that happen in the Olympic synchro finals, which Troy is used to, so he helps me through it as best he can,” Ipsen said. “Our most realistic medal chance is in synchro. There are only eight teams, and three get a spot. I think we have a good chance.”

Men’s synchronized 3m final: Monday, 3-4:05 p.m.
Men’s synchronized 10m final: Sunday, 3-4:15 p.m.
Women’s synchronized 3m: Sunday, 3-4 p.m.

10. Will the Saudi Women Even Show Up?
After much political pressure, Saudi Arabia, the only country in the Games to have not sent a woman, agreed to designate two female representatives. The women selected were not particularly steeped in the soil of the country, with one being UCLA 800-meter runner Sarah Attar, who was born in California and holds dual citizenship. Yet, it was a small first step for a country with intense restriction on women in sports.
There has been much speculation, however, as to whether the women would actually make it into the competitive arena. On Wednesday, the International Judo Federation issued a ruling that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani would not be allowed to wear her traditional hajab during competition. Shahrkhani, 18, who has never competed, has not issued a response as to how she plans to handle this rule change, if at all.

Women’s 800m Final: Aug. 11, 6:45 p.m.
Women’s Judo Final [78kg]: Aug. 2, 2 p.m.

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