The front-runners for medals

Brady Ellison is hoping to give the U.S. its first Olympic archery medal in 12 years.-AP

While the fight for the top two places is likely to be between U. S. and China, the challenge from Russia and Great Britain can’t be ignored. writes A. Vinod.

The wait is over. And as the action involving 10,490 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees picks up pace across the 34 venues, the question is: Who will top the medal tally?

In Beijing 2008, China toppled the United States with 51 gold medals and emerged as the world’s top sporting power. Still, the Chinese were 10 medals short of the overall American tally of 110.

Against this backdrop, it is natural to ask whether China would repeat its feat. The Americans, with 530 competitors in 26 disciplines, are bound to take a lion’s share of the medals from the 47-event track and field and the 34 races in swimming.

Michael Phelps was the real star of the 2008 Games and not the incredible sprinter Usain Bolt. Phelps has 16 medals already, including an Olympic-record 14 gold medals, and in London 2012 is almost certain to smash the record for most individual medals. The current record belongs to Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina who has collected 18 medals.

With a host of NBA and WNBA stars amongst its ranks the men and women titles in basketball look to be in the US’ grasp. The same may be the story in beach volleyball. In gymnastics Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas will attempt to repeat their World Championship triumphs.

The United States would also be hoping for a reversal of fortunes in boxing with Rau’shee Warren at the helm. He will be the nation’s first triple Olympian boxer. Other names to reckon with are Glenn Eller, Vincent Hancock, Kim Rhode, Matt Emmons, Joshua Richmond, Jason Turner, Eric Uptagrafft and his wife Sandra.

U. S. fencers won six medals in Beijing. They could exceed that number in London with 16 competitors in the fray. World No. 1 Mariel Zagunis would be seeking her third consecutive Olympic medal in sabre.

Without a medal since 2000 the U.S. is hoping to break this odium in archery. Its best bet is Brady Ellison.

China will have a comparatively smaller squad of 396 as against 639 in Beijing. Its dominance is taken for granted in badminton, table tennis, diving and shooting.

A strong Chinese showing is also likely in the pool, through the rising star Sun Yang. Yang is a leading performer in 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle and should be seeking a double as he goes all out in the 400 and 1500m.

Within its comfort zone, China would expecting a repeat performance from the likes of Lin Dan, Wang Yihan, Wang Xi, Cai Yun, Fu Haifeng, Yu Yang, Wang Xiaoli, Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei in badminton.

It should also be a smooth sailing for the nation in table tennis, with world-beaters like Zhang Jike and Ding Ning present.

The Chinese shooters will be the cynosure of all eyes. The gold medal prospects are Wang Weiyi (50m rifle prone), Wang Tao (10m air rifle), Zhang Jian (25m rapid fire pistol) in the men’s section and Du Li (both in the 10m air rifle and 50m rifle 3 positions), Chen Ying (25m pistol) and Wei Wing (skeet) among the women.

In archery, China has pinned its hopes on Cheng Wing in both the individual and team events.

China may have to struggle in gymnastics with the Japanese and the Americans threatening it in the men’s section and the U. S., Romania and Russia being the strong contenders on the distaff side. China is expected to put up strong showing from Chen Yibing (rings), Feng Zhe (parallel bars) and Sui Lu (women’s floor).

China’s sweep in weightlifting also faces a threat despite fielding 10 competitors. The team looks deprived of experience with Lu Yong (men’s 85kg) being the lone Beijing gold medallist. The Chinese would be expecting Lu Hoajie (men’s 77kg) and Wang Mingjuan (48kg) and Zhou Jun (53kg), both in the women’s section, to finish at the top of the podium.

In the ring, China would be expecting a golden run by its light flyweight pugilist Zou Shiming in the men’s section as much as it would be pinning its hopes on Cacan Ren (flyweight) and Cheng Dong (light), both in the women’s division.

Even with its reduced squad China will participate in 23 sports, failing to gain berths only in football, equestrian and handball.

Andy Murray... Britain’s pole star.-AP

While the fight for the top two places is likely to be between U. S. and China, the challenge from Russia and Great Britain can’t be ignored.

The Russians, expected to do well in athletics, would also be looking forward to stamping their class in several other disciplines.

Though the standard of Russian gymnastics has declined over the years, the contingent this time looks assured to take a few medals. Aliya Mustafina and team-mate Vikotria Komova are favourites to finish 1-2 in the women’s uneven bars.

In rhythmic gymnastics, Russia has a solid chance to win the all-around title either through Evegeniya Kanaeva or Daria Kondakova besides the group gold medal.

In fencing, the Russians, led by Alexey Yakimenko, are strong aspirants for the men’s sabre team and individual gold medals .

In the women’s section, all eyes would be focussed on Sofya Velikaya (sabre). In the epee and foil team events, too, the Russians could well give Italy and Romania a good run for their money.

The others who are likely to hog the limelight are Andrey Moiseyev (modern pentathlon), shooters Alexei Klimov (25m rapid fire pistol), Alexey Alipov (trap) and Elena Tkach (women’s trap) and the duet pair of Natalia Ischenko and Svetlanda Romashina in synchronised swimming.

Britain’s best prepared, best-funded and largest ever Olympic team is on course for a record breaking Games. The 550-strong team, according to UK Sport, has the potential to win 48 to 70 medals. Andy Murray is Britain’s pole star.

Germany, Italy, Australia, France, Japan and South Korea are the other countries with a realistic chance of holding sway in a variety of disciplines.