Previewing the Summer Games

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An aerial shoot over Olympic Park is London shows the Olympic rings at the rear end of the Aquatics Centre. –LONDON 2012

You may have missed the start of the Olympics, which was Wednesday morning (the U.S. women’s soccer team beat France 4-2 in group play). But the whole shebang begins in earnest Friday night with the Opening Ceremony and Saturday morning with the first medals.

Here’s the deal: There are 32 sports at the Olympics. Let’s go through each — some in more detail than others — so you know what to look for over the next two and a half weeks.

Archery: 23-year-old American Brady Ellison is the favorite to win the men’s individual competition, but he’ll have to overcome South Korea’s Im Dong-Hyun, who’s legally blind and is the second-best archer in the world. (Medals: July 28-29, Aug. 2-3.)

Badminton: The U.S. isn’t going win any medals, in all likelihood. Tony Gunawanan and Howard Bach are the only Americans in the competition, competing in men’s doubles. Hopefully the shuttlecock doesn’t lodge in someone’s leg. (Medals: Aug. 3-5.)

Basketball: Both American teams are the favorites. The women, sporting their half-UConn roster, should run away with the gold. The men’s field is stronger with teams like Spain, Argentina, Brazil, France, Australia, Russia, and Lithuania. But the U.S. crushed Spain in Tuesday’s exhibition, which made everyone this side of the pond feel better. The only American weaknesses may be their unselfishness and lack of size in the frontcourt. (Medals: Aug. 11-12.)

Beach Volleyball: The rest of the world has just about caught up to the Americans in beach volleyball, but that doesn’t mean the top U.S. teams aren’t still favored. The returning men’s gold medalists, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, and women’s winners, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, are the popular picks again in London. They’ll get stiff competition from the second American teams (Jake Gibb-Sean Rosenthal and Jen Kessy-April Ross) and squads from Brazil. (Medals: Aug. 8-9.)

Boxing: For the first time, women’s boxing is an Olympic sport. The U.S. team is the largest of any country, but that might not equal many — if any — medals. (Medals: Aug. 9, 11-12.)

Canoe/Kayak: It doesn’t look too good for the Americans in canoe/kayak, either. Believe it or not, there are 16 events in this discipline. Seriously. (Medals: July 31-Aug. 2, 8-9, 11.)

Cycling: Fresh off his Tour de France win, Britain’s Bradley Wiggins is expected to contend for gold. The Americans have medal hopes, too, none stronger than Kristin Armstrong in time trial. While the action inside the velodrome is always exciting, it’s not the United States’ strong suit. If you didn’t know, BMX is an Olympic sport, too. (Medals: July 28-29, Aug. 1-7, 10-12.)

Diving: China has been the world’s diving power for decades and that shouldn’t change in London. But the Americans have a number of medal hopefuls, especially in synchronized. The best individual hope is David Boudia, who’s favored in the 10-meter platform. (Medals: July 29-Aug. 1, 5, 7, 9, 11.)

Equestrian: The U.S. shouldn’t have a hard time medaling in most events, but whether or not those will be gold is another question. Look out for Reed Kessler, an 18-year-old in her first Olympics. (Medals: July 30, Aug. 6-9.)

Fencing: The American women were major surprises in Beijing, sweeping the individual sabre. That’s unlikely to happen in London, but Mariel Zagunis is the favorite to defend her gold. She could be the only American medal in the sport. (Medals: July 28-Aug. 5.)

Field Hockey: There’s nothing to see here for American fans. The men didn’t qualify and the women aren’t expected to contend. (Medals: Aug. 10-11.)

Gymnastics: Here’s the money sport. The American women are heavy favorites not only to win the team competition, but also earn a number of individual medals. Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas are co-favorites in the all-around competition, while McKayla Maroney — if healthy — is the top pick in vault. Wieber and Douglas may also medal in any one of the apparatuses. The men should make the team podium, but they’re not favored to win gold. But most of the men, especially John Orozco, Danell Leyva, Jonathan Horton and Jake Dalton, should contend in most of the apparatuses. (Medals: July 30-Aug. 1, 5-7.)

Handball: Handball is a European sport. Neither American team qualified. (Medals: Aug. 11-12.)

Judo: The major American to watch is Kayla Harrison, competing in the women’s 78-kilogram competition. She’ll likely medal and has a legit shot at gold. (Medals: July 28-Aug. 3.)

Modern Pentathlon: This event includes fencing, swimming, equestrian, cross country, and shooting. Way back when, folks figured it demonstrated military prowess. (Medals: Aug. 11-12.)

Rhythmic Gymnastics: Most people forget this sport exists because it happens after artistic gymnastics and the Americans never contend. Neither will change. (Medals: Aug. 11-12.)

Rowing: The U.S. women’s team is the stronger of the two, being favored in the eight. Both the men and women could see another medal or two along the way. (Medals: Aug. 1-4.)

Sailing: The American threesome in women’s match racing is favored, and a pair of Yale grads could medal in women’s 470. Like rowing, the women’s team is strong. (Medals: Aug. 5-11.)

Shooting: Kimberly Rhode is trying to become the first American to medal in five straight Olympics and is favored in women’s skeet. Joshua Richmond is the name to watch on the men’s side, as he has a shot to win double trap gold. (Medals: July 28-Aug. 6.)

Soccer: The U.S. men didn’t qualify, so the Olympics are all about the American women. They played their first preliminary match Wednesday against France and are the gold-medal favorites. It seems as though Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and the rest are dead set against having another disappointment like last year’s World Cup. (Medals: Aug. 9, 11.)

Swimming: Both American teams are favored to win the most medals in the pool. On the men’s side, it comes down to whether Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte emerges as top swimmer in the world (most of the time reserved for the IM champions, in which they’ll both finish inside the top two), and whether the Americans can defend their 4-by-100-meter relay gold. For the women, 17-year-old Missy Franklin figures to be the breakout star as she becomes the first American woman to swim seven events at one Games. A few more quick hits: No Dara Torres, Jason Lezak’s back on the 4-by-100 relay team, Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen should both contend for men’s gold, and Allison Schmitt, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer, Elizabeth Beisel, Caitlin Leverenz, and Breeja Larson should all challenge on the women’s side. (Medals: July 28-Aug. 4, 9-10.)

Synchronized Swimming: Another sport in which Americans will not be near the podium. It’s pretty, though. (Medals: Aug. 7, 10.)

Table Tennis: Like several sports, this one’s dominated by Asian countries. China should win all four golds with no Americans in sight. (Medals: Aug. 1-2, 7-8.)

Taekwondo: The Lopez siblings, Diana and Steven, are expected to be the only two Americans with a chance at the podium — and they might even challenge for gold. (Medals: Aug. 8-11.)

Tennis: Rafael Nadal is among those who withdrew from the Olympics, which will be contested at Wimbledon. There’s no reason not to favor Roger Federer after his win earlier this month. John Isner and Andy Roddick will play singles and doubles together, and that huge-serving duo combined with Mike and Bob Bryan could give the Americans a strong showing on the doubles podium. Serena Williams is the women’s favorite in singles and she’ll team up with her sister Venus in doubles and Isner in mixed doubles to give her a legit shot at three gold medals. (Medals: Aug. 4-5.)

Trampoline: Most people don’t even know this is an Olympic sport. It is, but neither of the two Americans should medal. (Medals: Aug. 3-4.)

Triathlon: Sarah Groff is the top shot for the U.S. to medal, but both the men’s and women’s events are expected to be dominated by host Britain. (Medals: Aug. 4, 7.)

Volleyball: The U.S. women enter the Games as the No. 1 team in the world and the defending silver medalist. They’re pretty handy favorites over Brazil and anything other than gold would be a major surprise. The men are No. 5 in the world and trying to defend their surprise 2008 gold. Clay Stanley, the 2008 MVP, returns but knocking off Brazil and the European powers will be difficult. (Medals: Aug. 11-12.)

Water Polo: Like volleyball, the American women are favorites over Australia and Spain. The men’s pool is much tougher for the U.S. men, who won silver in Beijing. The traditional eastern European powers — Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary — are medal favorites, but that doesn’t mean the Americans, who have trained together the entire year after taking off from their pro careers in Europe, can’t crack the podium. (Medals: Aug. 9, 12.)

Weightlifting: American weightlifting is far behind the rest of the world and that will likely be reflected in London. The only storyline of note is that Holley Mangold, New York Jets center Nick’s younger sister, will compete for the American women. (Medals: July 28-Aug. 1, 3-7.)

Wrestling: The Americans can still hold their own in wrestling, but they’re not expected to medal in most events. An exception should be Jordan Burroughs, the favorite in men’s 74kg freestyle. Don’t be surprised to see plenty of other Americans challenge for bronze. (Medals: Aug. 5-12.)