The Olympics are coming

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Torchbearer Ross Mcclelland carries the Olympic Flame through the streets of Stranraer June 8 as the Flame begins its journey through Scotland on Day 21 of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. -LONDON 2012

The Olympics start in a few days. Let me say that again, the Olympics start in a few days.

If you’re not excited, we’re no longer friends. Sorry.

The greatest spectacle in the world begins Wednesday (soccer and archery prelims get to start two days before Friday’s opening ceremony, for whatever reason) and lasts a glorious two and a half weeks until Aug. 12.

As you may know, I’ll be working for NBCOlympics.com, managing the volleyball page. I’m responsible for watching all 76 matches of the men’s and women’s tournaments and making our website look pretty from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. about every day. Our website is going to look pretty darned cool (we stream every single event live, too) so make sure you check it out.

I’m an Olympics nut — meaning I pay attention to Olympic sports throughout the four-year cycle, not just for two weeks every four years — but you’re probably not. That’s OK, I’ve got your back. This week and next, I’ll share everything you need to know and look for during the Games (with a decidedly American slant because I love Team USA).

I’ll get you started with some general stuff, like the athletes and stories you’ll want to keep in mind. Next week, I’ll write up a preview of all 32 sports because I can. Feel free to clip these articles and put them right next to your remote control. It’s going to be pretty sick nasty.

Kyle Brennan

Phelps vs. Lochte

The two best swimmers in the world are (big surprise) from the United States. Michael Phelps, competing in his last Olympics, will swim in seven events and needs three medals to become the most decorated Olympian of all-time (he’ll get that, easily).

But Ryan Lochte has pulled dead-even with Phelps over the last few years, even beating Phelps in a number of races at world championships and Olympic trials. Lochte is scheduled for five events but could swim up to seven if he’s added to a pair of relay teams.

Phelps and Lochte will go head-to-head in the 200- and 400-meter IM, the two toughest races at the Games. The two split the events at trials in Omaha, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they split again or if either one manages to win both. They’ll both finish several seconds ahead of the rest of the field, but the races between the two could be the most exciting events in London.

Aside from those races, each man is a strong contender for gold in his other races. If they don’t combine to win at least 12 gold medals, I’ll be highly surprised.

Missy the Missile

The other major swimming storyline involved 17-year-old Missy Franklin, who will be the first American woman to swim seven events in one Olympics. The tall, bubbly high schooler from Colorado is already a multiple-time world champion and was stellar at Olympic trials.

Franklin is the best backstroker in the world and has a great chance to medal in the 100 and 200 freestyles, too. She’ll be part of all three relay teams and could very well be a household name in about a month.

Wieber vs. Douglas

Not only is the United States’ women’s gymnastics team the favorite to win gold, its two best gymnasts are co-favorites to win the individual all-around competition.

Jordyn Wieber, the reigning world and national champion, has been the best gymnast in the world over the last two years. She’s fantastic on all four apparatuses (for your review: floor, uneven bars, vault, and balance beam) and makes a remarkably low number of mistakes during her routines.

But Gabby Douglas has closed the gap on her teammate over the last year and ended up winning the Olympic trials. Douglas is also outstanding on all four apparatuses and is among the most powerful female gymnasts in the world.

The team competition is first, so the two can work together to bring home their first gold medals before duking it out for not only the all-around gold, but medals on each of the apparatuses, too.

Sprinting Supremacy

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt was one of the breakout starts at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, setting three world records, including one in the 100-meter dash. But Bolt hasn’t been able to sustain his record dominance heading into London.

Bolt didn’t even win the event at Jamaica’s Olympic trials, losing to Yohan Blake. Their fellow countryman, Asafa Powell, will make for a strong Jamaican contingent in the sprints.

But the United States has an equally strong group. Tyson Gay, a multiple-time world champion, and Justin Gatlin, competing in his first Games since his drug suspension, headline the American sprint team.

Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100 isn’t safe. It just depends which country will own it after London.

American Chances in Team Sports

Anyone who tries to argue the 2012 version of the Dream Team (I hesitate to even call it that) is better than the 1992 originals is insane. It’s just silliness. Brazil was competitive all night against the Americans in Monday’s exhibition. Michael Jordan laughs at that nonsense.

Still, both of the US basketball teams are gold-medal favorites in London, but the women are much more heavily favored than the men. The women’s team includes six former UConn Huskies (Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi, Asjha Jones, and Maya Moore) and it shouldn’t really be tested.

The men will face stiffer competition from countries like Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and Lithuania, but anything less than gold would be an embarrassment. Spain, in particular, could cause problems for the Americans because they’ve got two Gasols and the United States’ frontcourt is its weakness (Tyson Chandler is the headline big man, yikes).

American fans will only have one soccer team to root for in London because the men didn’t even qualify. The women, though, are strong gold-medal contenders. The entire group that reached last year’s World Cup final is back, and you’d better believe they want to win this year.

I don’t care too much for soccer, but I’ll watch when: A) The Olympics are on; B) The United States is playing; and C) Alex Morgan is near a television camera.

Water polo is a really fun sport to watch if you’ve never tried. Both American teams are legitimate medal contenders, and the men have a great shot at reaching the gold-medal match. In fact, the entire men’s team decided not to play this past season professionally in Europe so it could have more time preparing for the Olympics. I absolutely love that.

And of course, we can’t forget about beach volleyball. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are back for one last go-around, but their winning a fourth gold medal would be an upset. Instead, the new kids on the block — Jen Kessy and April Ross — might be the best American women in the sand.

The men still have strong medal chances with returning gold medalists Todd Rogers (who sports the best goatee in the world) and Phil Dalhausser, as well as the team of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal. All four could be on the podium when all is said and done.