Friday, July 25, 2008


This was obviously supposed to be for yesterday, but it's being released today. We're continuing the Ultimate Olympic Preview as we look at the Women's Gymnastics Competition and the Track and Field Competition.

The American women have a better chance of winning gold in Beijing than the men do. Both Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, the first two women named to the team after the Olympic trials, are current world champions after winning the team event in Stuttgart last year. Johnson is also the current individual all-around champion and floor exercise world champion. Nastia Liukin is the current balance beam world champion and won silver in the balance beam in the last two world championships. Together, they are the strongest members of the American team and are two of the best in the world.

The rest of the American team exhibits a lot of talent as well. Chelsie Memmel is a former world champion who won gold in Melbourne at the 2005 world championships. She suffered shoulder injury in 2006 and started to make a comeback in 2007. Along with Memmel, Samantha Peszek, who has strong beam and floor routines, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan will join Liukin and Johnson in Beijing. The United States finished second to Romania at the 2004 Olympics.

While the Americans are favored, their task to win gold will certainly not be easy. Their biggest threat are the Chinese, who lost to the United States by five one-hundredths of a point in last year's team event at Stuttgtart. They won the team event back in the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark and have had a huge rivalry with the American team for the past four years. With the Chinese competing at home, the crowd will be heavily favoring team China, including Cheng Fei, five-time world champion over the past three years.

Romanian gymnastics has somewhat declined over the past four years since winning team gold in Athens four years ago. But after winning the bronze medal in Stuttgart at last year's world championships, the Romanians are hoping for a comeback. However, they will be missing veteran gymnast Catalina Ponor, who retired from the sport after the world championships. Instead, Sandra Izbasa and Steliana Nistor, silver medalist in last year's individual all-around, will be the Romanian hopeful that will look to put Romania at the top of the gymnastics world.

But Romania will have to play underdog and put up with the United States, the favorites, and China, the host nation. Both the team and individual all-around competition will be the ones to watch in women's gymnastics competition in Beijing. And both competitions will be broadcast live in primetime on NBC.

It's a sport where not one, but many nations can enjoy their moment in the spotlight. There is never a single country that dominates track and field. This is a sport that tests a variety of skills from running to jumping to throwing. For 10 days during the games, 47 gold medals will be awarded in the sport of athletics.

Of those 47 events, the most popular are the sprint events, namely the 100 meter dash. On the men's side, the race will come down to three athletes: American Tyson Gay and Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. A current world champion in the 100 meters, Gay ran the fastest time in the event in any conditions, running a 9.68 race, wind-aided, in the final of the U.S. Olympic Trials. But Usain Bolt is the current official world record holder after running a 9.72 at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York last June. Bolt faced off with Asafa Powell, the veteran sprinter and bronze-medalist at last year's world championships, in an IAAF meet in Stockholm earlier this week.

Obviously, the 100 meter race in Beijing will come down to who will have a fast start and who can put the pressure on the other competitors. The men's 100 meter final will be run on Saturday night, August 16 (Saturday morning here in the United States) at 10:30PM Beijing Time.

But the one race that all of China will be looking forward to will be the 110 meter race where defending Olympic Champion Liu Xiang will try and defend his title. He has the entire nation's hopes on his shoulders and winning in Beijing is the only choice for this 25-year-old Chinese hurdler. He won China's first men's track and field gold medal in Athens and since then, has owned a world record and won a world championship in the event.

But he will have some tough opposition, among them current world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba. He broke Liu Xiang's world record at a IAAF Golden Spikes Meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic earlier this year with a time of 12.87 and has been consistently running those times since. At the last Golden League meet, he ran a 12.88 to win the 110 meter hurdles event in Paris.

Terrence Trammell is America's best hope to win the gold in Beijing. He won the silver medal twice in this event and is competing in what is most likely his last Olympic Games. He also won silver at the last world championships in Osaka last year.

But the focus will be on Liu Xiang, who has been the focus of Chinese sports for the past four years since winning Olympic gold. This feature from Sports Illustrated on the Chinese athlete really expresses why Liu Xiang MUST win this race. And the 110 meter hurdles will be held on Thursday night (Thursday morning here in the U.S.) on August 21, at 9:45PM.

While the 110 meter hurdles will be China's biggest attraction during the games, the other events should be highly entertaining as well. The American rivalry between reigning world and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and up-and-coming star LeShawn Merritt, who may be peaking at the right time, will make the 400 meters race a must-see. That race will also be ran on Thursday night, just before the 110 meter hurdles.

Bernard Lagat will also likely make headlines when the 1500 meters and 5000 meter races are ran. He is the favorite in both and is representing the United States for the first time after representing his home nation of Kenya in the last Olympic Games, when he won silver. He is the current world champion in both events.

On the field, the pole vault and shot put events will be the ones to watch. Current world champion and American Brad Walker and Australian Steven Hooker are strong contenders to take medal spots in the pole vault. And there could be a huge clash of American shot put titans when Reese Hoffa takes on Adam Nelson for a shot at the gold medal. The shot put will be one of the first medals to be awarded in athletics.

The highlight of the women's program will be the sprint races where the rivalry between the Jamaican and American runners will reach its peak. Each nation will showcase very talented runners and each race should be well-matched. In the women's 100 meters, Jamaica will be leaning on Kerron Stewart while Torri Edwards, Muna Lee and Lauryn Williams will all be contenders for gold in the event for the United States.

What this rivalry will be missing is Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown, who did not qualify for the 100 meters after placing fourth in the Jamaican Olympic Trials. The defending world and Olympic champion in the 100 meters will, however, be competing in the 200 meters and 4x100m relay in Beijing. She will have to put up with American Allyson Felix, defending world champion and silver medalist from Athens, and her countrywoman Kerron Stewart, who is trying for the elusive sprint double, that is if she wins the 100 meters.

The Jamaican-USA rivalry will likely spill over into the 400 meters race, but both countries will have to deal with powerful runners from Great Britain. Sanya Richards from the United States and Jamaican runners Novlene Williams-Mills and Rosemarie Whyte will all be contenders for medals. But runners like Nicola Sanders, who won silver in Osaka last year, and Christine Ohuruogu, current world champion, may give Great Britain glory in this event, which would be a great boost for the country that will host the next Olympic games in four years time.

On the field, the most captivating matchup will be in the pole vault where American Jenn Stuczynski will matchup with world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, who broke her own world record in a Golden League event in Rome earlier this year. The two athletes have gone one-two in numerous events, most notably this year's world indoor championships. Isinbayeva is the defending world and Olympic champion and it would be a tall order for Stuczyinski to overthrow her. The pole vault final will be held on the night of August 18.

So looking back at the three sports that will attract the most eyes during the 17-day competition, the United States is expected to dominate in swimming, have a good shot in gymnastics, and have some bright moments in track and field. China is looking forward to its brightest moment of all, when Liu Xiang takes on the rest of the world in his signature event, the 110 meter hurdles.

We'll continue previewing the games as we inch closer to the opening ceremonies. And during the Olympic Games, NOW Sports will tackle its toughest challenge of all: A LIVE 20-HOUR BLOG on each day throughout the ENTIRE Olympic Games (or until I leave for college, whichever comes first). We'll detail more on how NOW Sports expects to cover these Games of the XXIX Olympiad.

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