Led by long-standing England and GB captain Kate Walsh, the British team is a strong contender in London as a result of overhauling its training regime after finishing sixth in Beijing. The squad is now ranked fourth in the world and reached their first Champions Trophy final this year.
For the 32-year-old Walsh, who graduated in Sport Sciences in 2003—the year she first became GB captain—it will be her third Olympics.
It’s hard to imagine a man in lycra out-doing his “Tour de Force” in France, but Bradley Wiggins will attempt to win gold in the 44km time trial just nine days later.
Fellow Tour de France headliner, Mark Cavendish, could win GB’s first 2012 gold in the 156-mile road race that sets off at 10am on the opening day. It would be a hugely popular win for the BBC Sports Personality of 2011, who came away empty-handed from the track at the Beijing Olympics despite being reigning world champion.
[Incidentally, defending champion, Nicole Cooke, will aim to do the same for the women the next day.]
As for the fearsome Chris Hoy, flag-bearer for a nation, he will attempt the mighty task of replicating his three golds from Beijing. No pressure, then.
There are strong hopes of a first ever women’s Olympic title from Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the women’s pair: They currently lead the world, taking a third world title in June.
But they may be followed to women’s glory by Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins in double skulls. Grainger won silver in the last three Olympics: This time, with Watkins, gold beckons.
It’s the water of an island nation weaving its magic again, this time at sea. The handsome Ainslie will be trying to do a Redgrave with his fifth medal in his fifth straight Olympics, though one of the four, his first back in Atlanta, was a silver.
Since then, it’s been gold all the way, first in Laser, then in Finn, which is where he will compete again in waters off the Dorset coast. He is, incidentally, the reigning world champion, too.
In Ainslie’s former discipline of Laser, his former training partner Paul Goodison is world No1, and has expectations of emulating his team-mate
Greenwich will become a hotbed of equestrian activity—and was one of the first sports to sell out in the ticket ballot. GB is pretty good in all disciplines, and even boasts royalty in the shape of the talented Zara Phillips in the most demanding one, the three-day event.
Then there is show-jumping—Nick Skelton should stand out here—but to see horse and rider in perfect harmony, look to dressage. There, London may find the second oldest ever Olympian in the 5ft 6in package of 71-year-old Hoketsu. He was in Japan’s show-jumping team in Tokyo in 1964, left sport to pursue a business career, but returned to dressage in Beijing.
He rides Whisper, an appropriate name for this discipline where communication between man and beast is near invisible. Look closely for the shifts of weight in the saddle and squeezes from calf and heel that instruct the horse’s moves.
There have been plenty of naysayers—but then this is London, Great Britain. It’s a national sport where there are no medals. Yet a weekend spent in London, just six days before this wonderful city hosts the Olympics, is a timely reminder of more optimistic things.
The sun was out, the architecture—old buildings trimmed in fresh gold leaf, modern ones all glinting angles and curves—was to die for, and the Olympic rings hung from bridges, fluttered on flags, and rose from the river.
Yes, there have been problems—but memories have banished pictures of Athens’ half-finished Olympic village and the pollution scares in Beijing.
So it’s time to celebrate every venue completed ahead of schedule, the worn grass of Wimbledon replaced by immaculate turf within a fortnight, the taxis, buses and buildings confidently bearing the Olympic and British colours.
There are, after all, few other cities that could combine the inspiring new with the iconic old, and host so many visitors within its heart.
Let the games, and the fun, begin.
Andy Murray, weeks after becoming the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since 1938, leaving not a dry eye in the house, is determined to repay the wave of support he rode into Centre Court;
Perri Shakes-Drayton, who graduated just last summer, is one of GB’s fastest risers, and one quarter of the World Indoor Champions’ 4x400m relay team. First she will run the 400m hurdles—and she is a truly local talent, living and training in Bow;
Rebecca Adlington, defending champion at 400m and 800m freestyle, will attempt to defend both, and then add her strength to the 4 x 200m relay;
20-year-old Holly Bleasdale had never even tried the pole vault when the last Olympics were held. This year, she has recorded the third-highest indoor jump in history and set a new British outdoor record;
Heather Watson, selected for women’s tennis doubles, was given a last-minute bonus after becoming the top-ranked British woman last month. She will now also play in the singles after Alona Bondarenko pulled out with injury;
Gymnast Beth Tweddle is a woman in a girl’s world. At 27, with 11 years in senior competition, this will be her last chance of Olympic glory. She focuses on the discipline where she has won two World Championships, the uneven bars, and will attempt one of the toughest routines in the tournament;
And if the Lightening Bolt has not thrilled London in the 100m, he has an even better chance in the 200m, where he is the world record holder. Watch those long legs unfold in the early stages and then eat up the ground in the straight.
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