20 Jul 2012

Bolt, Pistorius and other Olympic stars to watch

A week to go, and if you can look past the (barring catastrophe) triumph of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, the biggest item on the summer sports agenda is the blue riband event of the Olympics.

The men’s 100m – and the once unbeatable Usain Bolt. He once predicted he’d like to break the 9.4 seconds barrier. But it’s looking increasingly likely he’ll probably stay pegged behind his existing world record of 9.58. Everybody, of course, wants to see the best, at their best, but Bolt is in far from top form.

The fear is he may have aggravated a long standing injury after a minor car crash in Jamaica back in June. And he’s pulled out of the last big race before the Olympics, the Diamond League meet tonight in Monaco.

And remember the World Championships in South Korea last year? When Bolt was disqualified for a false start? Well, many say he’s been spooked by the form of the man who went on to win – his training partner and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake. If anyone is going to spoil the Usain Bolt show, it’ll be Blake.

So what, then, about team GB?

With 542 athletes, it’s their biggest Olympic team ever. In Beijing GB won 47 Olympic medals – 19 of them gold. Official predictions for 2012 are running at around the same, with UK Sport setting a minimum target of 48.

Some studies, though, have projected even more – Sheffield Hallam University suggesting it could be as many as 56. That would be unlikely to affect GB’s standing in the medal table, though, with China, USA and Russia all predicted to stay in gold, silver and bronze overall position.

So if team GB do hit their targets, who are some of the athletes we are going to suddenly hear rather a lot about this summer?

With a caveat, of course, because all it takes is a cold or an accident or just a bad day, and predictions go out of the window. In any case, we’ve picked out four events to watch.

I’d be very surprised if flyweight Nicola Adams isn’t a household name before August is done. Women have never been allowed to box at the Olympics – until now. And Adams is a good tip for the first-ever women’s olympic boxing gold. She’s current European champion, and because she’s seeded number two, she can’t meet the current world champion until the final. She’s a good bet to go all the way.

Anyone who’s ever tried open-water swimming (otherwise known as the swimming marathon) will attest it is one of the most gruelling events in the Olympic roster. South African born Kerri-Anne Payne (above) is the 10k world champion. And such is her status, she was in fact the very first athlete to be named in the team GB squad.

Two other dead certs for the team were brothers Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee – the two best triathletes in the world. They go head to head for the gold, with Alistair just back from an achilles injury although he’s still ranked number one.

Everyone has now, of course, heard about Oscar Pistorius – the first amputee ever to qualify to run in both the Olympics and Paralympics. But watch out for Britain’s very own blade runner, Johnnie Peacock. He set a new t44 100m world record last month of 10.85 seconds, and starts as one of the favourites in the Paralympics 100m in September.