Lets talk about the participants for a change. Going into the games, the following are the biggest issues concerning the athletes:
Question 1: Will Ann Arbors Michael Phelps earn a record eight gold medals? Four years ago in Athens, with six golds and two bronze medals from eight different swimming events, Phelps came close to equaling Mark Spitzs Olympic record for gold medals in one Olympiad. Spitz swam to seven gold medal victories in the 1972 Munich Games.
This time around, Phelps is entered in eight events, owning the world record in five of them. If Michael Phelps does somehow win eight gold medals in Beijing, he should be considered the greatest athlete of all time. Only four more gold medals will give him the record for all Olympiads combined.
Watch for revolutionary Speedo LZR full-body swimsuits (for men, too) that are changing the sport. Swimmers using the LZR have already set 47 world records this year. On the down side, even keen observers such as myself can no longer easily differentiate men from women racers at the pool.
Answer: Phelps will fall just short of eight. Three of his eight events are relays involving three other swimmers, opening many more possibilities for small mistakes that are critical in races often decided by fractions of a second.
Question 2: Will Liu Xiang win a gold medal? Despite Michael Phelps highly publicized quest, no one in the history of organized sports is under more pressure to win than Liu Xiang. Liu is the 110 meter hurdles favorite, but more importantly1.3 billion Chinese are all expecting him to bring home the gold for the fatherland on home turf.
With his surprise 110m win in the Athens Games of 2004, Liu is the biggest sports hero in China. Lius celebrity there even eclipses Yao Ming, the 76 NBA star who is beloved by his countrymen and hounded by Chinese paparazzi wherever he goes.
The competition in Lius race specialty should be stiff. Dyron Robles of Cuba broke Lius world record time recently and American Terrence Trammell already has two silver medals from previous Olympics in the same event to his credit.
Answer: The American, Trammell, will surprise by snatching the gold from Xiang and Robles.
Question 3: Will the Dream Team bring back the gold? Last time around, Team USAs basketball squad did not win a gold medal - Argentina won it all in 2004.
You may be thinking that with superstars such as Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dawayne Wade, and others, this Dream Team will be trouncing any basketball team that dares show up on the same court. And besides, we invented hoops so there is no way Puerto Rico or China can beat us, right?
Not so fast, many other countries have decent talent including many players that have or in the future will play in the NBA. A big advantage for a team like Argentina is that their players are no mere All Star roster. They have been performing together for many years in international competition, adjusting to the international rules long ago.
Answer: No. The Dream Team has a chance, but there are too many good teams such as Greece and Spain that can play with the Americans. Team USA should earn another bronze medal in basketball.
Question 4: Can the U.S. win more gold medals than the Chinese? Answer: No. The Chinese have trained hard and spent billions on many sports that Americans could care less about such as ping-pong, womens judo, and badminton. Four years ago China won only four less Olympic gold medals than the U.S. - before it became the Chinese national obsession.
2008 will be the year that we will later note when China passed the rest of the world in sports achievements and dominated many Olympics to come.