Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Still the best? Here comes the test

Their Beijing gold comes to London four years old By John Henry

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1. Can he be bolted down?

It should be no surprise that something is behind Usain Bolt. The Jamaican hot steppa throttled pursuers when he put it at full throttle in 2008 with record-setting times in the 100 and 200 metres in Beijing.

But are his best days behind him? No way, mon.

Perhaps, mon. The one-time world's fastest man might not even be the fastest Jamaican after losing to compatriot Yohan Blake in the 100- and 200-metre races in the Caribbean island nation's Olympic trials.

Critics point to misplaced priorities and age for the "demise" of Bolt, who is said to enjoy his share of "unwinding," as he calls it, or more commonly referred to as partying like its 1999 -- all da while.

But Bolt has plenty of motivation, hoping to become the first to repeat as gold medallist in the sprint races since Carl Lewis in 1984 and '88.

2. Fantastic Phelps

Michael Phelps is no leatherback turtle, the world's fastest amphibian in water. Yet it will take some sort of connection to the supernatural to deny Phelps another appointment with history. The 27-year-old Marylander, who became the most dominant swimmer in Olympic history with a record eight gold medals in 2008, can officially transcend all who came before him this time around. With 16 medals from two previous Games, Phelps, competing in seven events in London, is in good position to eclipse the career Olympic medal record of 18, set by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina (1956, '60 and '64).

3. Still dreamy

Kobe Bryant was dreaming when he suggested this year's edition of the Dream Team could beat the gold-standard 1992 team... right? His critics just think he's lost his mind. The truth is that Henry VIII's wives were treated with relative dignity compared to what the original Dream Team did to the international community, beating teams that appeared by comparison to be bottom feeders of an over-40 church league by almost 44 points on average.

Though they'll certainly not repeat the Wile E. Coyote flop of the 2004 team, which inexplicably returned from Greece as a bronze bust, this version of the captains of American hoops first need to win this country's 14th gold in 17 Olympic Games (the red, white and blue stayed out of the '80 Games) and fifth since NBA players began competing.

4. It's a sweet spot

The site of the oldest tennis tournament in the world will serve as host of the tennis competition. Roger Federer is the favourite to win again at Wimbledon. Any medal for the six-time Wimbledon champion would be a first individually for the three-time Olympian.

American Serena Williams stands in the way of Maria Sharapova becoming the second woman to win a career Golden Grand Slam -- championships in each of the four Grand Slam tournaments and an Olympic gold medal. Steffi Graf is the only female tennis player to have achieved the distinction.

Josiah Ritchie and Dorothea Chambers, both Brits, won the singles titles the last time Olympic tennis was played here in 1908. (Tennis was not part of the Games in 1948.) The Brits' best chance this year? Andy Murray, who lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final on July 8.

5. Safe city?

Priority No. 1 for all Olympic settings has always been safety since the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches during the 1972 Games in Munich. The issue was further heightened in the wake of 9/11.

So when the security contractor announced it would not be able to meet its promise of more than 10,000 security personnel, the resulting added anxiety was no surprise.

The army of the Queen will supplement security forces with 3,500 troops, as will police officers from around the country.

Safety is not an issue, said Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the Games.

Let's hope not.

-- Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2012 C4

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