SI's Daily Olympic Briefing: Aug. 10
A day after Usain Bolt's magic, a stacked women's 4x100 relay takes centerstage
LeBron James and Team USA take on Argentina in the men's basketball semifinals
Injuries could put an end to the Americans' dominance in the men's 4x400 relay
LONDON -- Now, breathe. Because you deserve it after last night's funhouse of emotions, a 100-minute thrill ride that started with Usain Bolt, a man who has outrun every superlative, completing the sprint double for the second consecutive Olympics by winning the men's 200. Bolt's track magic gave way to a gritty U.S. women's water polo team winning its first-ever gold medal with a victory over Spain. Next came the redemption tale, as the U.S. women's soccer team prevailed over the country (Japan) that had beaten them in heartbreaking fashion at the women's World Cup last year. Finally, Ashton Eaton of the U.S. grabbed the title (at least the non-Bolt title) of the World's Greatest Athlete by blowing out the field in the men's decathlon. It was heady, can't miss-stuff, and for U.S. fans, an evening to remember.
Can Friday's Olympic card top last night? Well, there's a great track and field program featuring the women's 4x100 relay and 5,000 finals. And there's also Team USA's mega-showdown on the hardwood with Argentina. It's part of a day that will award medals in boxing, BMX cycling, field hockey, sailing, soccer, swimming, synchronized swimming, taekwondo and wrestling.
France's Renaud Lavillenie is SI's pick to win the men's pole vault final (2:00 p.m.) in an event that American Brad Walker, the 2007 world champion, has a shot at a medal. Germany's Betty Heidler and Aksana Miankova of Belarus are the favorites in the women's hammer throw final (2:35 p.m.). There are no U.S. women in the event.
The women's 5,000 final (3:05 p.m.) sets up as a battle between Kenya (Vivian Cheruiyot and Sally Kipyego) and Ethopia (Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar). Dibaba won the 10,000 earlier in the week and aims to repeat her golden Beijing double in these events. Cheruiyot swept the 5,000 and 10,000 at the worlds in 2011 and won bronze in the 10,000 in London. The Americans in the race are Julie Culley and Molly Huddle.
SI's pick for the women's 1,500 final (3:55 p.m.) is Ethiopia's Abeba Arigawe but the best name in the race is Great Britain's Hannah England. Americans Shannon Rowbury and Morgan Uceny will run in the final.
The women's 4x100 relay final (3:40 p.m.) sets up as a showdown between the Americans and Jamaicans. The U.S. easily won its heat on Thursday night in 41.64 seconds, the second-fastest time in Olympic history behind only East Germany's 41.60 in 1980. Worth noting is the U.S. women have not won this event since 1996, an ugly stretch that includes botched baton exchanges over the last three Olympics. Some of London's biggest stars are expected to run, including Jamaica's two-time Olympic 100-meter gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and two-time Olympic 200-meter gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown. For the U.S., it will be the 100-meter silver medalist Carmelita Jeter and 200-meter gold medalist Allyson Felix.
The U.S. has won 16 of the 22 editions (and 12 golds since 1952) of the men's 4x400 relay final (4:20 p.m.) but LaShawn Merritt's injury is a huge blow for the Americans (Jeremy Wariner also has a torn hamstring and will not run.) "The men's 4x400 has been an American open-and-shut case in recent Games, but that won't be the case this time," writes SI.com's Nick Zaccardi. "The U.S. has been decimated by injuries: Merritt and Wariner's hamstrings and Manteo Mitchell's mid-race broken leg in Thursday's semis. That leaves three healthy 400-meter runners, Bryshon Nellum, Tony McQuay and Josh Mance. Problem is, a nation needs four to field a relay. That's not a big problem because the man with the fastest 400-meter time on the U.S. roster isn't a 400-meter runner at all. It's 400-meter hurdler Angelo Taylor, who clocked a 44.05 (five years ago mind you). The Bahamas is the co-favorite. If Taylor is the fourth runner, the U.S. holds a .06 edge over Bahamas when you add up all eight runners' individual 400 times this year. The U.S. has crossed the finish line first in this relay at every Olympics since the boycotted 1980 Olympics (though its 2000 gold was stripped because of positive drug tests)."
There will be two prelims in track and field, but both are star-studded (at least the final) including the opening round of the women's 4x400 relay (2:10 p.m.) and the opening round of the men's 4x100 relay (2:45 p.m.).
The semifinals in men's basketball are set with the United States facing Argentina (4:00 p.m.) and Spain taking on Russia (12:00 p.m.). "From one point of view, the identity of the opponent is irrelevant because the U.S. -- overwhelmingly talented and committed to the highest goal -- can afford nothing less than to win the gold medal," writes SI.com's Ian Thomsen. "From another point of view, the identity of the opponent means everything. It was the losses to Argentina at the 2002 World Championship and 2004 Olympics that proved the need for the U.S. to rebuild its program around the leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski. In the last week, the U.S. (6-0 in the Olympics) had difficulty shutting down the pick-and-rolls of Lithuania, Argentina (for the first half of their game in the preliminary round) and Australia (in the quarterfinal). They beat Argentina last month in an exhibition at Barcelona by 86-80. A monstrous third quarter Monday resulted in their 126-97 win. In both games, however, the Americans realized that neither they nor their opponents were as committed as both will be in the semifinal."
Wrestling will award gold medals in the men's 55kg and men's 74kg. The medal round matches will begin at 12:45 p.m. U.S. wrestler Jordan Burroughs is SI's pick to win the men's 74kg. His twitter name is @alliseeisgold.
Two-time taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez competes in the 80kg category after winning gold at Athens in this event and finishing with a bronze in Beijing. (He also won gold in Sydney in the 68kg.) The all-day competition concludes with the men's 80kg gold medal match at 5:30 p.m. The women's 67kg gold medal match will be held at 5:15 p.m. with Great Britain's Sarah Stevenson the favorite to win.
The men's 10-meter platform diving competition begins (2:00 p.m.) with China's Qui Bo and Great Britain's Tom Daley as the ones to beat. David Boudia of the U.S. is America's best hope for a medal. Australia's Matthew Mitcham is the defending Olympic champion. He was the only diver to beat the Chinese in Beijing.
The semifinals in men's handball will take place at the Basketball Arena with Hungary playing Sweden (12:00 p.m.) and France playing Croatia (3:30 p.m.)
The women's gold medal match in field hockey (3:00 p.m.) is set between defending Olympic champion Netherlands and Argentina. Great Britain and New Zealand will play for bronze (10:30 a.m.). Argentina captain Luciana Aymar, nicknamed La Maradona, could become the first woman from Argentina to win four Olympic medals in hockey.
Americans Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan compete in women's two-person dinghy (Women's 470) with the medal race scheduled for 8 a.m. in Weymouth and Portland. Great Britain's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are the current world champions.
American Alex Meyer is a medal contender in the men's 10k marathon open water swimming event (7 a.m.)
Russia, who has won this event three consecutive times, is SI's pick to win the team free routine in synchronized swimming.
The semifinals are set in men's volleyball including Bulgaria-Russia (10:00 a.m.) and Brazil-Italy (2:30 p.m.). The Italians knocked the U.S. out on Wednesday.
The semifinals will be held in men's water polo, including Croatia-Montenegro (10:40 a.m.) and Italy-Serbia (2:50 p.m.)
Men's boxing continues at every weight class, beginning at 8:30 a.m. There are no American men left in the competition.
Gold gets awarded today in the women's BMX (11:30 a.m.) and men's BMX (11:40 a.m.).
South Korea and Japan play for the bronze medal in men's soccer (2:45 p.m.) at Millennium Stadium. The teams met at the 2011 Asian Cup semifinals with Japan winning 3-0 in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw after extra-time.
The individual and group qualifying in rhythmic gymnastics will begin at 7 a.m. today.
"It's what I came here to do. I'm now a legend, I'm also the greatest athlete to live. I am in the same category as Michael Johnson. I'm honored. It's all about Michael Johnson for me. I grew up watching him break world records." -- Usain Bolt on winning the 100 and 200 in two straight Olympics
"When I used to go running I used to see all these crackheads and drug addicts. I didn't want to be like them." -- U.S. boxer Claressa Shields, who at 17 won a women's middleweight (75kg) title
146: Medals won by Great Britain at the 1908 London Olympics
1:40.91: World record time for Kenya's David Rudisha in the 800.
1: Gold medal for Ireland at the London Games after Katie Taylor won the women's lightweight gold medal match on Thursday.
1. London 2012 Olympics: Gay Athletes In Short Supply, By Simon Briggs, The Daily Telegraph. Writes Briggs: "It is a classic Catch-22: until there are more gay sportsmen in the public domain, coming out will remain an off-puttingly big deal. Which only exacerbates the problem.
2. The View From Los Angeles: Who Needs London In A Blessed City Full of Beautiful, Buffed Bodies, By Rory Carroll, The Guardian. Pretty people live in L.A., reports The Guardian
3. Keep The Flame Alive, By Robert Winnett, Gordon Rayner and Tim Ross, The Daily Telegraph. A chorus of sporting voices has swung behind the drive to improve sport in schools and communities following Britain's success at the London Olympics.
4. A Couple Of Jellybeans Cost Me An Olympic Decathlon Medal, By Dean Macey, The Guardian. Advises Mr. Macey: Avoid the candy, future decathletes.