S peed. Power. Power struggles. Money. Legacies. Rivalries. Redemption. Returns to glory. Glory that makes history.
These are the plot elements that wind their way through five stories worth your particular attention at the London Games, which begin Friday and run through Aug. 12. Some belong to one story. Others are present in all of them. All the stories are united by athletes capable of giving performances you will never forget.
More to watch and a breakdown of TV broadcasts and Internet streams. 14C
Twenty years after the "Dream Team" ushered NBA players into the Olympics, this could be the last time they participate, at least in large numbers. Commissioner David Stern has said he would like to see NBA players out after 2012 because their schedule has become too demanding. He cites the offseason world championships on top of the NBA season and, disingenuously, an event that doesn't exist: his and the owners' "Let's make money" plan, a World Cup tournament they want to establish similar to soccer's. The tournament would be held every four off-Olympic years and could bring the NBA much more cash than it gets from the Games, which is miniscule. Stern has said he would like men's Olympic basketball to be like its men's soccer: teams of players younger than 23, basically what it was pre-1992. Soccer also has three spots per team reserved for overage players, which are usually filled with well-known pros.
Since winning a record-setting eight gold medals in 2008, the American swimmer has been tamping down expectations for London, which he has said will be his last competition before retirement. He rarely competed, and gave the impression he trained little, for two-plus years after Beijing. But at the Olympic trials, the 27-year-old won three of the four finals he was in and is set for seven events in London, including relays. He is already the all-time gold medal winner for the Summer and Winter Games. Three medals of any color would make him the most decorated Olympic athlete in history.
The Jamaican is the world's fastest man. He broke his 100-meter world record in winning Olympic gold in 2008 and did it again in 2009 at the world championships, a record that still stands, 9.58 seconds. He's also the defending gold medalist and world record-holder in the 200. The 25-year-old is brassy, flashy, loves a late night out partying and is the world's fourth most-marketable athlete, according to British sports business magazine SportsPro. But at Jamaica's Olympic trials, he was beaten in the 100 and 200 by Yohan Blake, who in 2011 at 21 became the youngest 100 world champion after Bolt was disqualified in the final.
One of the Games' most popular sports can be counted on to have some of its biggest controversies. It overhauled its scoring system into an incomprehensible mess after accusations of shady judging in the 2004 Games. In 2008 the host Chinese won the women's team gold medal, then were accused of fielding a team with members too young under the age rules. On top of that, American Nastia Liukin tied with a Chinese gymnast involved in the age scandal for gold on the uneven bars but ended up with silver on a tiebreaker because the International Olympic Committee rules didn't allow ties (the rules since have been changed). The U.S. women and men are strong contenders for team gold and individual medals this year. The women are led by reigning world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber, the men by Homestead's Danell Leyva, last year's world parallel bars champion.
She hasn't been on Dancing With the Stars or the cover of Vogue, like one of her teammates, but the former Gator, 32, has been a heart-and-soul component of the U.S. soccer team for nine years and is one of the best players in the world. In the 2004 Games, her goal in extra time gave the United States the gold medal over Brazil. In 2008, in the last U.S. game before the Olympics, she broke a leg and missed the tournament. She was on last year's team that lost the World Cup final to Japan in a shootout. Expect Wambach to be very motivated.