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Sports in the spotlight

Olympic sports spotlight: gymnastics and swimming

Gymnastics The big names

In the women's competition, the United States and China are the team favorites. Individually, watch 2007 world all-around champion Shawn Johnson and eight-time world medalist Nastia Liukin of the United States, '06 world all-around champ Vanessa Ferrari of Italy, Steliana Nistor of Romania, and Yang Yilin and Cheng Fei of China. On the men's side, China is the team favorite, followed by Japan. Individually, look for '07 all-around world champ Yang Wei and individual-event world winners Xiao Qin and Chen Yibing of China, Hiroyuki Tomita of Japan and Fabian Hambuechen of Germany. A sleeper could be Jonathan Horton of the United States, who was fourth all-around at last year's world meet but got lost in this year's Olympic buildup with Paul Hamm's return and exit.

The big events

The team competitions and men's and women's all-arounds.

The biggest thing to know about it

The International Gymnastics Federation decided to overhaul the scoring system after the controversies of the 2004 Games. Now, instead of a maximum score of 10 in each event, there isn't one. To determine the score, one panel of judges starts from zero and adds points for requirements and difficulty. A second panel starts from 10 and deducts for execution and artistry. The scores are then added together. Generally, scores in the 15 range are good; they're the rough equivalent of mid nines in the old system. Scores above 16 are exceptional; NBC analyst Tim Daggett has equated 16.2 to 9.85. And a second-biggest thing: In the past in the team competition, five members could compete in each discipline and only the top four scores counted. Now a team is allowed only three performers, and all scores count.

Swimming The big names

The biggest is Michael Phelps, the American who's entered in eight events and aims to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Games. His female counterpart is American Katie Hoff, who will go in at least six events. Also notable for the United States are Natalie Coughlin, a five-time '04 medalist with two golds; Ryan Lochte, one of Phelps' prime gold-medal roadblocks; Aaron Peirsol, defending gold medalist in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke; 41-year-old Dara Torres, in her fifth Games; and Peter Vanderkaay. The always-strong Australians are led by Grant Hackett, who goes for his third straight gold in the 1,500 meters; Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones and Stephanie Rice. World champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan is a gold threat in the men's 100 and 200 breaststroke.

The big events

Everything Phelps is in. That's five individual events — 200 and 400 individual medley, 100 and 200 butterfly, and 200 freestyle — and all three team relays. There's Torres in the 50 free. And the men's 100 free, which has become its own soap opera: Italy's Filippo Magnini and Canada's Brent Hayden tied for first at last year's world championships, followed by Australia's Eamon Sullivan. Since then, France's Alain Bernard has lowered the world record twice, Magnini has implied he's doping and Sullivan has accused Magnini of sour grapes.

The biggest thing to know about it

USA and Australia are still the powers, but each year the sport has more breakthroughs. The '07 world meet had medalists from 21 other countries, including Sweden, Britain, the Ukraine, Venezuela, China, Switzerland, Belarus, South Korea, which had one champion, and Poland, which had two.

Sharon Fink, Times staff writer

Olympic sports spotlight: gymnastics and swimming 08/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:13am]
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