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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will London Be A Pool of Gold for US?

Is American Dominance In The Water Good For Olympic Viewers?

Gymnastics and track and field may be the most viewer-friendly events of the Summer Olympics, but the swimming pool holds the highest gold medal hopes for Team USA in London.

View the Current Medal Count Standings Here.

Gone are the days of deep American rivalries with the Aussies and Brits, or nail-biting finishes in nearly every race. Instead, we have Michael Phelps. And if not Phelps, then Ryan Lochte. And if not Lochte, then Missy Franklin, etc.

"Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the U.S. swim team has won about one-third of all gold medals and one-third of all medals awarded," according to the Wall Street Journal. "In Beijing in 2008, U.S. swimmers won 31 medals, including 12 golds."

So much for international competition.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that the U.S. swim team is projected to take home 28 medals including 12 golds. That's a lot. Flash back to 2008 when Phelps won eight golds in Beijing and when put in context with projection of the entire American team winning 12 golds, it makes Phelps' feat even that much more astounding.

This time around, Phelps is only swimming in seven races (what a slacker) and more importantly, he will only go head-to-head against his strongest rival, Lochte, twice. Lochte has beat Phelps several times in the last few years with each guy stealing a victory over the other in Omaha during the Olympic Trials in June.

During the days, Phelps and Lochte are two teammates who share a suite in Olympic Village and are partners in Spades, beating their roommates at cards. Phelps is mellow, laid back and somewhat dry. Lochte on the other hand is hyper, cites Lil Wayne as his style icon (--blank stare--) and is fairly outspoken. Two talented American teammates with contrasting personalities presents a fascinating dichotomy worth watching in the water.

Perhaps its a good thing that these two will only swim against each other twice, making each race that much more exciting and anticipated.

On the women's side, Franklin, a 17-year-old who should be catapulted to superstardom in these games, has it all. She's about 6'2, attends an all girls high school in Colorado and break dances. Franklin has a huge personality to match the gigantic expectations of "the female Phelps" that has been cast upon her. Franklin qualified for seven events in London making her the top woman in the world to watch in the pool.

I know, we sure sound like self-absorbed Americans, don't we? How typical.

In fairness to the international swimming community, the U.S. does face tough competition but only from a select few individuals.

China's Wu Peng has a serious shot at beating Phelps in London after he beat the greatest swimmer of all time in the 200m butterfly back in May on U.S. soil. An outstanding distance swimmer from Team China is Sun Yang, who, in search of his first Olympic medal, has won several gold medals in various distance events in the World Championships and Asian games over the last few years.

Kosuke Kitajima of Japan won gold in Beijing in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke and will look to do the same in London.

As for the rest of the U.S. swimming contingency outside of the Big Three (Phelps, Lochte, and Franklin), there are plenty of good human interest stories to go around.

We're more likely to see a random photo finish (a la Team USA's tight win over France in the relay in Beijing) than an Ian Thorpe-type rivalry where we expected each race to be a close battle down the stretch.

Then again, just because something is "projected" doesn't mean the outcome is pre-determined. We see upsets in sports every day, the "unknown" drawing us to competition.

As fans, we can find humanity in any winner (or loser for that matter), regardless of country or ethnicity. That's what makes the Olympics such a unique and compelling athletic stage. There will be plenty of room for great races and wonderful stories to come out of the pool in these next two weeks and whether or not those tales of greatness involve Americans doesn't really matter at the end of the day. As long as the races are fast and furious, it's a win-win for all of us viewers.

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