|Jordyn Wieber (shown at a Thursday practice session) has been the gold-medal favorite for years, only to be usurped by Gabby Douglas in June. Can she bounce back? (Getty Images)|
We're less than 24 hours from the opening ceremony of the London Games, so it's now or never to make some bold predictions about what we'll see over the next 18 days. Here's 10:
1. Michael Phelps will lose an Olympic race for the first time since 2004. No one will care. In 2008 Phelps was twice a whisker away from missing out on his record eight golds, needing Jason Lezak to swim the relay leg of his or anyone else's life to beat the French in the 4x100 freestyle, then miraculously touching out Milorad Cavic in the 100 butterfly. And even scaling back from eight to seven events, there's several races where Phelps could need that little bit of divine help from the Olympic gods again: the rematch with Cavic in the 100 fly, a showdown with the Australians in the 4x100 free, and most notably the 400 individual medley where Ryan Lochte soundly defeated Phelps at the U.S. Trials.
Mark it down: in at least one of those events, Phelps will have to settle for a medal other than gold. But by Games' end, will it matter when he's still winning five or six other golds and passing Larisa Latynina to become the world's most decorated Olympian ever? Not so much.
2. Jordyn Wieber will edge Gabby Douglas for the individual all-around gold. Douglas pursued Wieber for months, finally caught her at the U.S. Trials, and has been anointed by many as the new Olympic favorite. But the guess here is that Douglas's high-flying style will leave her vulnerable to the one or two critical mistakes that will leave the door open for the ultra-consistent Wieber to claim the gold--one that until a few short weeks ago seemed all but inevitable.
3. Yohan Blake will sweep the 100- and 200-meter dashes. The current conventional wisdom is that Blake might be able to pip Usain Bolt in the 100, but that whatever afflicted Bolt in the recent Jamaican trials -- mysterious injury, lack of focus, intentional sandbagging -- won't afflict him in the 200, the event here his longer strides are an even bigger advantage. But Bolt just didn't look right in Kingston, and the pressure-cooker of the Games isn't the place to try and fix things, either physical or mental. Blake's been the best sprinter in the world this year, period, and we're not betting on him to suddenly lose that title in London.
4. Neither USA basketball squad will be seriously challenged. For the women, this is borderline obvious. But the recent struggles with Argentina and Brazil (and the unflattering comparisons with the 1992 Dream Team) have raised the notion that the men's team isn't the gold-medal it was assumed to be in, say, April. To which we say: please. Traditionally, one of the (if not the) biggest strengths of international teams over the Americans is that they have the advantage of having played together for years, while Team USA has to largely learn how to play together on the fly. But the greater continuity within the U.S. national team program has helped nullify that, and by the time group play ends it shouldn't be a factor at all. If even Spain can't hang with the U.S. -- and that recent exhibition suggests the Spanish guards are not up to the task of making their team's size advantage count for much -- no one will.
5. Brady Ellison will appear on a national late-night talk show or two. Look at this guy:
If he wins the individual archery competition as expected, doesn't it seem like he'd be right at home on Dave Letterman's couch with a gold medal around his neck? Maybe this isn't really all that bold a prediction.
6. The women's soccer final will be the most-watched team game of the Olympics in the U.S. LeBron, Kobe, and Durant are the bigger stars, but the widespread coverage of the U.S. women's Wednesday debut vs. France -- two days before the Games even officially begin -- shows just how deeply the American public connects with the current generation of U.S. soccer stars. If and when Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Co. take the field with the gold medal on the line, the country is going to tune in.
7. The U.S.'s only volleyball gold will come indoors. The women's indoor team has been wrecking fools for the better part of the last four years, and there's little reason to think they'll stop now. The question is whether an American beach team will join them atop a London podium, and our unfortunate answer as of today is "we don't think so." The best two American teams -- gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser on the men's side, two-time gold medalists Misty May-Treaner and Kerri Walsh on the women's -- struggled at various times during the summer FIVB tour season, and neither enters the Olympics as the betting favorite.
8. Serena Williams will win three gold medals. Williams's recent Wimbledon championship proved once again that there's no venue she likes better than the All-England Club ... and guess where the Olympic tennis will be held? The women's doubles and mixed doubles tournaments could be even higher hills to climb than the singles, but in sister Venus and the up-and-coming John Isner, she has the proven partners to make it happen. It's hard for tennis players to become major stories at the Olympics when the Games simply aren't the pinnacle of the sport, but we like Serena's chances to make it happen anyway.
9. The U.S. will miss out on a gold when the women's 4x100-meter track relay can't complete a baton exchange. The U.S. lost out on a chance to win gold in the same event in Beijing and Athens via the same problem, which is why the USATF brought together all four projected members of the relay -- Allyson Felix, Jeneba Tarmoh, Tianna Madison and Carmelita Jeter -- to a minor tune-up meet in Monaco last weekend to practice their exchange in a competitive environment. The results were underwhelming to say the least: the exchange between Felix and Tarmoh was rocky, and then botched entirely between Tarmoh and Jeter, resulting in a disqualification. With Jamaica not as strong as four years ago, the U.S. should win easily if they can just get the baton around the track ... but we are not confident, sadly.
10. The U.S. will win both the overall and gold medal counts anyway. You could get fancy making this prediction, or just say this: the only nation with a chance of beating out the U.S. in either category is China. And the Games aren't in Beijing this go-round.