The Australian sports fan’s quadrennial interest in random sports like European Handball and Judo is about to kick off again.
The London Olympics starts early Saturday morning, Australian time with an opening ceremony predicted to feature James Bond, Paul McCartney, Harry Potter and the Queen.
The undoubted star of the Aussie team is James Magnussen, the current world champion in the 100m freestyle and the undisputed favourite for that event in London.
Not only is Magnussen favoured for the individual event, he will also anchor the men’s 100m freestyle relay, where the Aussies have a pronounced advantage over its closest rivals, the USA and France. The Aussies will be looking to replicate the “smash em like guitars” efforts of Thorpe, Klim and co in 2000.
Sally Pearson is Australia’s best hope in athletics. Despite a hiccup in her final run before the Games, she remains favoured to take out the sprint hurdles. Long jumper Mitchell Watt is the other Aussie in genuine gold medal contention.
The Aussies have other medal chances in athletics including walker Jared Tallent and Jarrod Bannister in the javelin. There will also be plenty of interest in whether team captain and reigning Olympic champion Steve Hooker can overcome his mental demons in the pole vault.
As always, Australia will vie for gold in several team events including the Hockeyroos (men’s hockey) and the Opals (women’s basketball). We’ll have our eye on the podium in sports where we’ve traditionally excelled, such as sailing, cycling and rowing where dual gold medallist Drew Ginn is part of the coxless fours which recently beat the favourite crew from Great Britain.
At the top of the medal count, the likelihood is that China will again pip the USA. On the next tier, the host nation has become very Australian in the way that their national identity is shaped by sporting achievement. Team GB has joined the likes of the English cricket and rugby sides in finally creating expectation in the Mother Country, as opposed to applauding a “jolly good effort”.
As for the Aussies, most pundits are predicting a drop in our medal tally. It is almost certain that the unthinkable will happen and we’ll be beaten by the British. As the Poms are strong in the sports we normally perform well in, anything above 12 gold medals would be positive.
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