The Olympic events we'll be watching

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Ryan Lochte, left, and Michael Phelps captivated audiences in Omaha at the Olympic trials. Now, the stakes will be higher and so will the viewership.

What Olympic event are you most looking forward to watching?

Soccer commands my viewing interest

By Graham Hays

If the rest of the world wants to run some races, be they on land or in the water, that's fine by me. But, in my mind, the Olympics are a women's soccer tournament with some other events thrown in to kill time.

All right, that's not entirely true. I'll watch every minute of women's basketball that can be squeezed into the fortnight, but the United States is inescapably the favorite on the court. According to one oddsmaker, Australia and Russia are no better than 8-1 and 9-1 long shots, respectively, to win gold, and no other team is even in the conversation. I'll enjoy the hoops, but I'm unlikely to be mesmerized by it.

As last summer's Women's World Cup demonstrated, there are no such certainties on the soccer field. The same oddsmaker has the United States as the favorite in women's soccer, but barely ahead of Brazil and Japan, with France, Sweden and Great Britain all in reasonable long-shot range. Global power Germany didn't even qualify based on its World Cup exit, admittedly a loss for the Olympics but more evidence gold is up for grabs. Patriotism aside, I'm as eager to get another look at a French team that played such wonderful soccer last summer or the equally entertaining defending champions from Japan as the Americans with Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach et al.

In fact, the only real blight on the women's soccer tournament, as is true of the men's tournament, is the unwieldy presence of a team from Great Britain, always and forever broken down into individual teams from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in every other soccer setting. It doesn't feel right, but if it's the price to pay to be able to watch Kelly Smith in what may well be one of her final major international tournaments, so be it.

Take your swimming, diving, track and field, and gymnastics and enjoy. I'll be overdosing on 26 football games from a golden generation of women's soccer.

The 4x100 track relay is my go-to event

By Mechelle Voepel

To me, the single most exciting event in sports at all levels -- from an elementary school meet to the Olympic Games -- is the 4x100 relay in track. It's the perfect fusion of pure speed and trickier-than-it-looks teamwork.

There's drama with the start and with each handoff. Then there's the sheer beauty of the anchor leg, which, in the best races, brings all spectators out of their seats jumping and screaming.

For many years in the Olympics, this was an American-dominated event on the men's side. From 1920 to 1984, the United States won every 4x100 Olympic gold except two: in 1960, when Germany won, and in 1980, when the U.S. team boycotted the Moscow Games.

But the Americans have not won the men's event at the Olympics since 2000 in Sydney, when Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene ran a brilliant race, but then did a bit too much posturing and posing afterward for some spectators' taste.

Meanwhile, can you believe the U.S. women haven't won the Olympic 4x100 since the 1996 Atlanta Games? That was the last of a stretch of four Olympics in a row in which the Americans took that title. Evelyn Ashford's joyful face as she anchored the U.S. to the 4x100 title in Los Angeles in 1984 is still one of my favorite moments in any Olympics.

The huge disappointment of botched handoffs/dropped batons in the 4x100 semifinals four years ago in Beijing still stings for the U.S. men and women. Can they redeem themselves against tough competition in London? As always with the 4x100, I'll be thrilled to watch -- no matter who's in it or who wins.

Gymnastics a must-see for me

By Kate Fagan

Women's gymnastics, always. Ever since the 1996 Atlanta Games, when Kerri Strug landed her famous vault, I've been a huge fan of the sport -- every four years, at least. Of course, I'm no different from many in that regard. I'm glued to the TV during the Olympics, but I don't watch a minute of gymnastics during the in-between years.

Obviously, the Olympics are filled with events that grab the spotlight only twice a decade. Swimming finishes a close second on my "must-watch" list behind gymnastics, but there's something uniquely captivating about the freakishly amazing movements these women complete. And what's even better is that there are always dramatic storylines to accompany the flipping and twisting. There are the Olympics themselves, which are just a microcosm for whatever international drama is playing out in the political arena. Then there are the remarkable stories of so many gymnasts, which seem to be tailor-made for those five-minute TV segments narrated by Bob Costas.

There are always great stories throughout the Games, but many swimming and sprinting events are decided in less than a minute. Not gymnastics. It's a long, drawn-out drama, with tension gradually mounting.

Once you spend a few minutes watching Olympic gymnastics, you're hooked.

World's Fastest Man competition will draw my attention

By Adena Andrews

Quick, lift your arms, point to the right while stretching your arms like with a bow and arrow. Now lean left and just hold it there. Boom, you are part of Usain Bolt's "Lightning Bolt" crew. As one of the most avid members, I'm looking forward to seeing Bolt break out his signature jig at the end of the 100-meter race in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Usain Bolt didn't even qualify first for the Jamaican 100-meter Olympic team, so will he be able to retain the title of World's Fastest Man?

For these Games, Bolt has real competition on the track with his training partner and countryman Yohan Blake. Do not expect a blowout race like most of his events in the 2008 Games. Whoever crosses the finish line first, the Caribbean nation of Jamaica most likely will take home the gold in this race.

The 100 is not just cool because it might end in a dance by one of the most recognizable Jamaican figures on the planet but also because the title of "World's Fastest Man" goes to whoever wins. Not many events come with such a prestigious moniker. To be introduced as the "World's Fastest Man" at parties and dinners comes with great conversation and plenty of perks. The title also invokes superhero qualities, with people believing you walk with your cape blowing in the wind and leap tall buildings in a single bound. I'm sure the corny jokes are never-ending and people always give you flak for being five minutes late. However, it's all bearable when you're that dude.

Track and field will draw my attention

By Sarah Spain

I'm a huge fan of the Olympics, so I'll be parked in front of my television for hours watching everything from basketball and gymnastics to tennis and swimming. I love 'em all, but the must-see events for me are the track and field races, jumps and throws. As a former college heptathlete who also dabbled in discus and triple jump, I know the ins and outs of nearly every event on the track and not so fondly remember losing to some current Olympians back in my day.

This year is extra special, as two fellow Cornell Big Red track athletes will be competing in London. Seeing athletes from your alma mater compete on the highest level might be the norm for many espnW employees (lookin' at you, Dukies and Trojans), but Cornell isn't exactly tops when it comes to producing pros. Cornell squads get an NCAA basketball tournament berth every once in a while, you can catch the occasional hockey or lacrosse game on TV, and there are a few Cornellians in the NHL, but that's about it. Watching athletes who trained with my coaches and have made it to the Games will be a special thrill for me. So, keep your eyes out for 1500-meter runner Morgan Uceny and triple-jumper Muhammad Halim as they try to make their mark in London!

Young gymnasts captivate me

By Michelle Smith

After spending time at the U.S. gymnastics trials in San Jose, Calif., late last month, I am very excited about the gymnastics competition. The U.S. has high hopes for a big medal haul for both the men and the women. There are tight competitions among our top gymnasts with Danell Leyva and John Orozco on the men's side and Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas for the women.

It should be a thrilling few nights of competition with much at stake for this young generation of gymnasts. It also could set the stage for more in Rio in 2016 as all four are young and beginning what could be very fruitful careers.

Phelps vs. Lochte is my must-see TV

By Amanda Rykoff

I've got my eye on a few of the events in London (I'm a sucker for gymnastics and track and field), but there's no question I'm most looking forward to the swimming competition between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The matchup has everything you could want -- star power, a natural-born rivalry between two teammates and, if I may say so, great physiques.

After Phelps dominated the headlines in Beijing in 2008, it will be fascinating to see whether Lochte can knock Phelps off the top step of the podium. Phelps against Lochte was must-see TV during the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb. There's no doubt the London showdowns in the 200 and 400 individual medleys will be even more compelling considering the stakes.

Excitement for the unknown

By Melissa Jacobs

For me, there are a plethora of easy knee-jerk responses to this week's question. In no particular order, I am legitimately excited for women's gymnastics, men's and women's basketball, Danny Boyle's opening ceremonies, any swim event featuring Michael Phelps, the 100m, 200m and 400m track races, and Kate Middleton's wardrobe choices.

But I am most excited for the unknown. For me, that is the greatness of the Olympics. Entering these games, the quests of Michael Phelps (most notably his rivalry with Ryan Lochte) and sprinter Usain Bolt are among the most riveting. I know I might be equally captivated by women's judo, where one of the first two Saudi Arabian women to participate in the Olympics will be competing, or by Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee who will be racing in the 400m in track. Pistorius will be the first amputee to compete in the Olympics.

So the event I'm truly most excited for is the tearjerker, the dramatic finish, the magical upset. Its beauty is that it is impossible to predict.

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