The journey from Beijing to London has been a turbulent ride.
Knock on wood, but hopefully the turbulence is over and the patriotic craziness of the Olympics can start July 25.
But what a journey it has been since the Olympic Games left Beijing the summer of 2008. It all started with ridiculous claims about the London Olympic logo being a swastika or even representing a sexual act. Then Iran representatives threatened to boycott the games last year when they said the "2012" in the logo said "Zion."
Jump ahead to more recent events. I think it's a fair question: Can London pull this off? The same London that sparked the European Revolution. One would think hosting the Olympics would be a cake walk compared changing the world. They have the great Wembley Stadium. Soccer can be played at any of the English Premier League clubs. Wimbledon is going to host tennis. Goodness knows where basketball will be played, but that's not the point.
According to reports, London Olympic officials are seriously short-handed on security guards. Their answer was a round up of 3,500 British troops. Some of these men had just returned from tours of duty and war. Is London ready?
But it is about the athletes. We want to see Brandi Chastain make the game-winning penalty kick to lead the U.S. women's soccer team over China. We want to see Vince Carter dunk over 7-foot 2-inch Frenchman Frederic Weiss. We want to see Kerri Strug stick the landing on her vault on a sprained ankle. We want to celebrate the Wheaties box!
There is no telling how many miracle moments will happen, but here are my top five story lines heading into the 2012 London Olympic Games:
5: We get a fifth tennis major!
The Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledo, and now the Olympics before the U.S. Open in New York in the fall. It doesn't get much better than this. If you have not watched any tennis this year (or perhaps ever), I encourage you to give it a shot. I have watched every Grand Slam so far this year. Every quarterfinal match and on has been epic. Every semifinal has been entertainment. Every final has been legendary.
The plot thickens. Andy Murray, the world No. 4 and Great Britain's best hope for a major, gets another crack playing on his home turf of the Wimbledon grass after losing to Roger Federer, now without a doubt the greatest tennis player ever, in the Wimbledon finals a month ago. Great Britain has not won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936…will Olympic gold suffice?
Also, Rafael Nadal is out. Novak Djokovic has proven he is human. Andy Roddick and Jon Isner can possibly put U.S. tennis back on the map. Serena Williams is dominating the women's side again. Give tennis a chance.
4: Oscar Pistorius
"Blade Runner," as he is known around the track world, is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. But he is a runner. I might take criticism for this, but I want to make this very clear. I am in no way not telling people to chase their dreams and to strive to break barriers, handicapped or not. It's a great story, but I'm looking at this from the perspective of an athlete.
Multiple people have raised the question if the South African should be allowed to compete in the 4 X 400 relay (he's an alternate in the 400 meters) not because he is handicapped, but because of his handicap. We as a culture embrace athletes who can compete on the same level as able-bodies athletes. Take Jason McElwain for example, the autistic high school basketball trainer-turned-phenom who scored 20 points and shot 50 percent from deep after not playing a single game all season and won an ESPY in 2008.
Track is a different element. Think about it. Michael Johnson, arguably the greatest American track athlete ever, realizes the trueness of the situation. He says that it is "unfair," not because he should not be allowed to compete as an equal but because of the sheer science of the situation.
We all have ran in our life. You know the burn you get in the fourth quarter of a big game or as you are skating down the ice or as you go on a pre-spring break jog. There is lactic acid build-up in your legs. There is the risk of cramps or pulling a hamstring. Pistorius has no lower body weight to carry around the track because the material used is the same advanced carbon-fiber from a space ship. There is the training athletes went through to rip apart muscle fibers to grow bigger muscles and to get stronger. Johnson is pointing out (and I have to say I agree) there is a physical advantage and certainly a mental one knowing nothing bad can happen to your body from the waist down.
I know what you are thinking. "Would those Olympic athletes rather be handicapped and lose the use of natural legs or have their legs and feel pain?" That's not what I am getting at here. I am not knocking Pistorius at all for the effort he has placed in order to get to the Games. Just looking at it from an athlete's perspective and a human body perspective.
Jack O' Brien, a third team Capital One Academic All-American selection his senior year at Texas Christian University (also he's heading to med school), ran the 800 meters in college and sees nothing wrong with Pistorius competing.
"I think he should," O' Brien said. "You still have to train hard and still have many of the same issues as your competitors. If it was a huge advantage, you'd see more amputee runners. I think it's about even, so he should be allowed to represent his country and compete."
Again I'm all for equality. Just trying to be realistic. This event could open several new doors for amputees athletes or shut them dramatically.
3. Team USA basketball
This team brought it upon themselves. Kobe Bryant opened his big mouth and claimed this team could beat the Dream Team from 1992. Somewhere, Bird, Jordan, and Magic were laughing as Team USA only defeated Brazil 80-69 in an exhibition in Washington D.C. last week. Not very convincing seeing as how Brazil is not the second best team in the world. Or the third. Or in the top ten.
Instead of focusing on playing Spain this week, they are worried about comparisons to a group of old legends. The Spanish, second in FIBA rankings only to Team USA and silver medal winners from Beijing, are not pushovers. Rudy Fernandez, Pau and Marc Gasol and Spain's naturalized player Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder provide enough talent to entertain LeBron James and company. There is never going to be another Dream Team, so maybe this team should focus on winning Gold.
Team USA is undersized but super-athletic. Russell Westbrook and James running a fast break is a master piece finished by the thundering crescendo of a dunk. Team USA is going to have at least 100 dunks in the group games alone. It is going to be high flying entertainment. Hopefully, the dream match-up of Spain versus Team USA, part three, occurs with the gold medal on the line.
2. The men's 100m showdown
Personally, this is the event I will pay the most attention to at the Olympics. Where do you start? It's a 2-on-2 international battle: USA vs. Jamaica. Only thing is… the top dog for each country is not who it is supposed to be.
USA 1: Justin Gatlin. What a crazy six years it has been for the former fastest man in the world. Hollywood couldn't script this. Gatlin won gold in Athens in 2004, but then admitted to failing a drug test after a race in 2006. The International Association of Athletics Federation banned Gatlin for eight years, but it was reduced to four after good cooperation. He missed the 2008 games in Beijing AKA the coming out party of some guy named Bolt. He rejoined the circuit in 2010 and has the fastest American time of the year heading into London. Can he complete his road to redemption?
USA 2: Tyson Gay. Gay had hip surgery last year and fell off the map in 2011. He reappeared in late 2011 and has come to form finishing second to Gatlin in the U.S. trials from Eugene, Ore., last month. He was supposed to be the best hope the United States had to beat the Jamaican sprinters. While he is not of the same form from last year, Gay is still capable of pulling the upset.
Jamaica 1: If you haven't heard of "The Beast," the world will meet him in London. Yohan Blake of Jamaica defeated Usain Bolt in the 100 meter and 200 meter qualifiers in Kingston, including a personal best 9.75 in the 100 meters, making him the top dog heading into London. He truly is a beast. There is a lot to take in though. It is the Olympics. The spotlight will be on him. He is the favorite. Can he live up to the hype?
Jamaica 2: Last but not least, which is irony because Usain Bolt is always first, the defending 100 and 200 meter Olympic champion. The face of track and field. The fastest man ever to run on this planet. Bolt has been pushed against the ropes. How will he respond to not being the favorite? He had horrible starts in his two losses in the qualifiers, but he is still Usain Bolt. He has ran three faster times this year than Blake's 9.75. If he wants to be remembered as the best sprinter ever, he needs to win both events.
1. Phelps vs. Lochte
Hands down, swimming is going to be the most exciting event at the 2012 London Olympics. They are the top two swimmers in the world. They are "friends" outside of the pool but rivals in it. They are both American. They are competing against each other in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. Phelps dominates butterfly, edge Lochte in backstroke, Lochte dominates breaststroke, edge Phelps in freestyle. Their trial races were amazing and the Olympic races will be even better.
Michael Phelps, 27, is the most decorated Olympian ever, with 14 gold medals and certainly more to come this year. He continues to say that after London he plans to retire and do absolutely nothing to recharge his body from his brutal training. He qualified for eight events, but dropped the 200 meter freestyle for a more manageable program. He has not trained nearly as hard for these Olympics as he did for Beijing where he won eight gold medals. If he goes seven for seven, he will have 21 gold medals, a feat that I don't think will ever be approached again. Imagine if he came back for one more go around and tried to add a couple more medals…
Ryan Lochte, also 27, has said he does not intend to stop after the London Games. Lochte seems to constantly be one stroke behind Phelps. He beat him twice in 2011 at the World Championships, but Phelps said he had been training half as hard as he would be for the London Olympics. Lochte then lost two out of three to Phelps in the U.S. trials from Omaha. Can he finally step out of Phelps' shadow, or will he have to wait until Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when Phelps retires?
Beau Tiongson, the Reporter's summer intern, is a sports radio talk show host for KTCU-FM 88.7 The Choice in Fort Worth.