Thousands of athletes, all among the best in their field, converge every four years to strive for Olympic glory. Though there are many winners, some are so incredible that they become legends and remain so for many years to come. Then there are some unknown newcomers in the arena who steal the limelight from the reigning heroes, and the world celebrates them until the next Games.
Here is a brief look at some existing heroes and some promising ones at London, so that you know which participants and events you should keep an eye open for.
The blade runner Oscar Pistorius: South Africa, track and field With a sporting motto that reads: “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have,” Oscar Pistorius is going to be the first disabled runner to compete in the Olympic Games when he represents South Africa in both the 400-metre and the 400-metre relay races at London 2012.
Nicknamed the ‘Blade Runner’, Pistorius is a double amputee (someone who has had a limb removed by amputation), and uses prosthetic carbon fibre limbs that critics argue give him an advantage over normal able-bodied athletes. This was the reason why just before the 2008 Olympics he was be was banned from competing with normal athletes. He then went on to have this ban lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
However, Pistorius took part in the Paralympics that year and took the gold in the 100m, 200m and 400m, has a personal best time of 45.07 seconds in the latter event and he will be defending these titles later in September this year.
The 25-year-old has set a new standard for amputated athletes, and watching him make history just by being “the fastest guy on no legs” competing with people with both legs is an Olympic moment you should not miss.
Mohammed Aman: Ethiopia, 800m Just 18, Ethiopia’s rising star Mohammed Aman is all set to create some upset at London when he runs the 800m. He holds the World Youth record for the event, and he was the man who broke Kenyan World Champion David Rudisha’s unbeaten run of 34 races between 2009 and 2011, by beating him by seven hundredths of a second.
Bullet from Baltimore Michael Phelps: USA, swimming The six feet, four inch and 185-pound Michael Phelps has ruled the pool at the last two Olympics, winning 16 medals, 14 of them gold, with eight gold medals in Beijing. At London, Phelps is to compete in seven swimming events, four individual races and three relays, beginning with 400-metre individual medley.
Phelps needs just three medals at London to claim the Olympics career record of most medals won from Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast who won 18 medals from 1956 to 1964.
But Phelps is not going to have smooth sailing at London because his times at the Olympic trials, that concluded July 2, were slower than his times at the 2008 trials.
Lightning Bolt Usain Bolt: Jamaica, track and field The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt from Jamaica, is a five-time world and three-time Olympic gold medallist. He is the world record and Olympic record holder in the 100 metres, 200 metres and (along with his team mates) 4×100 metres relay. And he is the reigning Olympic champion in these three events.
In the last Olympics he became the first man to win three sprinting events at a single Olympics since Carl Lewis in 1984, and the first man to set World records in all three at a single Olympics.
The 25-year-old faces considerable competition this year from none other than his team mate and training partner, Yohan Blake, as Bolt has lost to Blake the last two times they’ve squared off in the men’s 100 metres.
Wodjan Shahrkhani Sarah Attar and Wodjan Shahrkhani: Saudi Arabia, 800m and Judo These two are not going to win any medals but have already won a challenge that is harder than any they could face at London — getting a ban lifted on participations by women from Saudi Arabia at the Olympic Games.
Attar is 18 and a student at an American university while Shahrkhani is from Mecca and will be taking part in the 78kg judo category. Shahrkhani is not of Olympic standards but she received special invitation from the International Olympic Committee.
The missile James Magnussen: Australia, swimming Specialising in the 50m and 100m freestyle, 21-year-old Australian swimmer James Magnussen is looking to get some gold for himself in his first Olympic appearance. And there are good chances that he will because in the last two years he has won much to give him confidence at London.
Along with two gold medals and a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, Magnussen also has three national titles to his name and the fourth-fastest time in the 100-metre freestyle in history.
His ultimate race, he says, “would be if Phelps led off the relay for America and I could lead off for Australia .... If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best — I want the chance to race him at the Olympics ....”
Ye Shiwen: China, swimming When last year she won the 200m medley at the 2011 World Championships, Ye was only 15, the youngest swimmer in the race by some five years and yet she took gold. Ye went into the final turn in fifth place, and didn’t stop until she was the first one to finish, making up a 1.4 second gap on then-leader Ariana Kukors of the United States, the world record holder at the time.
China is coming to London with many young athletes who are getting their first Olympic experience and they will be going all out to win some laurels, and Ye leads that crowd.
Ye showed a passion for the sport from a young age and a teacher encouraged her further when he noticed that she had bigger hands and legs than other children her age.
Among others who are going to be worth watching out for in the coming days are:
Qiu Bo: China, diving. The 19-year-old diver became world champion last year and has the flattering nickname ‘Mr Full Mark’ after picking up 25 perfect 10s in the 2011 FINA Diving World Series in Beijing.
Darya Klishina: Russia, long jump. The 21-year-old is a junior champion and record setter and is currently ranked second in the world.
Kirani James: Grenada, 400m. The 19-year-old became the youngest ever 400m World Champion in Daegu last year.