With just under 3 weeks to go for the 30th Summer Olympics, we take a look at some of the young athletes and rising stars who are likely to win their first Olympic golds in London or at least enthrall the masses in the process.
He is one athlete who the world will be watching most eagerly. He owned the 100m race at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu after Usain Bolt‘s false start ruled him out. While that could be argued to have been on open ground, Blake shocked everyone by clocking a 9.75 to pip Bolt at the Jamaican trials last week. To prove it was no fluke, he returned the next evening to complete a double over his training partner and reigning Olympic champion. Blake, at 19, had been the youngest to have broken the 10-second barrier in 2009. He is the heir apparent to Bolt’s throne, and many are of the opinion that come London, a change of guard is in order.
Whoever has an autobiography at the age of 18?! Well, Tom Daley does. Daley is a synchronized diver for the United Kingdom, who at 14 was the youngest non-swimming Olympian and the youngest ever Olympic finalist in Beijing 2008. He won golds for England at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the 10m synchronized diving and the 10m individual platform. Daley is the only person to win the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award more than once (2007, 2009 and 2010). He stands in good stead to win gold at London 2012.
Fresh off his victory at the London Marathon and a person best marathon time in Frankfurt in 2011, Wilson Kipsang is poised to make a run at the gold at the Olympics. With a win by 2 minutes over the nearest competitor, which is emphatic in marathon terms, Kipsang has every right to feel confident of notching up gold in London for the second time in three months. Agonizingly, he was 4 seconds short of the world record at the London Marathon, which also made him the only other runner besides the legendary Haile Gebrselassie to clock three marathons in under 2 hours and 5 minutes.
This Japanese gymnast won 2 silver medals in Beijing, but created history in 2011 by becoming the first gymnast to win 3 successive World Championships all-round titles. The only thing missing in his cabinet is an Olympic gold medal, and anything less will be seen as a failure in London. He’s been the most dominant gymnast in the world in the last four years. The Roger Federer of modern gymnastics, Uchimura won the Longines Prize for Elegance at the 2011 Championships.
25-year-old Vos has won practically every local, regional and international (road, cross and track) cyclist awards, including a gold in the Beijing Olympics. She has 8 golds and 6 silvers in World Championships across the 3 disciplines. Having started racing at the age of 5, Vos used to train with her brother’s team. She is an inspiration to girls all over the world as she is not only a self-coached cyclist, but also a student of biomedical science. A second Olympic gold beckons the Dutch lady.
Melissa Franklin is the top women’s swimming story going into London. She will be 17 when the Olympics start. Like other kids of her age, she is concerned about the prom and taking tests, besides her workouts. But none of her classmates have been called “a stud” by Michael Phelps. With three golds at the 2011 World Championships, ‘Missy the missile’ has women’s size 13 feet, which her father calls “built-in flippers”. Despite her Canadian parents wanting her to swim for Canada as the US swimming team had great depth, this Natalie Coughlin fan did not budge citing her patriotism towards USA.
Referred in circles as ‘Records Adlington’, Rebecca is only 23 and has already broken a handful for England. At Beijing, she became the first British Olympian in a century to win two gold medals (400m and 800m freestyle) at a single Olympic. She is also the first English female to win the gold for swimming since 1960. Not quite satisfied, she also broke the longest standing swimming record when she eclipsed Janet Evans’ 800m record by 2 seconds. Considered one of the greatest swimmers of all time, Adlington will be a huge favourite at her home Olympics.
Known as “Teddy Bear” and “Teddy Winner”, this Frenchman is the first judoka to win 5 world titles. Amazingly, he only took home bronze in 2008. Born on the island of Guadeloupe and raised in Paris, he became the youngest world champion in the sport’s history in 2007 at the age of 18. He holds a record 6 world titles in the +100kg Men’s Team and Open categories. Should not be surprising, thus, if he claims his first Olympic gold at London.
Taekwondo exponent Sara Khoshjamal Fekri became a hero for Iranian women after she became the first woman from the country to qualify for the Olympics (Beijing 2008). Iranian athletes in the past faced difficult situations as their religious dress code prevented them from participating at major sporting events due to regulations. Yet Sara has been able to represent her nation as she trains and competes wearing a headscarf under a helmet. Having won bronze at the 2010 Asian Games, she aims for a podium finish in London. At the 2012 London Olympics it was decided that practicing Muslim women boxers will be allowed to wear a hijab.
Viktoria Komova & Aliya Mustafina
Aliya Mustafina won the all-round gold at the Rotterdam World Championships in 2010 besides 4 more medals. She followed it up with 3 golds and 2 silvers at the 2011 World Cup. Disaster struck at the 2011 European Championships when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, but 3 golds and 2 silvers at this year’s Russian Cup is an ominous sign for her competitors. Viktoria Komova is another Russian all-around gymnasts expected to be on the podium at London. ‘Vika’ won 3 golds at the Youth Olympics in 2010, followed by golds in Uneven Bars at the next World and the European championships. She beat Mustafina to the all-round gold at the last Russian Cup. Despite the presence of a potent U.S. team, Russia has every chance of sweeping the gymnastics medals and much rides on the performances of these two 17-year-olds.