US gears up for London chall enge

US gears up for London chall enge

DALLAS - Agence France-Presse
US gears up for London chall enge

Swimmer Michael Phelps poses for a portrait at the Olympic Media Summit, Sunday, May 13, 2012, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Victoria Will)

U.S. Olympic officials expect China and Russia to be America’s biggest rivals in the London Games medals race, but a bevy of medal hopefuls introduced this week aim to put the US atop the table.
Alan Ashley, the US Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance, declined to predict a medals tally, but vowed the United States would be at -- or near -- the top.

“I can’t tell you where the number is going to end up, but I can say the athletes are preparing to compete at the highest level,” Ashley said in opening remarks at the USOC’s pre-London media summit, a four-day get-together featuring Olympic bound competitors and Olympic hopefuls in sports ranging from archery to wrestling.

“We’re going into this to be the best-prepared team we possibly can be. We want to go in and win the medal count, that’s our objective.

“What the number is, I honestly can’t tell you.”

Four years ago in Beijing, the United States won the most total medals with 110. Hosts China won 100, but led the gold rush with 51 golds to the United States’ 36. Russia was third in both categories, with 23 golds and 72 medals overall.

USOC chairman Larry Probst said he had “chastised” London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe after Coe predicted China would top the table in 2012.

“Hopefully, we can prove him wrong,” Probst said.

From Olympics winners to enthusiastic hopefuls

Certainly, the more than 100 sportsmen and women who attended the summit, which concluded on May 15, hope so. They included proven champions like swimming superstar Michael Phelps -- whose 14 Olympic gold medals include an unprecedented eight in one Games in Beijing -- and wide-eyed hopefuls still seeking to gain a first Olympic berth.

Since Beijing, American Ryan Lochte has emerged as a dominant force in swimming, setting the stage for some intriguing match-ups between him and Phelps in London.

“I love watching them race and just how different the two are,” said Dana Vollmer, the reigning 100m butterfly world champion. “I love watching them race and just how different the two are. It’s also interesting just kind of seeing Michael coming to the end of his career and Ryan really breaking through and taking a lot of the spotlight.” Phelps made a flying visit to the summit on Sunday, facing the media throng with coach Bob Bowman at his side en route from a grand prix meeting in North Carolina to training at altitude in Colorado.

Phelps remained cagey on just what he hopes to accomplish at his final Olympics in London.

Before he can close out his Games career he must get through one more US Olympics trials, which still await America’s best in several sports in June.

That will include the notoriously cut-throat US athletics trials in Eugene, Oregon, and the gymnastics trials in San Jose, California.

“I think always the trials for Americans have been harder (than the Games),” Phelps said. “I think our team is so deep and there are multiple people that will be in the final that could have the opportunity to win the medal with the time they post even if they aren’t on the team. Being able to secure a spot on the team first is the most important thing.” The United States have qualified nine out of a potential 10 boxers for London, where they hope to bounce back from a disappointing Beijing Games. America has won more Olympic boxing medals than any other nation but struggled to win just one bronze in 2008.

The first US boxer to complete Olympic hat trick

The team includes flyweight Rau’shee Warren, a 2007 world champion who will be the first US boxer to compete in three Olympics, and 19-year-old bantamweight Joseph Diaz jnr -- who lost at the 2011 worlds to gold-medal winning Lazaro Alvarez Estrada and says he’s eager for another shot at the Cuban.

Anna Tunnicliffe, a British-born sailor who earned gold for America in the Laser Radial class in Beijing, will be back to try her hand in match-race yachting. Any medal she does get, Tunnicliffe said, will be All-American.

“Last time at the Games, I got a lot of British press saying ‘Oh, she came from England, we can claim half the medal.’ “I’m competing for America. I want to win for America.”