Now that’s the start Olympic organizers had hoped for when all anyone could talk about was traffic and the lousy weather.
Stephanie Houghton’s goal with 15 minutes to play gave Great Britain a 1-0 victory over New Zealand in women’s soccer as competition at the 2012 London Olympics began.
While the Summer Games don’t officially start until Friday’s opening ceremonies, strict schedules impel organizers to begin play a few days in advance.
Men’s and women’s soccer games in the birthplace of “football” are just one of the early, compelling storylines to follow.
Here are some other events to watch for on opening weekend.
Thursday’s nightcap at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester features Great Britain versus Senegal in men’s soccer.
While on paper the Brits appear heavy favorites, Africa’s teams have long appeared on the verge in world football.
Couple that with nerves playing at home, and a 2-0 loss to Brazil before the tournament began and the Brits face no shortage of pressure.
“It is a new team and now they know what they need to do to prepare for the first match of the Olympics,” Senegal midfielder Mohamed Diame told BBC. “I’m sure they learned a lot playing against a big team like Brazil and we know they will be very dangerous in front of the home fans.”
The Hunger Games
While the world prepares for Friday night’s opening ceremonies, archers will begin team and individual events as the only competition that day.
It’s compelling for many reasons, but perhaps none more than Katniss Everdeen. Of course, she’s not a medal favorite, but the hero from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.”
The trio of novels have spurred a generation of preteen girls to pick up a bow and arrow and, undoubtedly, some will want to see the sport at its highest levels. According to Yahoo Sport, archery participation has jumped 20 percent in the US since “The Hunger Games” exploded.
“I’ll be curious to see if we stay popular after the Games,” American archer Brady Ellison said. “Archery isn’t a sport where you go out there and shoot people. We don’t go out there and say, ‘I’m a great archer so I want to kill animals.’ Archery is a sport that everyone and anyone can do.”
Hitting for the Cycle
Fresh from his Tour de France victory, Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins will try for a seventh Olympic medal in the men’s road race on Saturday.
He became the first Brit to win cycling’s most coveted prize last weekend, attracting more attention than he’s ever received, but Wiggins was already an accomplished Olympian.
However, does he have much chance at a fourth gold medal so soon after a gruelling Tour de France?
“Physically, you’d think not a lot’s going to change in nine days. If anything I’m going to be fresher,” he told The Sun newspaper. “And once you start thinking in those terms, that you’re so fit and you’ve trained for the demands of the three weeks and you’ve actually got three days off in between the road race and the time trial, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Phelps to make History
Standing on 16 medals, Michael Phelps can become the greatest Olympian ever if he wins three more in London.
On Saturday, he will race the 400-meter individual medley.
Although odds-makers have American Ryan Lochtie a slight favourite in the event, Phelps has six more chances to surpass Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s 18 medals won from 1956 to 1964.
“I have always wanted to be the first person to achieve something,” said Phelps, 27. “We all want to be the best we can be and we want to win; that’s just how we are.”
NBA superstar Kobe Bryant tried to stir up trouble by suggesting this year’s US Olympic basketball squad is better than the fabled 1992 Dream Team.
He might be right, but this is a difficult group to handicap given a lackluster effort against Brazil, but an inspired victory over medal-contender Spain in exhibition games.
Bryant's teammates – perhaps after watching some of their predecessors "struggle" since 1992 – aren’t making any more brash predictions.
“It’s about going out there and playing the right way and worrying about us,” guard Chris Paul said. “We go into games, fortunately we know that we're probably going to be the most talented team there, but that doesn’t always win games for you.”
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