THE Olympics provides the world with some of the most compelling stories and rivalries in sport. Talking points are plentiful and athletes abundant. But here are seven showdowns you won't want to miss during the London Games.
YOHAN BLAKE (JAMAICA) versus USAIN BOLT (JAMAICA)
Athletics: Men's 100m
Ask most people and it's not "if" Bolt will win three gold medals in London, but whether he can break his world records on the way. However, fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake may have a say in that, having claimed the 100m at the 2011 world championships after Bolt false-started to earn a disqualification. Since then there have been doubts about Bolt's fitness, with rumours of hamstring trouble getting some traction after Blake beat Bolt at the recent Jamaican trials in 9.75 seconds, the fourth fastest time in history. Asafa Powell wasn't far away at those trials either, while Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin have also put some recent good form on the board. A fully fit Bolt should be too good in London, but will lightning strike twice?
ANNA MEARES (AUSTRALIA) versus VICTORIA PENDLETON (GREAT BRITAIN)
Cycling: Women's track
It will be the Ashes on wheels, and you can be sure that the biggest rivalry on the track won't disappoint. Meares and Pendleton have long been the top two female sprinters in the world and their battle in London is going to be one of the highlights of the Games. Both are really competitive and never give an inch. Pendleton, the reigning Olympic champion, won bragging rights the last time they met after winning the world title in Melbourne earlier this year.
JAMES MAGNUSSEN (AUSTRALIA) versus CESAR CIELO (BRAZIL)
Swimming: Men's 100m freestyle
Australia's James Magnussen is the current world champion and has the fastest time (47.10) in a textile suit. Brazil's Cesar Cielo is the current world record holder, having stopped the clock at 46.91 when he won gold at the 2009 World Championships, but has struggled a little over the distance recently. But maybe Magnussen's rival will come from elsewhere - don't discount fellow Aussie James Roberts.
MICHAEL PHELPS (USA) versus RYAN LOCHTE (USA)
Swimming: Men's 400m individual medley / 200m individual medley
The world's two best swimmers go head-to-head in the sport's two multi-discipline events and both races will be incredible. A six-time World Swimmer of the Year, Phelps is the defending Olympic champion in both events, while "The Lochtenator" won both at the past two world championships after finishing with bronze behind Phelps in both in Beijing. After beating Phelps at the US trials Lochte said: "Once I was able to beat Michael, it gave me a motivation, an edge. I told myself, I can do this. Once I beat someone, they won't beat me again". Will this be the case in London?
SALLY PEARSON (AUSTRALIA) versus KELLIE WELLS (USA)
Athletics: Women's 100m hurdles
Pearson would have been filthy after losing to Wells in her final competitive run before the Olympics in the recent Diamond League meeting in London. Pearson, whose competitors refer to her as the 'angry white girl' looked even angrier after what was just her second defeat in two years and 34 races. A week before her defeat, the Gold Coaster had won the Paris Grand Prix in a time of 12.40secs, while Wells clocked 12.57 secs to win in London. The loss showed Pearson is only human, but she knows now that she'll need to be at her best if she wants revenge.
JORDYN WIEBER (USA) versus ALIYA MUSTAFINA (RUSSIA)
Gymnastics: Women's Individual All-Around
A classic post Cold War rivalry is expected to heat up as the USA and Russia battle it out for women's gymnastics supremacy. Mustafina was the all-around world champion in 2010, while Wieber claimed the title in 2011 after Mustafina gave the championships a miss to recover from knee surgery. While World Championships are important, everyone remembers the Olympic gold medallist and there is a very small window of time for these competitors to claim their chance for glory.
SHANE PERKINS (AUSTRALIA) versus CHRIS HOY (GREAT BRITAIN)
Cycling: Men's keirin
At 36, Scotland's Sir Chris Hoy is one of the legends of the sport of cycling. A four-time Olympic gold medallist, he became the first Briton to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games since 1908 in Beijing and is the most successful Olympic male cyclist of all time. Standing in the way of another victory in the keirin is 2011 world champion, Australian Shane Perkins. They will also clash in the team sprint; Hoy as part of the reigning Olympic champions and Perkins as part of the Australian team that snatched the 2012 world title in Melbourne.
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