Sunday 21 January 2018

20 things to watch out for this week

Eamonn Sweeney

1 Today: One of the great joys of the Olympics is discovering a sport hitherto obscure to you. Judo is something it might be worth keeping an eye on. The bouts are exciting and the competition is pretty open in most of the weight categories.

For example, in the men's 66kg category where reigning world champion Masashi Ebinuma of Japan, two-time world silver medallist Leandro Cunha of Brazil, 2009 world champion Khashbaataryn Tsagaanbatar of Mongolia and Russian Musa Mogushkov, selected ahead of world number one Alim Gadarov, all have legitimate medal aspirations. Final at 4.10pm.

2 Today: She might be only 24, but American swimmer Dana Vollmer is an Olympic veteran, winning a relay gold back in 2004 and even competing in the American trials for the 2000 games at the age of 12. But not till now has she qualified as an individual. As reigning 100m butterfly world champion, Vollmer, who suffers from a heart condition and always has a defibrillator poolside, starts as favourite but will face tough competition from Australia's Alicia Coutts, seven hundredths behind her in the worlds, and 18-year-old Swedish wunderkind and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom. 7.49pm

3 Tomorrow: The bid of Ryan Lochte to supplant Michael Phelps as Olympic superman after replacing him as world number one meets a big obstacle as the American swimmer bids to win one of his six planned gold medals in the 200m freestyle. As world champion, he will start as favourite but faces a serious rival in France's Yannick Agnel who has set the fastest time in the world this year, almost a second and a half better than Lochte managed in the US trials. 7.41pm.

4 Tuesday: The Soviet Union once utterly dominated the women's team gymnastics event, winning ten out of 11 titles between 1952 and 1992. Since then, Russia has drawn a blank, finishing third last time after China and the US. The big three will dispute the medals again in what should be a thriller -- less than four points covered the top three in 2008. The Americans will start favourites, having won last year's worlds in Tokyo. 4.30pm.

5 Tuesday: For those who like their sport competitive, the 200m women's freestyle will be a treat. There are four gold medal contenders, one of whom will end up completely empty-handed. A lot of attention will focus on American golden girl, 17-year-old Missy 'The Missile' Franklin, but she was beaten in the trials by Alison Schmitt. Both may be overshadowed by the European big guns, reigning world and Olympic champ Federica Pellegrini from Italy and France's Camille Muffat, the fastest woman in the world this year. 7.39pm.

6 Tuesday: The women's 200m individual medley is just as intriguing, 16-year-old phenomenon and world champion Ye Shiwen of China will start as slight favourite but Alicia Coutts of Australia and Ariana Kukors of the US came very close to her on that occasion in Shanghai. Reigning Olympic champion Stephanie Rice of Australia may have one more big race in her. 8.39pm.

7 Wednesday: The men's K1 slalom event in canoeing has become a bit of an Irish highlight with Ian Wiley coming fifth in 1996 and Eoin Rheinisch finishing an agonising fourth last time around. Rheinisch perhaps isn't in the same form now but he can't be discounted and should make the top ten. France's Etienne Daille, whose father Jerome and uncle Bertrand were both world champions, is the favourite. 3.15pm.

8 Wednesday: Japan's Kosuke Kitajima is one of the great Olympic competitors and he'll be bidding to become the first man in history to win three 200m breaststrokes in a row. However, a nemesis may be on hand in the shape of Hungarian Daniel Gyurta, who was just 15 when he took silver behind Kitajima in 2004. Last year, he turned the tables on his old rival when winning a second world title in a row. 7.30pm.

9 Wednesday: Another almost too-close-to-call event, the women's 200m butterfly features world champion Jiao Liuyang of China trying to reverse the Beijing result which saw her finish second behind team-mate Liu Zige. They will be wary of the threat from world number one this year, Natsumi Hoshi of Japan. But the wild card might be the presence of world silver medallist Ellen Gandy from the London suburb of Bromley who could be spurred on to something extraordinary by the home crowd. 8.09pm.

10 Thursday: Rowing has always been a reliable source of nerve-wracking finishes. The men's lightweight fours, where a favoured Great Britain team, world champions in 2007 and 2010, face very stern competition from reigning world champions Australia, world silver medallists China and 2008 gold medallists Denmark, looks especially promising. The British crew includes Coleraine brothers, Richard and Peter Chambers. 10.0am.

11 Thursday: The women's individual gymnastics competition has provided innumerable great Olympic moments and this year's competition looks likely to be a mighty three-way battle. The world champion, 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber, is the favourite but will face tough competition from her even younger team-mate, Gabrielle 'The Flying Squirrel' Douglas who beat her at the US trials and Russian world silver medallist Viktoria Komova. A mere third of a point separated Wieber and Komova in Tokyo. Should Douglas defeat both of them, the African-American gymnast, an uneven bars specialist, will become one of the faces of the games. 4.30pm.

12 Thursday: The cycling veldodrome should see some of the most exciting action of the games. Great Britain are unlikely to repeat the kind of dominance which saw them take eight golds in Beijing as Australia topped the medals table at the recent World Championships. The women's team sprint might be the best event of all. Germany broke the world record to edge out Australia in the final in Melbourne but Britain's Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish had set a world best in the London velodrome in February and will fancy their chances. 5.59pm.

13 Thursday: The men's 200m individual medley sees a big Lochte-Phelps showdown. However, it won't exactly be taking place on equal terms. Phelps beat Lochte by seven hundredths of a second at the US Olympic trials but the latter had won the 200m backstroke final just half an hour earlier and was visibly shattered at the end of the second race. With the same schedule in London, Lochte would have to be superhuman to win two gold medals in 30 minutes. Maybe he is. 8.16pm.

14 Friday: Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand is one of the greatest rowers of all time. But the five-times world champion in the single sculls lacks an Olympic gold. Four years ago, he was hit by a gastrointestinal infection which meant he could do no better than bronze. This is almost certainly the 33-year-old's last chance and only one man can stop him, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic, who defeated Drysdale at the 2010 World Championships before the great man turned the tables last year. Should Drysdale do the same on the Eton rowing lake, it will be one of the great sentimental triumphs of the games. 9.30am.

15 Friday: When Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba won the 10,000m in Beijing, she was probably the finest female athlete in the world. She'd just run the second fastest time in the world ever and, at only 22, looked set for a long period of domination. Then injury struck and, in the absence of Dibaba, Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot has been just as dominant with a hugely impressive 5,000m/10,000m double at last year's World Championships. If the Ethiopian is back to her old self, this will be one of the contests of the games. 9.25pm.

16 Saturday: Derry's Aileen Morrison has flown under the radar somewhat but the woman from the North West Triathlon Club is ranked seventh in the world and has an outside chance of a medal. She should certainly make the top ten. Britain's world champion Helen Jenkins is the clear favourite but Morrison will be targeting the likes of Canada's Paula Findlay, unbeatable last year till sidelined by injury, double European champ Nicola Spirig of Switzerland and former world under 23 champion Erin Densham of Australia. Best Irish medal hope of the week. 9.0am.

17 Saturday: In the absence of four-time world champion Dwight Phillips of the USA, the men's long jump event looks like being one of the most open ever. 2011 world silver medallist Mitchell Watt of Australia, European champion Sebastian Bayer of Germany and reigning Olympic champ Irving Saladino of Panama all have golden ambitions. But this year's world number one, Greg Rutherford from just up the road in Milton Keynes, could surprise them all on what might be the greatest night in the history of British athletics. 7.55pm.

18 Saturday: The games may well reach an emotional peak for the home crowd if Jessica Ennis enters the 800m which concludes the heptathlon in gold medal position. She'll have begun her odyssey on Friday morning in the 100m hurdles, her strongest event, and will hope not to have lost too much ground in her weakest, the javelin, on Saturday morning. Her only serious rival is the Russian Tatyana Chernova who relieved Ennis of her world title last year but chances are Ennis, who set a British record when defeating Chernova three months ago, will give the London games its Cathy Freeman moment. 8.35pm.

19 Saturday: America's Carmelita Jeter looked unbeatable when winning the world 100m title last year. But at the end of June, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, so electrifying when winning gold in Beijing and at the following year's World Championships, produced the kind of run she's rarely been able to produce since then, clocking 10.70 in the Jamaican trials. The stage is set for a real showdown as Fraser Pryce bids to become just the third woman to retain the 100m crown. 8.55pm.

20 Saturday: Did I say the games would reach an emotional peak for the home crowd if Jessica Ennis wins? Well, they could peak again if Mo Farah does the business in the 10,000m. The world 5,000m champion looks a decent bet to do so even if his surprise defeat in those championships over the longer distance by Ethiopia's Ibrahim Jeilan might give him pause. Another Ethiopian will be the big threat. Kenenisa Bekele will be trying to make history as the first man to win three Olympic 10,000s on the trot but his form has been patchy. If it were anyone else, you'd write them off but the greatest long-distance track runner of all deserves the benefit of the doubt. 9.15pm.

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