As the London Olympics move ever closer, Andrew Alderson looks at some of the key duels that will distinguish the coming Olympiad.
Men's coxless four
Watch out the eights; the men's four is challenging as the must-see rowing event at the Olympics. Since 1992 the class has been won by Australia (1992, 1996) or Britain (2000, 2004, 2008). Nothing is expected to change at Dorney Lake on Saturday, August 4. In two World Cup races this season, the crews are one apiece. Britain won by 1.14s at Lucerne; Australia won by 0.87s at Munich.
The British crew comprises Alex Gregory, Peter Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs Hodge. James, Reed and Triggs Hodge also won gold in the class at Beijing. Reed and Triggs Hodge then moved to the pair with an eye on London gold but thought better of it after 14 consecutive losses to New Zealanders Eric Murray and Hamish Bond.
William Lockwood, James Chapman, Drew Ginn and Joshua Dunkley-Smith will represent Australia. Ginn is the he-man to watch. At 37 he already has three Olympic golds. The first came with Australia's 'Oarsome Foursome' in 1996. He was part of a men's pair with James Tomkins in 2004 which forced Brits Sir Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell back into a four.
Britain's Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, look set to take sibling rivalry to extremes on Tuesday, August 7. They could race off for gold on the run-friendly course in Hyde Park. The pair have been at the forefront of the sport in recent years, highlighted by last year's one-two finish at the World Triathlon Series grand final in Beijing. Alistair (24) won and Jonathan (22) was second but the elder Brownlee has spent much of this year overcoming an Achilles injury.
The brothers look set to make up for Britain's empty triathlon medal chest at three Olympic Games. They are prepared to speak their minds, too. Britain has gone for a team approach, using the third team spot to employ Stuart Hayes to help them, rather than Will Clarke or former world champion Tim Don who are ranked higher. Appeals by the latter two have been dismissed. Alistair Brownlee summed up the decision to British media: "If you're a football manager and your three best players are goalkeepers, you wouldn't pick them just because of that, you'd pick the best team."
Men's 100m and 200m
Usain Bolt's disqualification in the 2011 world championships 100m final was arguably last year's most deflating sporting experience. Countryman and training partner Yohan Blake went on to win in a comparatively sluggish 9.92s. Until that point, sporting history beckoned every time Bolt stepped onto the starting blocks. That feeling hasn't disappeared but Blake offers worthy competition. Bolt has also been troubled by a tight hamstring and was in a car crash last month but Blake gained confidence beating him over 100m and 200m in the Jamaican trials.
Blake's effort may prove altruistic, having fired Bolt up to challenge his 9.58s 100m and 19.19s 200m world records. The final on Sunday, August 5 now shapes as a contest rather than a formality, especially with fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell and Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin in form and injury-free.
Women's shot put
Presuming a batch of shrunken tape measures hasn't been sold in Belarus, Val Adams will have her right hand full defending the Olympic shot put title in London. Belarussian Nadzeya Ostapchuk threw 21.39m just over a week ago at home in Grodno. That eclipses Adams' best - set at last year's world championships - by 15cm.
On May 31 in Rome, Adams threw 21.03m, 1.45m further than her Belarussian rival. On June 12, Ostapchuk threw 21.13m at home in Minsk. The mark was 4cm better than her personal best, set almost seven years ago.
Still, Adams has won every major outdoor meet since taking the world championships in 2007. Victory in London would see her become only New Zealand's second track and field athlete, after Peter Snell in the 800m at Tokyo in 1964, to defend an Olympic gold medal.
Women's 200m freestyle
Contrary to the concept of a two-person duel, whoever makes the final shapes as a medal contender. Watch for Americans Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin, Australians Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt, Italian Federica Pellegrini, Frenchwoman Camille Muffat, Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk and Swede Sarah Sjoestrom. This is the United Nations on water. Schmitt has the fastest time this year at 1m 54.4s, set at the US Olympic trials. Franklin was two lengths behind her but is renowned for consistent 50m splits, as is Muffat, who set the second fastest time of 2012 last month. World record holder Pellegrini is capable of late surges but has just the sixth fastest time this year. Heemskerk and Sjoestrom are relatively quick through the first 100m but tend to fade. Palmer and Barratt - ranked fourth and fifth in the world respectively after performances in March - shape as outside chances.
The rivalry between Australia's Tom Slingsby and Brit Paul Goodison has movie script potential. The working title could be "Dirty Wind" or perhaps "Hot Air" given the former mates recently had a stand-up row after the Sail For Gold regatta last month. Goodison (the 2008 Olympic champion) accused Slingsby (a five-time world champion) of working with countryman Tom Burton to frustrate him on the course, telling media "he won't have his mates out there to help him next time" in reference to the one-person, one-country nature of the Olympic Laser regatta.
Slingsby has dominated Goodison numerous times at the Games venue of Weymouth. He even opted to slim down to 81kg to contest the Olympic test event last year, to see if being lighter would gain him an advantage. He won the event but opted to bulk back up for comfort. Despite his form, Slingsby is vulnerable. As the incumbent world champion he finished 23rd in Beijing when Goodison topped the podium.