Summer Olympics 2012 Predictions: 10 Most Likely U.S. Disappointments in London
Surely we want all of our hardworking, flag-waving, freedom-loving American Olympic heroes to prosper at the 2012 London Games.
Bad news: It won't happen.
There will be disappointments, setbacks and outright failures—some of which will define careers otherwise coated in glory.
But to whom will this ignominy fall? We answer that very question in the slides ahead.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor
When most of the viewing public last saw beach volleyball mavens Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the duo was thrashing Beijing foes amidst a 112-match winning streak.
They aren't that team anymore.
After Beijing, Walsh left the sport to start a family. May-Treanor, meanwhile, ruptured her Achilles while on Dancing with the Stars and missed over 18 months in recovery.
The tandem hasn't regained top form since. They finished second to Brazilians Larissa and Juliana at the 2011 World Championships and lost a June title match against Chinese youngsters Xue Chen and Zhang Xi.
To be clear, Walsh and May-Treanor are still among the world's best. But they haven't been top dog since their temporary post-Beijing dissolution, and I don't seem them reclaiming that mantle in London.
Tyson Gay overcame multiple hip surgeries and countless second-guessers to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in the 100-meter dash.
Without question, he's an easy guy to pull for. And his progress since returning to the sport in early June has been nothing short of remarkable.
But Gay's Olympic success won't be judged on how far he's come relative to his setbacks—it'll be judged on how far he's come relative to the rest of the 100-meter field.
And on that scale, Gay simply hasn't come far enough.
Gay has yet to post the kind of sub-9.85-second time that would mark him as a true medal contender, and he's unlikely to catch the Jamaican super-troika of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell.
I'm on the record saying Jesse Williams will win the men's high jump in London, but the reigning world champ has left plenty of room for doubt.
Williams finished just fourth at the Olympic trials in Eugene and only made the team because third-place finisher Nick Ross didn't have the London "A" standard he needed to qualify.
The drizzly, cold conditions may well have been to blame, but Williams could face similar environs in London.
If Williams hasn't learned from his mistakes, a first-place finish isn't in the offing.
This pick won't come as any surprise to track fans, who've watched Lolo Jones fall from 2008 Olympic favorite to marginal medal prospect to near non-qualifier.
In fact, Jones didn't qualify for the U.S. team at either of the last two World Championships and just barely punched her ticket to London at U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing third in the 100-meter hurdles final.
Those failures have had no discernible effect on her soaring popularity. After revealing to HBO's Real Sports that she's a virgin, the attractive and wonderfully self-deprecating Jones has become something of a media obsession.
Olympian + Virgin + Attractive = Celebrity.
Note that the above equation makes no mention of on-track performance or medal chances.
And based on her lackluster times this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Jones misses out on the 100-meter hurdles final entirely.
At her best, Carmelita Jeter is the fastest woman alive.
But Jeter's best doesn't come around often enough, and the defending world champion at 100 meters has been maddeningly inconsistent this season.
She's posted multiple times above 11 seconds—her personal best is 10.64 seconds—and ran an uninspiring 10.92 seconds in the U.S. Trials finals.
While that mark was good enough for first place and an Olympic bid, it won't scare Jamaican favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Jeter has the talent to take gold, but there's no telling whether or not that talent will surface on race day.
After upsetting Jordyn Wieber for the women's all-around title at U.S. Gymnastics Trials in San Jose, Gabby Douglas has become a chic pick for the individual all-around gold in London.
And while Douglas has the kind of dazzling acrobatics and general artistry that play well in international competitions, I wouldn't go slotting her ahead of Wieber or Russian challenger Viktoria Komova just yet.
Douglas is a high-risk/reward performer who has shown nerves in big moments, especially on the balance beam. Under London's bright lights, my money is still on the uncommonly sturdy Wieber.
When Serena Williams is on, it's easy to fall in love with her game.
And my goodness was she on at Wimbledon, blitzing through the final three rounds with a booming first serve en route to her first Grand Slam title in two years.
Surely she'll return to these same grounds in less than a month's time and win her first individual Olympic gold medal, right?
I wouldn't count on it.
At this stage in her career, Williams isn't the type of performer you can count on tournament to tournament. That much should be apparent after her first-round exit at the French Open and her struggles through some of her early matches at Wimbledon.
This pick is really a matter of expectations. I fully expect Michael Phelps to perform well this summer and medal in each of his seven events.
But if you're of the mind that Phelps should/will win every race he enters a la Beijing, you're in for a letdown.
I see Phelps dropping at least one of his two individual showdowns with Ryan Lochte (200- and 400-meter individual medleys) and taking either a silver or a bronze with his U.S. teammates in the 4x100 freestyle relay.
Then there's the 100-meter butterfly, a race that Phelps always seems to win, but never by a comfortable margin.
In all, Phelps should still win four or five gold medals in London. But those anticipating another slice of perfection best brace themselves for disappointment.
Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser
Defending gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser enter the 2012 Olympic beach volleyball tournament as the highest-seeded American tandem, but it's the "other" U.S. entrants, Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb, who I expect to make a medal push.
Rosenthal and Gibb won their first Grand Slam event less than a month ago, crushing Brazilian duo and pre-Olympic favorites Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego in the event final in Rome. They backed that up with a second Grand Slam title in early July, which included a relatively easy, two-set semifinal victory over Rogers and Dalhausser.
Gibb and Rosenthal suddenly look like a dark horse gold-medal contenders in London, while the longtime kings of the U.S. beach seem unlikely to even medal.
The veterans Rogers and Dalhausser have big-match experience on their side, but recent history is a lot less kind.
Although I expect the U.S. men's basketball team to win its second consecutive gold medal, the tournament will be a struggle for first-timer Blake Griffin.
Griffin made the final cut because Team USA lacks skilled bigs, and he'll certainly have free license to run the floor and finish in transition—a skill he can take to any gym in any part of the world.
But he's not a fantastic defender, particularly on the perimeter, and he won't be able to contend with the stretch-four types that have become such an important part of the international game. That critical flaw will prevent coach Mike Krzyzewski from giving him meaningful minutes in important games.
With time, I think Griffin could find his place on this team and within this style of play. But he's never played a major international tournament before, and he won't adjust to the tournament's nuances in time to make a major impact.