2012 Olympics: Biggest Threats to United States Dominance

James ReaganCorrespondent IIJuly 27, 2012

2012 Olympics: Biggest Threats to United States Dominance

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    A big part of the Olympics is the national pride as lots of different people come together to root on their home country. Inevitably this leads to the discussion as to which country is the biggest winner in the Olympics. 

    There are two defined ways of measuring a country's success in the Olympics. One is the overall medal count, including every medal won in every event. The other, easier way is which country gains the most gold medals. 

    In Beijing four years ago, the medal count came down to two nations. China easily got the most golds with 51 while the U.S. was a distant second with 36. Total medals was a lot closer with the U.S. winning 110 and China winning 100. 

    Medal count is an unfair way of judging, as some countries are just too small to even have a shot at getting the most golds or overall medals. Only a few elite countries have both the size and the money to even challenge for overall Olympic dominance. Therefore it's easy to predict which countries will consistently have success in London.

    This is a list of the countries that are most likely to get in the way of the U.S.'s dominance in London.

1. Great Britain

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    The host country is usually a favorite in the Olympic standings so it is no surprise to see Great Britain as one of the U.S.'s major threats. They came in fourth in Beijing with 47 total medals while also finishing fourth in gold medals with 19.

    Great Britain's strength comes from a very well-rounded team across the board. Their cycling "dream team," led by world race champion Mark Cavendish, is being called one of the strongest teams ever assembled in Great Britain. In addition to Cavendish, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and British champion Ian Stannard will try to lead this team to victory in the men's road race tomorrow.

    Their swimming team also has a lot of potential. Some of their top swimmers include Hannah Miley, who is ranked second in the world in the 400-meter freestyle, and Great Britain's Golden Girl, Rebecca Adlington. Adlington established a world record in the 800 freestyle in Beijing, while also winning the gold medal in the 400 freestyle.

    Great Britain's soccer team is finally back in the Olympics as well, after missing the last twelve consecutive Olympics. They are underdogs in the event and with a poor showing in their draw against Senegal two days ago, their Olympic run could be a short one. Nevertheless, the British are proud to finally have their soccer team representing them in the Olympics again.

    Add this all up and Great Britain is fielding a team that will likely finish in the top five in both gold medals and overall medals. With the extra motivation of competing at home, this could prove to be one of Great Britain's best showings at the Olympics. 

2. Germany

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    The German team is another one that usually appears toward the top of the medal count. Yet their medal count has been showing a steady decrease over the last four Olympic games, dropping from 65 at Atlanta in 1996 all the way to 41 in Beijing in 2008. However with 391 athletes competing in the London games, Germany could have the chance to increase their medal count again.

    Track and field is among the Germans' strengths this year. Their men's team is led by 2012 European Championship winner Pascal Behrenbruch, who is expected to contend for a gold. On the women's side, Betty Heidler is currently the world record holder in the hammer throw and her disappointing eighth place finish four years ago will ensure that she is not lacking in motivation. 

    Germany is also very solid in the swimming pool thanks mostly to the efforts of Olympic veteran Britta Steffen. She is the reigning gold medalist in the 50-meter and the 100-meter freestyle from the 2008 Olympics. She also holds the current world record in both events, which makes her a clear favorite for multiple golds in London.

    On a more personal note, Germany will be remembering two different anniversaries during the Olympics. The first is the 20-year anniversary of Germany uniting as one country for the Summer Olympics. The second is the 40-year anniversary of the awful Munich tragedy where 11 Israelis were killed.

3. China

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    The China-U.S. rivalry is one that is becoming very closely contested in the Olympics. The 2008 Beijing Olympics were expected to be a place where China showed the world just how dominant they are in sports and it's fair to say that those games were an overwhelming success for them. China finished first in gold medals with 51 while finishing second with 100 overall medals. 

    China's approach is unique in that their athletic teams are run with a centralized system. Modeled off the Soviet-era sports bureaucracy, this resulted in a lot of very young athletes competing for China.

    Many of these young athletes are on China's women's gymnastics, who are the defending champions from four years ago. Unlike last time though, there will hopefully be no controversy regarding age for this stacked team. The team includes such talented gymnasts as 17-year-old Yao Jinnan and 20-year-old Huang Qiushuang, who are dangerous competitors in all four events.

    Similarly, China's swimming team is also among their best hopes. Both Sun Lang and Wu Pen are hoping to spoil Michael Phelps' final Olympics. They are also hoping to become the first Chinese males to win a swimming gold medal in the Olympics. 

    With their strength nearly at an all-time high, China should again be the country that is the biggest threat for the U.S. in the Olympics. This should make for lots of great competitions across a wide variety of sports between the two countries. 

4. Australia

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    Only 12 years removed from hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, Australia has now become a powerhouse in recent Olympics. Though not yet on the level of China or the U.S., Australia finished sixth in gold medals at Beijing with 14. They did even better with total medals, grabbing fifth place with 46 total medals. 

    Many male Olympic viewers will undoubtedly be keeping their eyes open for any sight of Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke, whose warm-up video went viral earlier this month. Well those men should be spared the disappointment because Jenneke will not be competing in this year's Olympics. While that may disappoint some people, Australia still has a solid track team.

    On the women's team, Sally Pearson is their best chance of gold in hurdles. Meanwhile, pole-vaulter Steve Hooker and long-jumper Mitch Watt are two of Australia's most famous athletes. Having recently cleared 5.72 meters in his last hitout before the Olympics, Hooker is feeling confident in his medal chances.

    Australia's tennis team has rising stars like Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt. Both will have their hands full getting out of their bracket, as Hewitt will have to beat Novak Djokovic and Tomic will have to beat David Ferrar. Because of these draws, it may be likely that female tennis star Samantha Stosur is Australia's best bet at getting a medal in tennis, where she is seeded fifth.

5. Russia

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    Russia is another country that is typically in the running for most medals at the Olympic Games. The host of the 2014 Winter Olympics finished third in both total medals and gold medals in Beijing. 

    This year, Russia's gymnastics team is a strong one that should contend for the gold medal. Viktoria Komovo leads a team that is trying to recapture the rich history from past Soviet Union gymnastics teams. She will be a threat to the U.S.'s Jordyn Wieber in the all-around competition, after placing second in that competition back in the 2011 World Championships. 

    Russia is also very stacked in freestyle wrestling. Besik Kudukhov is a gold medal hopeful in the featherweight class after getting a bronze medal four years ago. Also, super-heavyweight Bilyal Makhov will be trying hard for his first Olympics medal after earning three World Championship gold medals.

    Other Russian stars include tennis player Maria Sharapova who is making her Olympic debut and pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva who is viewed as the undisputed queen of pole vaulting. Between their mixtures of older and younger athletes, Russia is primed to have another exciting Olympics experience and finish high up on the medal count.