10 Olympics stories to watch

  • Updated: July 24, 2012 - 3:09 PM
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Swimmer Michael Phelps has said his real motivation in London will be making history, as he tries to break the record for most Olympic medals won by an individual.

Photo: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press

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AHEAD IN THE STAR TRIBUNE

Wednesday: Keep reading the Star Tribune for profiles and previews in advance of the Games.

Thursday: Live coverage from our three journalists in London begins.

Friday's opening ceremonies for the London Olympics are rapidly approaching. To make sure you are adequately prepared, Star Tribune staff writer Rachel Blount, who will be covering the games, gives you a primer on the 10 biggest story lines you need to follow during the Olympics:

1 THE HOME TEAM

Olympic host countries typically get a boost in the medal count, and Great Britain is expected to win even more than it did during a standout performance at the 2008 Games in Beijing. Several analysts have projected the Brits will surpass the 47 medals they won in 2008 and finish fourth in the medal count behind the U.S., China and Russia. Their rowing and cycling teams are particularly strong, and others to watch include tennis star Andy Murray, diver Tom Daley and equestrian Zara Phillips, the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth.

2 GENDER BALANCE

The London Games will be the most female-friendly Olympics in history. For the first time, the U.S. Olympic team has more women (269) than men (261). Women's boxing will make its Olympic debut, pushing the percentage of events for women at the 2012 Games to 46.4 percent -- an all-time high. In another first, every participating country will send at least one female athlete.

3 PHELPS' ENCORE

Much has been made of the rivalry between Michael Phelps and fellow American swimmer Ryan Lochte. But Phelps has said his real motivation in London will be making history, as he tries to break the record for most Olympic medals won by an individual. With 14 gold and two bronze in the previous two Summer Games, Phelps -- who has said these will be his last Olympics -- needs three more medals to pass the 18 won by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Games.

4 POOL PARTY

Phelps will not be the only big story at the swimming venue. The powerful U.S. team also includes 17-year-old Missy Franklin, the first American woman to swim seven events at an Olympic Games. She could medal in each of them, and Lochte also is expected to rack up medals as he swims in at least five events. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima could sweep the 100- and 200-meter breaststrokes for the third consecutive Olympics.

5 WORLD'S FASTEST MAN

Usain Bolt, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, seemed on track to retain that title in London. Then teammate Yohan Blake upset him in both events at Jamaica's Olympic trials, adding drama to two of the Summer Games' premier events. Bolt, who set world records in the 100 and 200 to become one of the biggest stars of the Beijing Games, could become the first sprinter to repeat as the 100 and 200 champion at the Olympics.

6 TWIST AND SHOUT

The American women's gymnastics team has not won Olympic gold since Atlanta's Magnificent Seven in 1996. Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas could get it back atop the podium, and they also could battle it out for the all-around title. The men's side has its own superstar in Japan's Kohei Uchimura, the first man to win three consecutive world all-around titles, and a powerful U.S. men's team could challenge for gold.

7 HOST CITY HEADACHES

London's Olympic organizing committee has been in damage-control mode on a constant basis recently, addressing multiple problems that could bedevil the Games. Military personnel are providing security after a private company failed to train enough workers. There are long lines at understaffed Heathrow Airport, public workers are threatening to strike and taxi drivers upset about Olympic express lanes have blocked traffic. All these issues could leave a bad taste in the mouths of Olympic tourists.

8 THE BLADE RUNNER

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa won three gold medals in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. The double amputee, who runs on carbon-fiber blades, will make history in London as he becomes the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics. Pistorius will run in the 400 meters and the 4x400 relay; in last year's world championships, he made the semifinals of the 400 and won a silver medal with the relay team.

9 CYBERGAMES

If you want to be surprised by the Olympic prime-time telecasts, you better turn off the computer and smartphone. A sporting event rooted in antiquity will be delivered to worldwide observers in the most modern ways, from live Web streaming to Twitter feeds. Every event in every sport will be streamed live on nbcolympics.com (3,500 hours in all), and social media will be buzzing with real-time results and news during the most wired Olympics in history.

10 BACK ON HE GRASS

Only a few weeks after Wimbledon, many of the world's best tennis players will return to the sport's most iconic venue for the Olympic tournament. Rafael Nadal, who was to have carried Spain's flag in the opening ceremonies, is out because of an injury. Roger Federer is looking for his first Olympic gold in men's singles after winning his seventh Wimbledon title on July 8, while Serena and Venus Williams are heavily favored to win their third gold medal in women's doubles.

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