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Daily Briefing, Aug. 12


Asked before the start of the Games about the American athletes with the requisite charisma to explode off the screen, NBC Sports and Olympics executive producer David Neal cited three names that stood above the rest: Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. "They all have it," Neal said.

Well, get ready for plenty of it over the next 24 hours:

• Johnson and Liukin lead the U.S. women's gymnastics team against China in the women's team finals (10:30 p.m. ET). The U.S. lineup looks like this: vault, Bridget Sloan, Johnson and Alicia Sacramone; uneven bars, Chellsie Memmel, Johnson and Liukin; balance beam, Sacramone, Liukin and Johnson; and floor exercise, Sacramone, Liukin and Johnson. Yang Yilin and Cheng Fei are the gymnasts to watch for the home country.

"The beauty of it is China and the U.S. will be paired together, competing on the same apparatus at the same time," says Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift. "The two favorites for gold will know exactly where they stand relative to each other, and so will the raucously pro-Chinese crowd at the 19,000 seat National Indoor Stadium."

• At the Water Cube, Phelps goes for gold No. 4 in the men's 200 butterfly final (10:21 p.m.) while Katie Hoff looks for similar glory a few minutes earlier in the women's 200 freestyle final (10:14 p.m.). The women's 200 individual medley final (11:12 p.m.) should be terrific theater, with world record-holder Stephanie Rice of Australia and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe against Hoff and Natalie Coughlin.

• Then comes that man again: Phelps goes for his second gold of the night (and No. 5 in the Games) in the men's 4x200 freestyle relay (11:19 p.m.). If Phelps doubles on Wednesday, he'll have 11 career gold medals, which would set the all-time record for most gold medals by a U.S. athlete (Phelps is currently tied with Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz with nine). In the evening swimming session, which begins at 6:30 a.m., Coughlin (100 free), Phelps (200 IM), Aaron Piersol (200 back), Ryan Lochte (200 back and 200 IM), Amanda Beard and Rebecca Soni (200 breastroke) will all swim in preliminary action.

• Cyclists Kristin Armstrong and Christine Thorburn compete in the women's individual time trial (11:30 p.m.) while Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie compete in the men's individual time trial (1:30 a.m.). Armstrong (the 2006 world champion) and Thorburn (fourth at the 2004 Athens Games) are both medal contenders. The U.S. women's water polo team -- which beat China in a 12-11 thriller -- faces defending gold medalist Italy at the Ying Tung Natatorium (3:40 a.m.)

• My colleague Grant Wahl says kick soccer out of the Olympics. But before the sport goes the way of plunge diving (eliminated from the Olympics in 1904) and dueling pistol (1906), the U.S. men's soccer can advance to the quarterfinals with a win or a draw over '96 gold medalist Nigeria (5 a.m.). The Americans can win the group with a victory or a draw. They can also advance if Japan defeats or draws the Netherlands in their match. The U.S. women's basketball team meets Mali (10:15 a.m.) in a game that should feature about 38 minutes of garbage time. Mali is competing in its first major international tournament.

"No, no, no. Nobody can beat us." -- Hungarian water polo player Gabor Kis, after his team's 17-6 win over Greece in a Preliminary Round Group A water polo match.

"We didn't expect it at all. Normally it is not allowed in international tournaments. It tricked us and we didn't understand why it was allowed. It ruined the game." -- Denmark badminton player Martin Lundgaard Hansen on China's Fu Haifeng serving above the waist during China's 21-12, 21-11 win in the Round of 16 of men's badminton doubles.

314,224Couples who married in China on Aug. 8, a one-day record for marriages, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. In Beijing, 15,646 couples were married, 23 times the daily average, according to China Daily.

American Ronda Rousey -- the youngest member of the U.S. judo team -- begins preliminary competition (midnight) in the women's 154-pound (70 kg) class of judo. The 21-year-old opens with Nasiba Surkieva of Turkmenistan and has a sensational chance to become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in the sport. The gold medal match in the 70kg takes place later in the day. SI's Brian Cazenueve picks Gevrise Emane of France for gold and Rousey for silver.

SI staffers weigh in on the television coverage and hot button issues surrounding the Games.

• Young America still cares about the Olympics, writes SI's Dick Friedman: NBC's president of research, Alan Wurtzel, told the Sports Business Daily that through the first two nights of coverage, viewing by the 18-34s has been running 22 percent ahead of the Athens numbers and 14 percent higher than Sydney's.

• I am watching the replay of the Croatia-Russia men's basketball game on the Olympic Basketball Channel, Friedman writes. As a former NBA editor at SI I'm eminently familiar with the two announcers: Chris Carrino, play-by-play man for the New Jersey Nets; and Steve (Snapper) Jones, the ever-popular longtime running mate of Bill Walton. They're calling the game from the NBC studios in New York City. This tactic obviously saves NBC a lot of money -- it's kind of outsourcing in reverse -- and because Carrino and Snapper are doing their usual smooth, capable job, it proves this arrangement can work.

1. Who is the greatest Olympian? (by Mitch Phillips, Reuters). Not Phelps, says the writer.

2. Rousey's journey out of pain, through judo (by Pete Thamel, TheNew York Times). An introspective 21-year-old emerges as one of the most boisterous characters at the Summer Games.

3. Paula Radcliffe remains on course (by Michael Phillips, The Guardian). The British marathoner says she's prepared for the worst in her bid to achieve her childhood dream.