By Richard Deitsch
July 28, 2012

LONDON -- It is the best rivalry swimming has ever seen, a duo of stylistically opposite athletes who have at least one thing in common: speed. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will compete today in the men's 400 individual medley, the first of two mega head-to-head races (the other in the 200 IM) at the London Olympics. On the first day of competition, medals will be handed out in seven sports: archery, fencing, judo, road cycling, shooting, swimming, and weightlifting. It promises to be a thrilling day, featuring the Lochte-Phelps duel in the pool, and Great Britain likely winning its first medal of the games in the men's cycling road race.

• Swimming's first gold medal will be won by either Lochte or Phelps -- SI has Lochte beating Phelps here -- in the 400 IM final, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. (Preliminary heats begin at 5 a.m.) There will also be three other medals handed out at the Aquatics Center, including for the men's 400 freestyle final (2:49 p.m.), where SI predicts gold for China's Sun Yang. Peter Vanderkaay is the best bet for the United States.

• American Elisabeth Beisel is the favorite in the women's 400 IM final (3:09 p.m.), but watch out for Great Britain's Hannah Miley. The women's 4x100 freestyle relay (final at 3:40 p.m.) is the sole race in London for U.S. great Natalie Coughlin, who will swim in the prelims earlier in the day (7:11 a.m.); the 29-year-old has 11 Olympic medals -- one shy of tying fellow swimmers Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most ever among American women. The prelims (6:53 a.m.) and semis (3:30 p.m.) of the men's 100 breaststroke feature Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, one of the best in history. In the women's 100 butterfly (prelims and semis), American Dana Vollmer is the favorite. Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old wunderkind of American swimming, is expected to make her debut on a leg of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

• Great Britain's first gold medal could come early as Mark Cavendish ("Super Cav," as many tabloids call him) is the favorite to emerge as the cyclists finish at The Mall at St. James Park, in front of Buckingham Palace, in the men's cycling road race (5 a.m. start). The best sprinter of his generation, Cavendish is the reigning world champion in the road race. Writes SI's Austin Murphy: "With the Olympics in mind, he dropped nine or so pounds this season from his usual racing weight. While he figures that weight loss cost him a smidgen of his top-end speed, it will also ensure that he doesn't get dropped on Box Hill. A native of the Isle of Man, the so-called Manx Missile has focused his season on "competing for the flag I was born under." SI predicts Cavendish for gold, and two from Belgium for silver (Tom Boonen) and bronze (Phillippe Gilbert).

• The South Koreans are SI's pick to bring home team gold today in men's archery -- the gold match begins at 1:01 p.m. -- and the venue sounds like something out of The Hunger Games: Lord Cricket Ground. The elimination round begins at 4 a.m. The American men finished ninth in Beijing but have an outside shot at a medal thanks to Brady Ellison, the world's top-ranked archer, whom SI has winning silver in the individual competition.

• Fencer Lee Kiefer, who won a world bronze last year at age 17 and is ranked fifth in the world in foil, is the top American in the women's individual foil competition (prelims start at 5:30 a.m.; the final is set for 2:10 p.m.). SI's pick for gold, 38-year-old Valentina Vezzali of Italy, has won three straight individual Olympic golds and boasts seven medals overall dating back to the 1996 Olympics. She has a chance to become the most medaled female fencer of all time (one more to tie, two to hold the record herself).

• The women's weightlifting 48kg gold gets awarded today (starts at 10:30 a.m.), and SI's pick for gold is Wang Mingjuan of China.

• Badminton begins at Wembley Arena, and will likely culminate in gold for China in singles and doubles for both the men and women. The U.S. men's doubles team of Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan plays South Korea's Jae Sung Chung and Yong Dae Lee at 3:50 p.m. Gunawan won a gold medal in Sydney in this event while competing for Indonesia.

• In 2010, Italian shooter Nicollo Campriani became the first athlete in any sport to qualify for the London Olympics. He's SI's pick to win today's 10-meter air rifle gold medal (10:30 a.m.), but defending champion Pang Wei of China can become the first man to successfully defend the Olympic 10m air pistol title if he wins. China's Yi Siling is SI's pick to win the gold in the women's 10m air rifle final (6 a.m.).

• Arguably the strongest team in the world for any sport, the U.S. women's basketball team opens play today (11:45 a.m.) against Croatia, which qualified for London after beating Canada 59-56 in the quarterfinals of the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Turkey. This will be Croatia's first Olympic appearance in women's basketball. The Canada-Russia game (6:15 a.m.) also has U.S. interest, with WNBA star Becky Hammon starting for Russia, the bronze medalists in Beijing.

• The greatest beach volleyball duo in Olympics history, Misty May Treanor and Keri Walsh Jennings, are aiming for their third consecutive gold medal. They begin preliminary play today against Australia's Nat Cook and Tamsin Hinchley (6 p.m.) in the last match of the day on centre court at the Horse Guard Parade, a large parade ground in central London. The favored Brazilian team of Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva -- SI's pick for gold -- will also play today.

• The United States women's volleyball team opens its competition against Korea (3 p.m.) as a major favorite to win gold. "[They are] hands down the best collection of volleyball players the U.S. has ever put together," writes's Beverly Oden. "Ranked No. 1 in the world, this women's team is stacked with talent at every position -- their depth is their biggest strength. They've got youth and experience, and the team spent the last three years demolishing the competition at every opportunity. The team is so dominant that in early July they won the last major international competition before London with their backup squad, because the starters were resting up for the Olympics. The U.S. women have won two silver medals and a bronze but have never won a gold medal at the Olympics -- that is expected to change in London."

• Wimbledon hosts the Olympic tennis competition -- pretty cool, right? -- and play begins this morning at 7 a.m. Serena Williams will face Serbia's Jelena Jankovic in the second match on Centre Court, followed by Roger Federer against Alejandro Falla of Colombia. Men's and women's doubles also get under way, with Andy Roddick and John Isner of the United States meeting Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares of Brazil. Here's Jon Wertheim's preview.

• Boxing begins at the ExCel Centre with bantamweight (56kg) and middleweight (75kg) action starting at 8:30 a.m. American Joe Diaz Jr. (56kg) and Terrell Gausha (76kg) will be in action. SI predicts Cuba's Lazaro Alvarez Estrada to take gold in the bantamweight division and Evhen Khytrov of the Ukraine to win the middleweight title.

• After defeating France 4-2 in its opening match behind two goals from rising star forward Alex Morgan, the U.S. women's soccer team meets Colombia (12 p.m.) at Hampden Park. Of the U.S. win over France, SI's Grant Wahl wrote, "The U.S. defense struggled early and gave up two goals before tightening things up. All things considered, scoring four unanswered goals against your toughest group opponent is a good night's work." Other women's soccer matches include World Cup champion Japan vs. Sweden (7 a.m.), New Zealand vs. Brazil (9:30 a.m.), and Great Britain vs. Cameroon (12:15 p.m.).

• With Japan and China likely taking the top two places in the men's gymnastics team competition, the U.S. should be in a fight for the bronze medal with Russia, says SI's Brian Cazeneuve. Today at North Greenwich Arena, the U.S. will compete in the middle subdivision with favored Japan, starting at 10:30 a.m. "As with most teams, the U.S. squad has an Achilles-heel event," says Cazeneuve. "They're weak on pommel horse and must find a way not to lose too many points to their rivals on that event." SI has Japan winning the gold (on July 30), followed by China and the U.S.

• Two gold medals will be awarded in judo, for the women's 48kg competition (11 a.m.) and the men's 60kg event (11:10 a.m). SI tabs Brazil's Sarah Menezes to win gold in the women's 48kg and Rishod Sobirov of Uzbekistan for the men's 60kg. Sobirov won a bronze in this event in Beijing.

• Team preliminary matches in women's handball get under way as well (starting at 4:30 a.m.). Norway is SI's pick to take gold.

• Rowing begins, with multiple events including the women's pair heats (4:30 a.m.), men's eight heats (4:40 a.m.), and both the men's (7:30 a.m.) and women's (8:30 a.m.) single sculls.

• Greenwich Park is the site of the equestrian events; individual dressage (5 a.m.) and team dressage (5 a.m.) begin today. Germany and the Netherlands are heavy favorites in both competitions.

"I have told her, if she needs anything, to come to me. I said she could ask me, she could text me, ask any questions. She hasn't." -- Michael Phelps, on giving U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin advice

529: Members of the 2012 United States Olympic team

71: Gold medals needed for Team USA to become the first national Olympic committee to reach the milestone of 1,000 golds.

5: appearances by Australia's Natalie Cook in beach volleyball, the most ever in the Olympic Games by a beach volleyball player

A Very British Party as the Planet Comes to London, by Paul Hayward, The Daily Telegraph. "If the British can feel one wish rising inside them, "writes Hayward, "it is that people who have come to this country for the Games of the XXX Olympiad will go home feeling they were looked after, entertained and transported around a society that is competent, clever and fun to visit."

Everything Will Be Fine, Until It Isn't, by The Secret Security Guard, The Guardian. A member of the Olympic security team is writing anonymously for The Guardian.

This time, Summer Games Are About the Athletes, by Phil Hersh, Tribune News Services. The author posits that the narrative of these Games will be the athletes.

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