Originally posted on Just Cover Blog  |  Last updated 8/2/12

I absorbed hours and hours of Olympics yesterday, some live online, some on DVR on my home TVs. And it was easy to come away thinking Team USA had somehow lost the day. Two-time Olympic Champion Muriel Zagunis fell apart in her semifinal sabre match in fencing and couldnt even rebound to earn a bronze medal. In both her last matches, she lost late leads, allowing her foe to go on decisive, long scoring runs each time to end the combat. Frankly, our Flag Bearer, as great a champion as she’s been, choked a bit. So too did Brady Ellison, the top ranked individual archer in the world. How did he do yesterday? He lost his second round match after putting up a series of 7′s and 8′s that were nowhere near the bullseye. We planned on having Bloody Mary’s with Brady as the finals of his event played out tomorrow morning en route to at least an American medal, but Ellison’s Olympics are now over. Our boxers? Even though Team USA doesnt have the strongest team, they appeared to have a lot more potential than four years ago. But after a trio of losses yesterday, the American fighters have now lost seven matches in a row here in London. The Americans had strong hopes in all three rowing regatta finals, but got shutout of the medal podium.

Everywhere we looked yesterday, American hopes seemed to be dashed. One of the exceptions was cyclist Kristen Armstrong who raced to gold, defending her 2008 Olympic Title, in the womens road time trials, stood on the medal podium with her young son and promptly retired from the sport. Now that, my friends, is how to go out on top. Here’s hoping in 10 years she isnt driving an NBA franchise into the ground. Kidding aside, we loved Armstrong’s race and win. We did not include a gold from her in our equation for the Over 38.5 gold medals prediction for Team USA. We had been counting on Zagunis and Ellison, however. In obscure individual sports, we had a net loss of one yesterday on our expectation scale.

Of course, the swimming pool was not not a disappointment either. American Nathan Adrian, a 7/1 longshot, took out favorite Australian Missle James Magnussen in a great 100 Free race. And the Womens 4×200 Free Relay swum to gold with Allison Schmitt blowing away the field in the anchor leg. In a way, a gold there was expected. After all, the ladies were trotting out three swimmers who had already won gold in London, so it was a power packed relay. In another way, it was a breakthrough. The Lady Americans didnt win gold in any relay in the 2008 Olympics or the 2009 World Championships. Last summer in the 2011, they won this race and the medley relay. But the Olympics are always different, so it was nice to see them finally getting gold after being shutout in Beijing in the relays. We had projected 13 swimming golds en route to the Over 38.5 overall golds. After five days, Team USA had scored eight goals and are more than on pace for that handicapped total of 13. Today is a huge day in the pool. Four major races. Four major American stars. Four legit chances for gold medals. And one major league Red, White and Blue showdown. Here are the four championship races, with start times per eastern standard time.

Womens 200M Breaststroke, 2:40 pm……This is Rebecca Soni’s event to lose. She’s the worlds best female breaststroker, but she got knocked off again at the touch in the Olympic 100 Breaststroke. Nobody should be close enough to her in this event for a repeat. Soni sent a message in last night’s semifinals, setting a world record in 2:20 flat. It was the first time she topped her own personal best in this event since she won gold in world record time in Beijing four years ago. The odds reflect that performance. She was -450 to win against the field +390 before that race. Last night at BetUs.Com, I saw updated odds of Soni -2500 vs the field +1900. I’m not seeing any active odds anywhere right now a few hours before the race. We’ll get more proof today that she’s just too fast for the rest of the world in this event.

Mens 200M Backstroke, 2:47 pm…..the first of two Ryan Lochte gold medal races tonight. Lochte won silver in this event four years to Adam Peirsol’s gold. He finished third to Piersol in the 2009 Worlds. Last summer at the 2011 Worlds, with Peirsol out of the way, he dominated and won by over a second. Most of that field is racing in the finals tonight with no new contenders really emerging, making Lochte the prohibitive favorite, although I wasnt able to find odds on this race anywhere. If you’re looking for an upset, it might come from Japan’s Irie Ryosuke or fellow American Tyler Clary. Ryosuke swims a smooth, gliding backstroke, compared to Lochte’s powerful swimming style. He’s earned silver medals in back-to-back world championships. I liked how he closed on Lochte in last night’s semifinal. I fear his speed on top of the water might catch Lochte a bit off guard, especially if he tries to much to conserve energy in advance of his showdown with Phelps later in the day in the IM. Its a contrast of styles between these two swimmerss. Irie glides on top of the water, his backstroke looks artisitic. Lochte is just powerful, swimming like a bull in a lap lane. As for Clary, the former Michigan Wolverine captain might be the best swimmer in the world, if not for the unfortunate fact that he’s swimming in the Lochte/Phelps era. Can he give that fanciful sentiment some legitimacy with a win tonight? He swam the fastest time in the semifinals. Given the performance of the Chinese during this meet, I wouldnt discount a surprise run from Zhang Fenglin in Lane 3 either.

Mens 200M IM, 3:19 pm………one lap each of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. And a marquee event of the entire Games with Phelps and Lochte going head-to-head for Gold. This is the rivalry thats driven the sport the last four years and today its on full display. This race takes place about 20 minutes after Lochte swims the 200 backstroke finals. As of now, Lochte is major chalkChalk is another name for the favorite team to win. in this one. He’s -320 to win the race with Phelps +310 and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, who Phelps touched out by a fingertip in this event four years ago, is going off at +1650. They are the only three swimmers listed and it would be a shock if the medal podium included anybody outside of this trio. They are all swimming next too each other, Phelps, Lochte, Cseh in lanes 3, 4 and 5. Want a stat to impress people? The 10 fastest times ever swum in this event are by either Lochte or Phelps, with Lochte owning six of those marks. This is a must see event. Anything else I can say is just hype.

Womens 100M Free, 3:37 pm…..In 2020, wherever the Games will eventually be played, when we’re putting the finishing touches on Missy Franklin’s Phelpsian career, I will remember the day in London when she was a 15/1 underdog to win a race. Thats what we have in today’s womens 100 freestyle. The heavy chalkChalk is another name for the favorite team to win. in this race is Dutch Ranomi Kromoidjojo. You may remember her from her stellar anchor leg and gold medal performance in the 4×100 free relay. That performance alone has driven the odds to make her a juicy -390 favorite tonight. She’s got talent, but she hasnt won too many major individual races. She ‘only’ won bronze last summer at the worlds. In that race, Jeanette Otteson from Denmark and Belarusian Alexsandra Gerasimenya tied for gold. But only Otteson is in this race, swimming out of Lane 2. Australia’s Melanie Schlager out of Lane 5 is 10/1 to win China’s Tang Yi in Lane 6 is 11/1 to win. There arent any odds for the current world champion Otteson. But getting back to the Americans in this race. Are there two more divergent storylines than the ones following Franklin and Jessica Hardy, whose in Lane 8, today? Franklin is the next superstar of the sport. Expectations are building that she could go on a Phelps-like run over the next 7-8 years. These Olympic games are just her opening statement. Then there is Jessica Hardy. The 25-year-old is as decorated as anyone internationally with 20 major event medals. She also holds world records in the 50 free and 100 breast. But she’s never been an Olympian. She got kicked off the team in 2008 for failing a drug test, then served a one year ban. Her banishment opened the door for Soni to pass her as a breastroker. Eventually, she was cleared of wrongdoing, but she had already  served her banishment. She’s been climbing back to the top ever since. A swim to the medal podium today would be a great, and well earned, Olympic redemption story. As for Franklin’s long odds, I gave her a heckuva shot in this race. She had the second fastest time in the semifinals and she’s been obviously conserving herself during her races preliminary rounds. She was 7th at the turn last night, but picked it up over the final 50 and came in second to Kromoidjojo. Does she have another extra gear for the finals? I wouldnt bet against her.

 

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